Ann Sanders is a contributing writer for State-by-State Gardening magazines.

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Summer Stunner
by Ann Sanders    

When other plants are winding down, boltonia  is just revving up.

‘Pink Beauty’. Photo Courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder- Glenn Kopp

‘Snowbank’. Photo courtesy of Forestfarm at Pacifica,

About 12 years ago, I began adding plants to newly created ornamental garden beds in my backyard. This is an area in full sun and has mostly dry soil, except in spring when it can sometimes have standing water for the better part of a day. It’s an area that has proved ideal for growing boltonia.

Boltonia asteroides, sometimes called false aster, is an easy-care perennial that’s native to moist-soil areas in the eastern half of the United States. It’s a super hardy, vigorous grower that can soar to 5 or 6 feet tall and 2 to 4 feet wide, but in my garden, it hasn’t gone above 3 to 4 feet. It blooms at least four weeks from late summer into fall with what seems like thousands of tiny, white, daisy-like flowers. From a distance, you might think it was a baby’s breath.

It was during a casual discussion with fellow garden club members one day that I realized my garden was lacking more finely textured plants that can provide softness and balance to its overall look. As we talked about the “fillers” that florists put into their bouquets to add that special finishing touch, one member recommended the cultivar ‘Snowbank’. Since it is salt-tolerant, I purchased a second plant about four years ago and placed it alongside my curbside mailbox. Now I can enjoy views of it from windows at the front and the back of the house.

In springtime I surround my backyard plant with a small tomato cage to support the stems since it is growing in what seems like a wind tunnel between my house and the neighbors’. This helps keep the delicate stems from bending during extreme weather. In areas without excessive wind, boltonia usually stands erect without any extra support. It doesn’t need any deadheading, nor does it self-seed and make a nuisance of itself. I usually cut my plants back to about 6 inches high when all the blooms are spent at the end of October or early November.

There are several species and cultivars of boltonia, blooming in shades of pink and lavender as well as white. Two cultivars worth seeking are the pastel pink ‘Pink Beauty’ or the compact 2-foot tall ‘Nana’ with lavender-pink flowers.



Buddies for Boltonia

There are many good things to say about boltonia, but high on the list is the fact that it blooms late in the season. While some annuals have started looking bedraggled and seedheads have already started forming on certain perennials, boltonia is just emerging, fresh as the daisy to which it is often compared.

The effect will be heightened, however, by bringing in some companions, plants that also bloom late in the year. There are several possibilities. The difficulty is that it’s impossible to predict whether any of them will be blooming at precisely the same time as the boltonia. Soil conditions and heat and rainfall vary throughout our region. So while boltonia and helenium, say, may be perfectly synchronized in southern Wisconsin, the helenium might burst into bloom several weeks earlier down by Lake Michigan in Chicago. You’re simply going to have to experiment a bit and see what works for you. But isn’t that part of the fun?

That said, here are some candidates worth considering:

Asters, of course. More daisy-type flowers in pink, rose, lavender and purple.

Helenium. Sometimes called sneezeweed, this native grows about 3 feet tall and covers itself with 1-inch yellow or orange blossoms. Also daisy-shaped.

Physotegia. This one does not look like a daisy. In fact, it doesn’t look like anything except itself. The flower stalks are topped with ascending rows of tiny lavender-pink bells that you can move around the stem. Hence its common name “obedient plant.”

Goldenrod. Various sizes and shapes. The shrub ‘Fireworks’ works well. 

Plumbago. A unique ground cover with shiny green leaves that turn bright red in fall with sky blue flowers.

Perovskia or Russian sage. Airy lavender spikes that may begin to fade by September, but you never know until you try it. 

Black-eyed Susan. This one starts blooming in July and continues into the fall. Another daisy type.

Ornamental and native prairie grasses. So many choices.

— Carolyn Ulrich

Helenium. Photo courtesy of Kylee Baumle

Physotegia. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Ulrich

From Chicagoland Volume XVIIII Issue I.


Posted: 01/30/13   RSS | Print


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