Fall Asters

Aster oblongifolius. Photograph by Ramez Antoun

This past weekend, my daughter and son-in-law came to visit.  I love when they come because my son-in-law shares my affinity for growing things.  Each time he comes we spend most of the weekend outside.  Besides being a fine gardener, Ramez is also an excellent photographer.  He has the skill, the eye and the equipment that I don’t.  So each time he comes I ask him to take a few pictures.  This trip, he focused on my fall asters.  As you can see in these pictures, they are beautiful this time of year.

The aster I grow is a Texas native (Aster oblongifolius).  One of its common names is Fall Aster.  It is one of the last plants to bloom in the fall.  Fall aster is a clumping perennial that spreads to about 36” and can reach 24”in height.  It is almost an evergreen plant and often keeps its leaves for 10 or 11 months.  Because of this, it works well in the perennial border.  Even though fall asters are relatively unremarkable most of the year, they really redeem themselves in the fall.  Starting in early October this plant literally explodes with color.  Small star shaped purple flowers with yellow centers literally cover the foliage.  A mass of these plants is stunning.  Even though they are beautiful on their own, you can pair it with several Golden Rod varieties and create a very attractive fall border in a complimentary color scheme.

Fall aster is a very hearty plant and it can be grown in just about any soil the great state of Texas has to offer.  Mine is growing in black clay and it is thriving.  Asters are easy to grow from seed and you can also divide existing clumps to get more plants.  They are relatively disease and pest free.  The only negative that I am aware of with this plant is the fact that the stems seem to loose their lower leaves as they age.  This can be helped by cutting back about a third of the plant in the summer.

More Texas Fall Asters. Photo by Ramez Antoun

Asters have been grown all over the world for a very long time.  The English love them.  Our native version is just as pretty as any of their foreign cousins.  Plant this hearty and beautiful plant now and you will be rewarded with stunning borders for many Octobers to come.

Fall Transplanting

*This post was published on 10/27/2010 in “Texas Gardener’s Seeds”

Fall is my favorite time of the year for gardening.  While I appreciate the milder temps the season brings, I really love fall gardening because it is the best time of the year for me to correct my landscaping errors!  This is very important to me because even though I want a beautifully landscaped yard, I have no discernible talent in the area of landscape design.  So, since I love landscaping and I do not have many skills, I make a lot of landscaping mistakes!  Fall is the perfect time to “do over” those “mistakes” in my beds that just didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped. 

All of the attractive beds at my house are the product of much trial and error.  Each winter I sit down and make a list of the new plants that I want to plant.  Then I get out the graph paper and lay out a plan.  For some reason, the resulting beds never look as good in my yard as they did on the paper.  So, every fall, I move the things that I think would look better somewhere else.  Very few of the plants at our house are currently located in place they were originally planted.  This drives my wife crazy, she jokingly calls me “The Mover”.  That’s o.k.  I would rather take her teasing than leave a plant in a place that I don’t enjoy.

A lot of people seem to think that plants will die if they move them.  I have not experienced this in any great measure.  I have moved a few things that did die, but most of the things that I have moved have done alright.  In fact, many plants need to be dug up periodically and “moved” in order to thrive.  Bulbs and irises are classic examples.  Most horticulturists recommend that bulbs and corms that readily divide should be divided every three years.  If you leave irises alone long enough, the clump will start to die in the center as it spreads outward.  This leaves a fairly unattractive iris “ring” that can only be fixed by digging them up and moving them around. 

Bulbs are not the only thing that can be transplanted relatively easy.  I have learned that just about anything can be moved (as long as it doesn’t have a deep tap-root).  Using the method described below I have successfully moved red buds, crape myrtles, roses, small oaks, and a mature sage.  I have even successfully moved half-grown tomatoes, peppers, and many annuals in full bloom.  So far this year, I have moved the afore-mentioned sage, some flame acanthus, lots of ruellia, lots of yarrow and two clumps of coreopsis.  Here is how I do it. 

First, I dig the hole where the plant is going.  This is important.  The new hole should be as deep and wide as the root ball of the plant you are moving.  Once a plant is pulled up from its original location, the roots start to dry out.  Having the new hole ready will allow you to decrease the shock of transplanting by quickly getting the roots back in the ground as fast as possible. 

Next, dig up the plant to be relocated.  I dig in a manner that keeps the root ball intact.  I do this by using my shovel to cut a complete circle into the ground around the plant.  As I dig, I push the shovel into the ground at an angle toward the plant.  This will cut the plants roots and allow you to pull up a section of soil that is roughly the shape of a bowl.  Again, try to keep this soil intact as it protects the roots from exposure.

Finally, use your shovel to transport the plant and root ball to the new hole.  Make sure the plant is replanted at the same depth as it was in the original location.  Now back fill, tamp the soil and water.  Proper watering is critical to the success of this operation.  I always water very deeply immediately after replanting and then I give it a good deep watering every day for at least a week.

I know in the ideal world, we would design a bed, plant it and then enjoy it for all eternity.  Most of us don’t live in that ideal world though.  If you are not happy with a plant in its current location, wait until fall arrives and then move it.  The milder fall temperatures put less stress on the plant and provide ample time for the plant to re-root before the cold temperatures of winter kick in.  If you take a little care while relocating them, most plants will hardly even realize that they have been moved!

P.S. Here is a link to a YouTube video from Bob Villa Productions that shows a guy doing pretty much what I describe in this article.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHjXv5j3yxo

MiMi's flowers

An arrangement from our fall garden

Right now the weather is so nice that I want to be outside all of the time.  So far this fall I have planted the potager and the row garden.  I have divided and moved perennials and I have also divided and moved my spring bulbs.  I have started stem cuttings of my coleus, begonias and geraniums.  I have been so busy preparing things that I almost failed to step back and enjoy what was already there.  This Saturday, my wife asked me to go outside and pick a few roses for her mother.  As I went out to cut the roses I noticed all of the really lovely things that were still growing in our garden.  I decided that MiMi would get more than just a few roses.  The arrangement you see is composed of a spider lilly, salvia, turk’s cap, zinnias, roses, rosemary and okra.  I am so glad that I took the time to look around and enjoy what was right under my nose.  I really enjoyed putting this together and sharing a little of what we love with someone we dearly love.