Favorite Astilbe?

Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

I have a small area ( 4 x 5 ) that I want to fill with astilbe. I have some purple and some white that I've had for nearly 20 years. What newer cultivars are outstanding in your experience? I'd prefer something in the pink, red, mauve, purple spectrum.

This message was edited Jul 2, 2009 6:55 PM

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

Well, my favorite is not a new one- it's Bridal Veil, because it really sparkles in the shade and I like the airier forms of astilbe. I have two smaller varieties which might work for you. 'Sprite' is a great one- it blooms for me in total shade, and again, I like the airy, droopy plumes. It's a very pale pink. I got a bunch an sale at Bluestone a few years ago and they have done great.

Another small one I got last year is 'Key West'. The leaves are supposed to be dark, or burgundy which should contrast well with the darker pink blooms. However, in my garden, the blooms were mid pink and the foliage was a blah green. It was a little ho hum for me, but I think I just didn't like the spot I had it in. It's supposed to be one of the most floriforous (sp?), long lasting ones. I moved mine to a new location this year, and they do have a ton of scapes...I'll post a pic of those when they bloom. I'm still not happy where they are, though, so will be moving them next year.

Oh, another one I like is 'Pink Lightning', because of the droopy panicles again, and also the foliage is shiny and dark on that one and stands out to me.

I have Bridal Veil and Pink Lightning near each other and unfortunately this year I will have barely any flowers from them...there is some kind of insect that destroys the flower buds as they come up. :(

Here is Sprite from last year

This message was edited Jul 3, 2009 10:30 AM

Thumbnail by Noreaster
Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

And Key West from last year

Thumbnail by Noreaster
Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

First Noreaster - you have beautiful gardens. Just beautiful. Second, how nice of you to take the time to post a repsonse plus pictures. I really like Key West. I don't have any of the cultivars you've mentioned. I've written them down amd will be at my favorite garden center after work today. I'll get whatever they have that you've posted. Thanks so much.

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

Thank you, Snapple. I think Key West will be really nice when I can find the right spot for it. I've read that the dark foliage color comes with heat, so maybe it needs to be in more sun for that. We don't have hot, hot summers here so maybe that's the issue, too. Good luck!

Sterling, VA(Zone 7a)

Another you might consider is Astilbe 'Radius'. It's a relatively new hybrid that grows to about 24 inches:

Thumbnail by Snug_As_Bug_Rug
Saint Louis, MO(Zone 6a)

Wow, Snug. The flower panicle looks enormous.
Something seems fishy here... Anabolic steroids?

Noreaster - I have 'Key West' also and have been a bit disappointed by it, especially when compared with some older red-flowered types (didn't have a name). It blooms a little later. I also have 'Bridal Veil' and 'Deutschland' (both whites) growing together in a different bed. One blooms 2 weeks earlier than the other and keeps that area in flower for a month. I'm trying 'White Wings' this year but so far, growing in a pot in the shade, it hasn't impressed me much. I think I need a spot in the ground for it.
Snapple - My "staple" Astilbe is 'Peach Blossom'. It's a pale peachy pink and is a real trooper. Has a great fragrance and holds up pretty well during the dryer spells. I've hacked bits of the root off of the mother plants for years and have it spread in small pockets in the garden. It looks great with blue Hosta and Japanese painted ferns.
Snug - 'Radius' is a good-looking red. Is it as bright as the photo appears?

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

Cindy, that's great that you have "choreographed" your astilbe to bloom at different times...I love astilbe, but hate that the bloom time is so short. Trying to plant them so that there bloom times are spaced out makes a lot of sense.

Do you ever dig and divide them, Cindy, or do you just hack pieces off while in ground? I've got significantly less blooms on Bridal Veil this year and can't figure out if they need to be divided...the foliage is very full, so I don't get what went wrong, other than the insect problem.

Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

I managed to find Key West and Bridal Veil. Pink Lightning was no where to be found. Radius was in the nursery and I got one of those too. I'm happy. My tired old astilbes needed an update. Thanks

Noreaster - No intentional choreographing here. Just managed to pick up small plants of two white varieties and they ended up in my "white" bed together. Didn't notice the different bloom times on them but it was sure a stroke of luck. As for the dividing, it depends on how patient I am at the moment. I'm actually more brutal with my Epimediums - just take a shovel and hack off a piece. Gee, I wasn't aware that the Astilbe might actually "need" to be divided. The Astilbe blooms here are the same or better than last year. The reds did really well this year but they were all planted at the same time in the same bed. We had flooding rains last fall and then a brutal winter (for us) with decent snow cover. And then we had a somewhat cool spring but with sufficient rain. I always wonder if that makes a difference. I know Astilbe are heavy feeders and I usually (read "if I remember") throw out an slow release all-purpose fertilizer in the spring. We have tons of oaks and they drain both nutrients and moisture from the soil here.

