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How to Grow: Astilbe
Listen to this podcast and read about growing and caring for astilbe perennial flowers.
Astilbe spp and hybrids
Part sun, part shade
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Late spring into summer in colors such as cream, white, pink, lilac, and red
Mature Height x Spread
1 to 5 feet x 2 to 3 feet
attracts beneficials, deer resistant
Astilbe is a part shade-loving perennial with airy white, pink, red, or lilac flowers. I grow it to provide color to darker areas of the garden and soften the look of sunnier spots. The deeply lobed, fern-like green leaves add to the whimsical look to this plant. Some varieties even have copper colored leaves. This easy to grow perennial flower grows best in the cool periods of late spring and early summer. In warmer parts of our region the foliage may brown and dieback during hot, dry periods in mid-summer. However, the plants are virtually trouble free as far as insects and diseases are concerned. After the main flowering has past, the flowers will often dry on the plants and remain attractive for weeks.
Where, When and How to Plant
Astilbe varieties are hardy throughout our region. Plant in spring to early fall in a part sun or part shade location spaced 1 to 3 feet apart depending on the variety. Astilbe plants can take more sun when grown in cooler parts of New England, but need more shade in warmer locations. Astilbe will grow in a full shade location, but may not flower well. An East-facing location with morning sun is usually best. Astilbe grows well in moist, fertile soil with a slightly acidic pH.
Keep plants well watered and mulched with layer of bark mulch. Replenish the mulch each spring and fertilize in spring with compost spread around the plant roots.
Regional Advice and Care
Astilbe needs little care once established. They can be divided every 4 to 5 years to create more plants and keep the existing plants healthy. Deadhead spent flowers if they don’t look attractive on the plant. Astilbe flowers also make nice additions to floral arrangements when used as a cut flower. Cut back and clean up foliage in fall to prevent disease from overwintering near the plants.
Companion Planting and Design
Astilbes are great plants to grow in brightly lit woodland areas, such as under tall maples or oaks. They’re a perfect companion to other perennials, such as heuchera, hosta and yellow rocket, in a shade garden. They also look great grown en mass in a shade garden, along a stream or near a pond creating a beautiful tapestry of color and foliage in the landscape.
“Bridal Veil” has white plumes that grow on 3-foot tall plants. “Rheinland” is an early blooming, 2 to 3 foot tall plant with pink plumes. “Purple Candles” has deep purple blooms on 3 to 4 foot tall plants. “Fanal” is a red flowering variety that grows 2 feet tall. “Color Flash” astilbe grows 1 foot tall and has unique bronze and copper colored leaves with pink flowers. “Bressingham Beauty” grows 3 to 4 feet tall with rich, pink colored flowers.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.
If you’re looking for a tough plant to grow in your shade garden with hostas and Hellebores, look no further than astilbe. This tough perennial is native to Asia and North America and hardy to zone 3. It has few pests and consistently flowers every year. Although some gardeners think astilbes are a bit boring, newer varieties make this plant a stunning addition to a perennial flower garden.
Astilbe is also called false spirea or false goat’s beard for good reason. The plume-like flowers bloom in colors such as pink, red, peach, white, lavender and purple. Even after the flowers fade in summer, many gardeners leave them on the plant for the attractive seed heads. Or you can deadhead them to highlight the dark green foliage that stays lush all summer. Some varieties even have bronze colored leaves. Some modern hybrids to look for include the red ‘Fanal’, pink ‘Sister Theresa’, ‘Peach Blossom’ and the purple ‘Visions’. ‘Chocolate Shogun’ features dark purple colored leaves with pink flowers.
Grow astilbe in well-drained, moist soils high in organic matter. Adding compost and mulch annually helps keep the bed looking great. The flowers and foliage stay lush all summer if the soil is keep moist. Otherwise, during dry summers and drought the foliage may shrivel. These clumping perennials look best planted in groups so the flowers can really put on a show. Most only grow18 inches tall and some are short enough to use as ground covers. Plant them in part shade borders or even along a shady pond’s edge or a stream. In deep shade they may not flower as well. Other than the occasional Japanese beetle damage, astilbes have few pests. Divide clumps every 3 to 4 years to keep them looking good.