Astilbe: A Gem in the Shade Garden
Designing with Astilbes
Immensely popular, Astilbes are fabulous plants for shady, moist conditions. They light up your shade garden for weeks with their elegant flower plumes and add a dazzling splash of color in the landscape. Ranging from 6 in (15 cm) to 24 in. tall (60 cm), their feathery plumes, in shades of lavender, pink, red or white, can be incredibly striking. They rise gracefully above attractive mounds of fern-like foliage which remains attractive all season long (under satisfactory growing conditions) before turning progressively a rich caramel color which provides winter interest to the garden.
Chinese Astilbe 'Superba' (Astilbe chinensis var. taquetii), Hydrangea 'Glowing Embers'
- Relatively trouble-free, Astilbes require little maintenance, are heavy shade tolerant, attract butterflies, but are deer and rabbit resistant! The perfect perennial for a shady border with dappled light!
- These part shade to full shade lovers thrive in organically rich, evenly moist, well drained soils. Easy to grow, their biggest enemy is dryness - so don't let the soil dry out! While Astilbes can grow in deep shade, it should be noted that they will not flower as much.
- Astilbes can take some sun, especially if you’re a gardener who lives in a region with cool, moist summers. Just make sure to keep your plants well watered, and be aware that full sun can scorch or burn their fern-like foliage.
- Astilbes bloom between late spring and late summer. They flower over a fairly long season since each flower plume consists of hundreds of densely packed tiny flowers, opening in succession. However, they do not all flower at the same time and are classified with a blooming time, ranging from Early to Late season. Therefore, to fill your garden with continuously blooming Astilbes throughout the season, you may plan to plant a variety of cultivars, from Early- to Late season bloomers.
- Native to China, Japan and Korea, there are about 25 species of Astilbes and hundreds of cultivars, some less than 12 in. tall (30 cm) while others can easily reach 4 ft. in height (120 cm) and are better suited for the back of the border.
- Their diversity in height makes Astilbes quite versatile, and they overachieve in providing a spectacular flower show, whether planted in perennial borders, woodlands, by streams, ponds or in containers.
- Good dwarf varieties include 'Darwin's Dreams', 'Fanal', 'Younique', 'Jump and Jive', 'Vision', Pumila, 'Sprite' or 'Bronze Elegance'. They are quite compact and suitable for small gardens, front of perennial borders or containers, reaching only 12-18 in. in height (30-45 cm).
- The larger varieties of Astilbes make a striking focal point or specimen plant thanks to their sculptural qualities. They also create outstanding backdrops for perennials and shrubs. Among the most spectacular, Astilbe chinensis var. tarquetii 'Purpurlanz', with showy lance-shaped purple flower spikes rather than tufted plumes rising 4 ft. high (120 cm) above fern-like mounds of dark green glossy foliage.
Miscanthus sinensis 'Cosmopolitan', Astilbe chinensis var. taquettii 'Purpurlanze', Astilbe simplicifolia 'Aphrodite',
Carex flagellifera (Sedge) and Anaphalis triplinervis 'Sommerschnee' (Pearly Everlasting Flower )
- Astilbe chinensis var. tarquetii 'Superba' is one of the tallest varieties of Astilbes and always creates a dramatic statement in the garden, with its stunning, purple-rose, lance shaped flower plumes rising up to 4-5 ft high (120-150 cm). They rise gracefully in mid to late summer, on strong, erect flowering stems above an attractive mound of fern-like foliage which emerges mahogany-red before changing to dark green. This fabulous Astilbe has won the Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society.
Astilbe chinensis var. tarquettii 'Superba' growing next to the Lily Pond at The Courts Garden, Wiltshire.
|Hosta, Astilbes, Daililies, Geranium|
- In this summer garden, the luminous, pure white flower plumes of Astilbe 'Deutschland' create a charming display when combined with the deep purple-blue flower spikes of Salvia 'Caradonna' and the blue-colored flowers of great decorative beauty of Geranium 'Rozanne'. This planting is enriched with the flat umbel flowers of Achillea, the bright pink blossoms of Rosa 'Fortuna' and the handsome mound of ovate, dark green leaves with creamy markings of Hosta crispula - all contributing to a lovely summer scenery.
