While hostas are terrific plants for shady locations, a number of other perennials are wonderful additions to the shade garden. One of the best perennials for shade is astilbe, or false spirea. Astilbes have beautiful spike-like clusters of flowers that sway gracefully in the wind. Flower colors include white, pink, red, and reddish purple. The flowers are borne on stiff, upright or arching stems. Astilbe foliage varies from dark green to bronze. The astilbe's combination of colorful flowers and attractive foliage make it a perfect complement to the bold coarseness of hostas. Astilbes also make wonderful cut or dried flowers. Allow a few spent flower blossoms to remain on the plants in fall and you will be rewarded with elegant brown spikes through much of the winter.
Astilbes shine when many other shade loving perennials are waning. They bloom for 2 to 3 weeks. Depending on the variety, astilbes flower from early to late summer. Early blooming varieties begin to flower in late May or June while late bloomers begin in late July or early August. By selecting several varieties with different bloom times, the floral display can be extended over 2 or 3 months.
Astilbes also vary greatly in height. Some varieties like 'Sprite' or 'Perkeo' grow only 6 to 12 inches tall (bloom included), while 'Purple Lance' or 'Purple Candles' can reach 4 feet in height. This diversity in height makes astilbes versatile perennials well suited to many areas of the perennial border.
Fertile, moist, humus-rich soil is a must for these shade lovers. Astilbes are unforgiving in dry soils, as the leaves will brown quickly. Annual additions of compost or organic matter around the base of the plant will be rewarded with loads of blooms and healthy foliage. While astilbes require consistent moisture, they do not tolerate waterlogged or heavy clay soils well. Clay and poorly drained soils can be improved by incorporating peat moss, compost, or other types of organic matter into the soil before planting.
Astilbes are easily propagated by dividing large clumps when the foliage emerges in early spring. Vigorously growing astilbes can be divided every 4 to 6 years After division, water and mulch well to aid establishment.
Astibles are native to China, Japan, and Korea. There are 25 different species. Hundreds of hybrids or selections have been made from approximately a dozen species. 'Peach Blossom', the first cultivar introduced in 1903, is still available on the market today.
Please see the following chart for a listing of a few of the cultivars that are available with height, flower color, and bloom time for each.
|Cultivar||Height (in.)||Flower Color||Bloom Time||Comments|
|A. x arendsii types|
|America||28||Lilac rose||Early - Mid|
|Bressingham Beauty||36-40||Pink||Mid||Arching plumes|
|Bumalda||24||Pinkish white||Early - Mid|
|Cattleya||36-40||Orchid-pink||Mid - Late||Long blooming|
|Erica||30-36||Pink||Early - Mid||Compact trusses|
|Etna||24-28||Dark red||Mid||Dark foliage|
|Fanal||24||Red||Early - Mid||Bronze foliage|
|Granat||24-28||Carmine red||Early - Mid||Bronze foliage|
|Rheinland||24||Carmine rose||Early - Mid|
|Snowdrift||24||White||Early - Mid|
|White Gloria||20-24||White||Mid||Blocky plumes|
|A. chinensis types|
|Pumila||10-12||Lavender pink||Late||Groundcover type|
|Purple Candles||36-42||Reddish purple||Late||Compact trusses|
|Veronica Klose||20-24||Purple rose||Late|
|Visions||12-18||Lilac purple||Late||Compact trusses; bronze foliage|
|A. crispa type|
|Perkeo||6-10||Rose||Late||Crisp foliage; zone 5 hardy|
|A. x japonica types|
|Cotton Candy||12-16||Pink||Mid - Late||Compact foliage|
|Elisabeth||24-28||Raspberry lilac||Mid||Purplish foliage|
|Montgomery||24-36||Dark red||Mid||Dark foliage|
|Red Sentinel||24-36||Scarlet red||Mid - Late||Dark foliage|
|A. x rosea type|
|Peach Blossom||20-30||Peachy pink||Early||Fragrant flowers|
|A. simplicifolia types|
|Aphrodite||15-20||Salmon red||Late||Bronze foliage|
|Hennie Graafland||16-18||Light pink||Late||Shiny dark green foliage; arching plumes|
|Sprite||6-12||Shell pink||Late||Dark bronze foliage|
|A. x taquetii types|
|Purple Lance||42-46||Pinkish purple||Late|
|A. x thunbergii types|
|Ostrich Plume||36-40||Salmon pink||Mid||Arching plumes|
|Prof. van der Wielen||36-40||White||Mid||Arching plumes|
This article originally appeared in the July 14, 2000 issue, pp. 88-89.
Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Horticulture and Home Pest News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on July 14, 2000. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.