For eye-catching height and prolific fall flowers, look to the native smooth aster
An abundance of casual blooms cascading from containers, beds, and boxes balanced against the structure of shrubs, trees, and hardscape: that’s cottage gardening. And if you subscribe to the happy-go-lucky style, you’re likely diving into fall perennial planting about now, building up layers of flora that’ll offer color year-round.
An early-fall bloomer guaranteed to earn its keep is Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird,’ commonly referred to as “smooth aster.” When given full sun to part shade, well-draining soil, and a little support (say from a fence, wall, or shrub), this perennial powerhouse can reach three to five feet in height, putting on an amazing display with petite purplish-blue flowers.
Before planting, weed and amend the soil with organic matter. Tuck the aster into loosened dirt, keeping the top of the root ball level with the soil line, and be sure to water two or three times a week (depending on rainfall) until it’s established.
Within a couple years, the smooth aster should be drought-tolerant and will return reliably each season, delivering a billowing cloud of cool color. Like most cottage-garden favorites, it makes an excellent cut flower, with blooms lasting a week or more in a vase. Just be sure to leave plenty growing in the garden—this Lowcountry native provides a much-needed food source for bees and butterflies.
Photograph courtesy of Prairie Nursery