- Because Astilbes like moist soil, they are ideally suited for borders of ponds and streams. This lovely plant combination includes the abundant and incredibly pretty, lavender-pink blossoms of Astilbe 'Hyacinth' (or 'Hyazinth'), an early-mid summer flowering variety which grows up to 3 ft. tall (36 cm). It is beautifully combined with the pastel flat heads of Yarrow (Achillea), the purple blooms of Big Betony (Stachys grandiflora) and the glowing flowers of Primula Candelabra (Primula florindae).
Astilbe 'Hyacinth', Primula florindae, Acorus calamus, Achillea 'Pastel mix', Stachys grandiflora
Recommended Astilbe Varieties
If unsure which Astilbe to select for your garden or containers, here is a list of favorite Astilbe varieties among gardeners. If acclaimed by others, you cannot go wrong!
Astilbe 'Sprite' (Simplicifolia Hybrid) is a popular choice with gardeners thanks to its airy, shell-pink flowers which open even in heavy shade. This dwarf Astilbe is particularly suited to outdoor containers and won the 1994 Perennial Plant of the Year Award as well as the prestigious Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society. Blooms in mid-late summer and grows up to 12-18 in. tall (30-45 cm).
Astilbe 'Deutschland' (Japonica Hybrid) features its stunning, dense, white plumes which make long-lasting cut flowers. Blooms in late spring or early summer and grows up to 24-30 in. tall (60-75 cm).
Astilbe chinensis 'Pumila' is a low-growing Astilbe which makes an attractive groundcover. Winner of the Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society, it displays fluffy, rich, lavender-purple flowers in late summer. Grows up to 12-18 in. tall (30-45 cm).
Astilbe chinensis 'Vision' is another Astilbe variety that is admired by many gardeners for its upright, thick pyramidal, slightly fragrant flower plumes in shades of raspberry pink, deep red or white. Blooms in early-mid summer over a deep bronze green foliage and grows up to 18 in. tall (45 cm).
Astilbe 'Rheinland' (Japonica Hybrid) is another popular variety with its clear pink flowers born on upright, reddish stems in early-mid summer. Winner of the Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society, it grows up to 12-24 in. tall (30-60 cm).
Astilbe 'Bridal Veil' (Arendsii Hybrid) is a reliable and free flowering Astilbe with luminous, dense, ivory-white flower plumes in late spring - early summer, which stand out in the night garden. Winner of the Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society, it grows up to 28 in. tall (70 cm).
Astilbe Chinensis 'Vision'
- Astilbes are undemanding and very hardy (USDA Zones 4 - 9). Some are even hardy to zone 3. While they overwinter well, it is still recommended to apply a layer of mulch.
- Astilbes can be grown from seed. Sow seeds early in the spring indoors, or directly into your garden after both weather and soil have warmed up. Note that seeds may be difficult to germinate and it is easier to plant Astilbe plants.
- Astilbes thrive in part shade to full shade in organically rich, evenly moist, well drained soils. Make sure your soil drains well and does not puddle or get water-logged in rain. Mulch should be added to reduce water evaporation and maintain moisture. Note that Astilbes may be planted in full sun in areas with cool summers and with adequate moisture. In hot summer areas, shade is important.
- Astilbes are heavy feeders. In addition to a rich soil, feed them with a fertilizer high in nitrogen, on a regular basis.
- After blooming, feel free to clip off any spent flower stems if you do not like their look. Your Astilbes will continue to provide attractive foliage until fall. After the first frost, the leaves may yellow and may be trimmed until fresh growth appears next spring.
- Most Astilbes spread easily, so divide your plants every 3 to 4 years to prevent overcrowding, keep them vigorous and assure the maximum number of blooms.
Compare All Astilbes Great Plant Combination
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By Julija Kumpinovica, Shutterstock, Gap Photos/ Robert Mabic, Mark Bolton, Juliette Wade, Richard Bloom
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.
Compare All Astilbes Great Plant Combination
Ideas with Astilbes Guides with Astilbes