Michaelmas daisy

These easy-to-grow herbaceous perennials have daisy-like flowers either singly or in sprays. Most flower in late summer or early autumn and are ideal for enlivening both the herbaceous border and the rock garden.

Suitable site and soil. Asters are tolerant of most conditions except drought but prefer a sunny or partially-shaded site and fertile, moist but well-drained soil.

Cultivation and care. Plant in groups of two or three. Stake taller varieties. Dead-head asters regularly or use as cut flowers. Never allow the soil to dry out completely. Cut down the stems of all plants in autumn.

Propagation. Either by division in between autumn and spring or by softwood cuttings in spring. Large numbers of plants can be raised by teasing out roots into single shoots and planting them 15cm – 6in apart in spring. Asters also self-seed.

Recommended varieties. A. amellus, the Italian aster, is slow-growing to 60cm – 2ft high. A. novi-belgii (height 1.2m – 4ft) is the true Michaelmas daisy and includes ‘Fellowship’ with large pink flowers in autumn, ‘Royal Velvet’ with deep violet flowers, ‘Royal Ruby’ with deep red flowers and the dwarf ‘Little Pink Beauty’. A. x Jnkartii ‘Monch’ (height 75cm – 30in) has lavender-blue flowers with a yellow centre.

Pests and diseases. There are generally no problems, but A. novi-belgii is prone to powdery mildew and insect attack. For the former, remove and burn affected leaves; for the latter, spray with soapy water.

THE PERFECT GIFT

With more than 500 species of aster, offering an enormous range of height, flower size and colour, there is bound to be one to please every taste. And as they are so easy to grow and propagate, there should never be any need to buy any once you have built up a stock. Increase your range by swapping with friends and sell spares at local charity fetes. When you grow lots, you will also have plenty to cut and give away.

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