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

Hm, well, that could be the problem, as I never seem to get around to fertilizing most of my perennials. Pink Lightning is planted under an oak and that one also has very few blooms. I did read that astilbes needed to be divided to maintain vigor, but don't know anything about how you know when it's time to do that. I guess too much shade could equal less blooms, too, but 'Sprite' gets absolutely no direct sun and those are covered with scapes right now.

Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

I divide about every 5 years. They bloom just fine. But.....they are heavy feeders and I fetilize accordingly. They get a good dose in early May when they start to poke their heads up and I feed again around the end of June. I'll be cutting off the spent flowers here pretty soon and just keep them well watered the rest of the growing season. I think the early May fertilizer in this zone is the most important one. I don't skimp.

I'll admit that I'm not diligent about fertilizing and when I do remember, it's more like casually throwing out handfuls as I walk through. Terrible, I know. Normally, I've worked full time but have been unemployed the past year and a half (started by choice but now a tough market to get back into). Never had time for much more than a major cleanup in the spring, planting annuals, pulling weeds and trying to find a vacant spot for "must have" perennials. My pie-shaped lot is 150 ft across in the back and is solidly planted about 15 to 30 ft deep (depending on the area) and then the garden comes up along one entire 90 ft side. Parts of the garden are left to survive on their own with little maintenance and no supplemental watering. Always feel guilty about that. And after 20 years of cramming in plants, I realize I need a major revamp but have no idea of where to start. Dividing plants to maintain vigor always falls to the bottom of the to-do list. (See me with my head hanging down in shame...) Hmm, need to buy more fertilizer...
Noreaster - I think the variety of Astilbe makes a big difference as well as soil conditions. I don't have any recommendations though since I've never really analyzed it much. My no-name reds get more sun, more supplemental water and more fertilizer because they're closer to the house but also get crispier during hot, dry spells and this is the first year that they've bloomed really well (after 6 years). Go figure.

Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

Wowee! That's a huge garden. I'll bet it's just beautiful. I started a total revamp of a much smaller space in 2001. It included the entire front and back yard, hardscape included. This year I'm just putting on the finishing touches. The first two years were absolutely the toughest. Those were the years that I pulled and discarded every under performing plant, shrub or tree. I was ruthless. Iris - gone. We have a serious problem with iris borer here and the battle was never ending. Out they went. Daffodill bed - gone. The three months of green floppy foliage added nothing to the garden. Overplanting was a huge pain. I keep a few clumps dotted around the garden between hostas so the expanding hosta leaves cover the daffs as they go dormant. Much better. Poppys. I love them, but the dying foliage stood out like a sore thumb and I never found a suitable companion plant to cover their annual demise. Foxgolves - same thing, stately gorgeous and prolific. But the die back was very unattractive. On it went. The list was long. Coreposis - it ran rampant through the gardens. Tradescantia, nearly took over. Took three years to eradicate it.

The makeover resulted in well behaved perennials, shrubs and trees that look good through out the entire growing season. Huechera's are terrific and come in almost as many colors as sunny annuals. Lots of new hostas. I have a blue & gold garden for hostas that's a show stopper. Added lots of ferns of all kinds and some aqualegia and pulmonaria In the sunny areas I went to dwarf and medium sized conifers paired with ornamental grasses. For a little contrast I planted a small pink leaved weigelia My Monet. It's pink and cream all summer and never outgrows it's place. The new Barberries are gorgeous. Try planting an upright bright golden leafed " Gold Pillar" next to a mounding "deep purple red "Cabernet" with a yellow creeping conifer called "Motherlode" at the base. The yellow, gold and purple hold the entire growing season. None have any garden "down time". Inter mixed in the borders are zone 5 hardy hydrangeas - all species. I have serratas, quercifolias, paniculatas, peotiolaris and macrophylla. There are whites, pinks and those I persuade to bloom blue. The blooms never stop.

There are other plants too numerous to list, like the astilbes, azaleas and rhodies that I did keep. I kept the clematis' too. The goal was no invasiveness, no dying foliage and especially color all season. It took nine years to collect the plants. I've never been happier with a garden. Decide on your makeover goal, form a plan and get out the shovel. It's a terrific gardening journey.

I should add that there has been one stumble along the way. Japanese Maples. I love them. I planted 6 over the last four years. I lost one last year and two this spring. I've replanted hardier varieties. There aren't many that can handle -17. Any future losses will send me looking for another kind of replacement. My wallet can't take too much more ot that.

