New England Aster

Who doesn’t love the purples of New England aster in the fall? These tall, prolific splashes of colour line the roadside ditches throughout much of our area and look so awesome growing with the bright yellow goldenrods and black eyed Susans. Easy to grow, even in a pot, this is a must have plant for anyone growing natives. 

Common Name: New England Aster 

Scientific Name: Symphyotrichum novae-angliae 

Family: Asteraceae (Aster Family) 

Alternate Common Names: First Flower, Hardy Aster, Michaelmas Daisy, Starwort 

Plant description: New England Aster features rigid central stems that are brownish-red, covered in short white hairs and typically branch out towards the top of the plant. Leaves are borne on the stems in an alternate pattern and are up to 10cm long and up to 2.5cm wide. They are lance-oblong, toothless and are covered in fine hairs. The leaves are stalkless with a pair of lobes at the base that extend back to clasp the stem – a key identifier. Branching clusters of stalked flowers are found at the top of the plant. Flower stalks also emerge from upper leaf axils (where the leaf meets the stem). Individual flowers are up to 4cm across and consist of 40 – 100 narrow ray flowers (petals) that surround a yellow center. The center turns reddish-yellow with age. Petals can vary in colour from lavender to dark purple to pink. Bracts surrounding the base of each flower are found in 3-5 layers, narrow, widely spreading and covered in fine hairs. They are green but may have a purple tinge. Flowers give way to dry, light brown seeds with tufts of white hairs that allow them to be carried off by the wind. 

In the Garden: New England Aster is a classic wildflower that puts on a dramatic floral display in fall. You can bring this display, and the butterflies that come with it, into your garden too as New England Aster is a reliable performer. This aster is not an aggressive spreader but may self-seed into gaps. It responds well to the Chelsea chop – cutting it back to 1/3 – ½ its height in June – which allows it to produce many more blossoms and remain more compact.  

Lifespan: perennial 

Exposure: full sun to part shade 

Soil Type: sandy-loam to clay 

Moisture: moist to medium 

Height: 30-120 cm (occasionally to 200 cm) 

Spread:  60-90 cm 

Bloom Period: Aug, Sep, Oct (until frost) 

Colour: pink/purple/blue 

Fragrant (Y/N):

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N): Y  

Pests: no serious insect or disease problems though there is some susceptibility to powdery mildew and Aster Wilt can also be an occasional problem, particularly if plants are grown in poorly-drained clay soils 

Natural Habitat: moist, open, wooded areas, meadows, mesic prairies, disturbed sites and stream banks 

Wildlife value: bees and butterflies frequent this wildflower and it is an important nectar source for Monarch butterflies 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui), Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos), Northern Crescent (Phyciodes cocyta), Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis) and Tawny Crescent (Phyciodes batesii

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-8 

Propagation: Seeds do not need any pretreatment but moist stratification can speed germination. Can be propagated by stem cuttings taken in late spring and inserted into moist sand or rockwool. Mature plants may also be divided in the spring by separating individual stems with their associated roots. 

Additional Info: New England aster has a tendency to become “root bound” and will benefit from dividing the plant every 3-4 years. Pinching back the stems a few times before mid-July will help to make the plant more bushy and eliminate the need for staking. The lower leaves often die back by the time flowers emerge so consider planting it with a companion that can hide the scraggly base. 

Native Range: