Green Guide to Michaelmas Daisies

Of all the herbaceous plants grown in gardens today the michaelmas daisies are among the most ornamental and the most long-suffering. They begin to flower at the summer’s end and they go on flowering until the frosts arrive. There are tall, medium and dwarf michaelmas daisies. All except the dwarf varieties are excellent as cut flowers, lasting a week or more in water.

They are best planted in the spring, they have fibrous roots and re-establish themselves quickly. If the weather should be dry towards the end of April it would be necessary to water them once or twice a week.

Botanically the michaelmas daisies are all species or varieties of Aster and this is rather confusing when you look at a catalogue for the first time. Really they are quite simple to understand if you realise that they fall into three main types the varieties of Aster amellus, Aster novae-angliae and Aster novae-belgii. The ‘novaeangliae’ group is not really very important and apart from the variety ‘Harrington’s Pink’ is hardly worth considering.

The Aster amellus varieties flower much earlier than the more familiar michaelmas daisies the novae-belgii varieties. The Amellus varieties are useful plants to bring colour to the borders from August onwards. There are about two dozen varieties but the large-flowered. Deep blue ‘King George’, the light blue ‘Frikartii’, the rosy lavender ‘Nocturne’ and the lilac-mauve ‘Beauty of Ronsdorf are among the most attractive. Except in very windy gardens these varieties need no staking.

Now for the real michaelmas daisies, the ‘novae-belgii’ varieties that flower so magnificently for many weeks in the autumn. The dwarfs make low domes of flowers about a foot high and even more across and are excellent for the front of an herbaceous border for planting in groups of two or three beneath shrubs. They do not mind being-moved just when they are coming into flower provided they are well watered before and after they are replanted. So it is worth while planting a few in some odd corner of the garden and moving them say at the end of August to fill gaps in beds or borders where some of the summer annual flowers such as antirrhinums have finished flowering. Good dwarf varieties are ‘Lilac Time-’, ‘Snowsprite’, pure white, very neat and tidy, ‘Little Blue Baby’, bright blue. ‘Constance’, rose pink, and ‘Audrey’, mauve-blue but lhere are many more and they are all lovely.

But the taller varieties in the group offer a wonderful selection. There are varieties ranging in height from 2 ft. to 4 ft. but their height will depend upon their surroundings. If they are planted in a border backed by a fence or a hedge, cheek by jowl with other plants they will naturally reach for the sunlight and grow much taller than they would in a bed in an open situation. So the problem of staking depends on the situation. In any case they need only one or two canes pushed in around them and a single tie of thin string to keep them upright.

There are half a dozen really first class varieties, good for cutting and superb in the garden.

For a real light blue choose ‘Marie Ballard’; a delicate pink. ‘Apple Blossom’. If you want a really deep blue ‘Mistress Quickly’ is excellent and a good lavender pink variety is ‘Sweet Seventeen’

The best ruby-red variety is ‘Winston Churchill’ and for a fine pink variety ‘Patricia Ballard’ would be hard to beat. But there are dozens more, all of them beautiful.

Some michaelmas daisies suffer from mildew – the leaves become covered with a white substance, some time in early August. If you find a certain variety is affected with mildew in your own particular garden, get rid of it. If you are very fond of it you can keep it free from mildew by spraying it every ten days with a sulphur spray, but there are plenty of varieties that do not suffer from this disease.

Michaelmas daisies should be lifted and divided every two or three years. This can be done in autumn or spring. Dig up the clumps and break them up. The old worn-out pieces in the middle of the clump should be thrown away. Only the strong healthy shoots from the outside of the clump are worth replanting. Ideally one should divide and replant michaelmas daisies every year – planting the pieces about a foot apart – then they will produce one or two stems only but with large and handsome flowers. If the plants are left undisturbed for years the flowers become smaller and smaller and they are not really very decorative. &

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