Immensely popular, Astilbes are fabulous plants for shady, moist conditions. Admired for their graceful, colorful flower plumes rising elegantly above mounds of fern-like foliage which remains attractive all season long, they light up your shade garden for weeks and add a dazzling splash of color in the landscape. Each plume consists of hundreds of densely packed tiny flowers, each opening in succession from late spring to late summer, providing a long season of bloom before turning progressively a rich caramel color then providing winter interest to the garden.
- 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! Mulch should be added to reduce water evaporation and maintain moisture. 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.
- Native to China, Japan and Korea, there are about 25 species of Astilbe and hundreds of cultivars, some less than 12 in. tall (30 cm) and ideal for the front of the border or rockeries while others can easily reach 4 ft. in height (120 cm) and are better suited for the back of the border.
- This 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. They are also excellent spreading groundcovers or edging plants for shady areas. Plant them in groups for better visual effect. Their flower plumes also make excellent fresh cut flowers and can be dried in natural bouquets.
- Astilbes 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.
- No deadheading is required unless you do not like the look of the faded flower stalks. If allowed to remain, the dried seedheads will provide additional interest later in the season.
- Astilbes partner beautifully with other perennials to create pretty garden scenes. Among their favorite companion plants are Japanese Irises (Iris ensata), Siberian Irises (Iris sibirica), Peonies (Paeonia), Daylilies (Hemerocallis) in partial shade to full sun sites. Plantain Lilies (Hosta), Columbines (Aquilegia), Bleeding Heart (Dicentra), Coral Bells (Heuchera), Meadow Rue (Thalictrum aquilegifolium), Heartleaf Bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia) or with Ferns in shady locations.
With several species of Astilbe involved in hybridization, there is a great variety of cultivars available for early, midseason or late flowering; airy, dense, arching or upright flower plumes; pure white, pink, peach to bright red blossoms; dwarf to head high.
Astilbe x arendsii (False Spirea, Hybrid Astilbe)
The Arendsii hybrids are derived from crosses between A. chinensis, A. japonica, A. thunbergii and A. astilboides which were performed by George Arends in Germany at the turn of the 20th century. A large proportion of Astilbes planted in our gardens belong to the Arendsii Hybrids. There are many available cultivars varying tremendously in size, shape, color and blooming period. They range from copper to dark green foliage, from clear to blood-red, white flower plumes and with flowering times ranging between late spring to late summer.
Astilbe chinensis (Chinese Astilbe)
This group is often the last Astilbe to bloom. Slowly spreading, these plants are rather imposing with their fern-like foliage, mostly coarsely textured, topped by stiffly erect and narrow flower plumes. They are generally more heat and drought tolerant, lending themselves to areas where the other Astilbes fare poorly. Their flowers are held in branched, rather narrow panicles, mostly in shades of rose to purple. Their deeply incised bronze-green foliage makes them even doubly handsome. They look best in small groups in a shaded corner of the perennial border, massed in woodlands or along streams and ponds.
Astilbe japonica (Florist's Spirea)
This group enjoys a great early-mid summer presence with dense, upright, pyramidal-shaped flower plumes atop a foliage that is mostly glossy green.
Astilbe simplicifolia (Star Astilbe)
This dwarf species has undergone extensive hybridization. The leaves are either simple (not compound) or ternate (single group of 3 leaves) and glossier than other astilbes. They form compact mounds of handsome foliage and are attractive even without flowers or fruit. Their flower plumes consist of star-like flowers in airy sprays of open panicles and their seed heads are almost as ornamental as the flowers themselves, extending their season of interest by a couple of months.