New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)

The New England Aster, also referred as Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, (formerly Aster novae-angliae) is an herbaceous perennial plant that feature bloom of daisy-like flowers. This plant is native to North America.

The species is an open lands plant, thriving in grasslands, old fields, savannas, and woodlands. It is frequently encountered on roadsides and in fencerows. It can also be found at the edge of forest. The species is known from most of the conterminous United States, except a few southern states and a few western states. It is present in much of Canada as well.

This plant can grow up to 3-6 feet tall. The plant grows naturally in clumps, with several erect stems emerging from a single point. The stems are stout, hairy, and mostly unbranched. Its leaves are rough, hairy, and lance-shaped, clasping stiff, hairy stems. The usually deep purple flowers have up to 100 ray florets which are rarely pink or white. These surround the flower centers which are composed of just as many tiny yellow disk florets.

New England Aster can be grown as a garden perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8. It has also been introduced to Europe, Central Asia, Hispaniola, New Zealand, and some western states and provinces of North America.

The New England Aster can tolerate many garden conditions. It prefers moist but well-drained soil and can tolerate temporary flooding. It is also salt and drought tolerant. The plant is also deer and rabbit resistant.

There are several cultivars of the New England Aster available, each with its unique characteristics. For instance, ‘Purple Dome’ is a popular cultivar that grows 18-24 inches high and wide, with deep purple flowers. ‘Harrington’s Pink’ is another cultivar that grows 4-6 feet high and 2 feet wide, featuring clear pink flowers.

It’s best to plant it in the spring or fall. It thrives in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. After the first frost, cut the plant back to the ground. This will help keep it healthy and prevent it from self-seeding, which can sometimes become invasive.

New England Aster has a long history of medicinal use among Native American tribes. It is used in various forms, including decoctions and infusions, to treat a variety of conditions. For instance, the plant is used to relieve inflammation in the respiratory system, treat coughs, and as a diuretic to control the amount of salt and water in the body. It’s also used topically to soothe the skin and alleviate irritations such as minor cuts, burns, or insect bites.

How to Grow and Care for New England Aster

  • Select a sunny to partially sunny location for your New England asters. Although they thrive in full sun in the Northeast, they will benefit if they are shaded from the hot afternoon sun in warmer regions.
  • Till the soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches, and remove rocks, roots or other debris from the soil. Add generous amounts of compost or well-rotted manure to the soil, and work it into the top 6 inches of soil. This improves both aeration and drainage, and provides your asters with a source of slow-release nutrients.
  • Dig a hole twice the size of the root ball of your aster seedling. Space seedlings 24 to 36 inches apart, depending on the expected size of the variety at maturity.
  • Position each seedling in its hole so that the crown — the part where the roots meet the stem — will be at ground level.
  • Erect plant stakes or support systems for tall varieties of New England asters when you plant them. Some varieties will grow 4 to 5 feet tall, and will need support; some other varieties are 2 to 3 feet tall at maturity.
  • Water New England asters deeply once or twice a week to keep the soil evenly moist. These asters prefer moist soil. Allowing the soil to dry completely between watering often causes New England asters to develop mildew.
  • Mulch with a 3- to 4-inch layer of organic matter to conserve water and create a weed barrier. Otherwise, pull weeds by hand or use a garden hoe as soon as weeds appear, to prevent them from competing with your asters for nutrients and water.
  • Pinch out the center leaves on the growing tips of your New England asters when the plants are 4 to 6 inches tall. This forces the plant to send out new foliage along the stem and creates dense, compact foliage.
  • Repeat the pinching procedure every few weeks until mid-August. Take care: Pinching the plants too late in the summer may remove buds and inhibit blooming.
  • Cut foliage back to the ground level after it dies back naturally in the fall.
  • Fertilize New England asters when new growth appears in the spring. Use a water-soluble fertilizer designed for perennials or flowering plants. You also can use a low-nitrogen granular fertilizer such as 5-10-5. Apply a “small handful” of granular fertilizer in a circle around the base of the plant, and work it into the soil. Repeat every six weeks.
  • Lift and divide New England asters every three to five years to keep them healthy and productive.

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