This message was edited Jul 10, 2009 2:17 PM

Snapple - What a beautiful project! I'm jealous of you being able to grow H. macrophylla. I have 'All Summer Beauty' and 'Endless Summer' here and have been disappointed in their lack of blooms. Too much shade I think. I have quercifolia 'Snow Queen', arborescens 'Annabelle', serrata 'Blue Billow', all blooming now, and a tardiva that's never done well though it's supposed to be good for our area. I've been relying more and more on foliage but still want flowers. Don't get many flowers after July (except for annuals) until C. 'Hillside Sheffield Pink', Tricyrtis, Anemone and Kirengeshoma bloom in the fall. I'm more of a collector type and it becomes a challenge to find the right combinations with other plants. Yeah, I need to be ruthless in editing but then I get sentimental. Sigh. In my lower garden (sits in a back corner about 10 ft down from the backyard), I have a tendency to throw a lot of plants in there to see what survives since it doesn't get supplemental water down there. Love Northern sea oats but they liked that spot too much. And some of my plants - bloodroot and Canadian ginger - have long since moved from their original spot to self-seed elsewhere. I do start out with a plan but some of these plants have a mind of their own. I have a barberry 'Royal Cloak' that I just love in the spring but it turns green once the oaks leaf out. I also have a love/hate relationship with hardy geraniums and Tradescantia. How can one resist 'Sweet Kate' when it's blooming? I'm on light duty for the next week or so due to pulled abdominal muscle so it's probably a good time to do some editing (at least on paper. Thanks for the inspiration.

Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

I would just love to see your gardens. Having anything show color in August is the hallmark of a very good gardener, especially if there are flowers in bloom. Northern Sea Oats are best in a pot. I had trouble getting Endless Summer to bloom until I began side dressing it in the very early spring with super phosphate in addition to a regular 10-10-10 slow release 4 month feed. Now the blooms can get 10" across and they are plentiful. I had to look up Kirengeshoma. That's a new one on me. That has me spinning around looking for a place to squeeze it in. Sweet Kate was one of the plants I tossed. It wasn't easy. Speaking of which - you take it easy. Pushing a pencil around sounds like just what you should be doing until you heal up.

As for planning - I'm a visual planner. I had to toss the unwanteds first to get an idea of what space I was working with. I'm impressed that you can put it down on paper.

Rosamond, CA(Zone 8b)

I have one or two that are deep red almost burgundy and are really tall, almost flopping over when it gets too hot.
I need ideas for shade. I have a dense are a of shade, I want something to flower there.

hellnzn11 - Are you talking about hydrangeas? I'm definitely no expert (you may want to look at a different forum) but some do swoon a bit when it gets really hot, even with adequate moisture and mulch to keep the roots cool. Usually they perk back up in the evening. It's difficult for me to recommend any particular shade-lovers since I'm not familiar with your climate.
snapple - I'll have to try the additional phosphate. I've always thought my shade was too much for it. I know a local gardening columnist has also had poor bloom production with these varieties. Makes me wonder about the marketing. I have seen others in almost full sun blooming pretty well but they do tend to wilt fast.

Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

Endless Summer has been also called Endless Disappointment because of it's unwillingness to bloom. Try the super phosphate side dressing. It should do the trick.

Southwest , NH(Zone 5b)

Snapple - How is the super phosphate packaged? Is there a brand name that you use? I'm not familiar with it, and my endless summer hasn't had blooms since I moved it last year. I think I'll try the phosphate, but I'm not sure just what to buy. thanks!

Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

There are a couple of companies that put this product out. The links are just an example of some of them, not a suggestion you buy from these sites. Just an example of what to look for. You should be able to find it at a better independant garden center or Lowe's or possibly Home Depot. I get mine from the local Lowes. It's a granular.

SuperPhosphate is the P in the NPK ( Nitrogen - N, Phosphorous - P, Potassium - K ) in fertilizer. It's the P that pushes blooms.


The higher the number the more potent the phosphate. I use 46. It does not burn. If over applied it may cause leaves to ripple or crinkle. For any flowering plant or shrub always choose a fertilizer that has a higher middle number.

For instance if you get Schultz's Bloom Plus liquid feed for flowering annuals look at the middle number. It's 54. This is terrific for pushing flowering annuals in bed or containers. Use it for annuals only though, nor shrubs or perennials.

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

snapple, is that all you use on hydrangeas? I usually use Espoma holly-tone once in the Spring. If I wanted to try the super-phosphate, would I do that by itself or in conjunction with another fertilizer? I'm fertilizer-stupid, which is why my plants usually get none!

Snapple - Do you think it's too late for the super phosphate? I know we're going into the warmer, drier time of summer and I would be concerned about stressing the plant too much. What do you think?
I've managed to start a list of plants to dig out, starting with some of the hardy geraniums. The lankiness of the stems has always frustrated me - hardly worth the flowers. Even 'Rozanne' will go. I will keep the G. cantabrigiense varieties ('Karmina', 'Biokovo') since they're more compact. Might make some more room for those Astilbe that I should divide. Gotta keep Tradescantia 'Osprey' and 'Sweet Kate' though but will have to remember to cut way back after blooming. Even some of my 20yo German iris are going - take up too much space for sporadic bloom. Thought the foliage at least would give me a bit of form but the leaves look dreadful by mid summer. It was actually nice to sit and make a list since I never really have time to contemplate what needs to change. The list continues...

Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

I also use a balanced fertilizer in conjunction with the superphosphate. I use a slow release 4 month feed, usually a 10-10-10. I apply both just before or at budbreak. Holly-Tone's fine. Expensive, but good stuff. Holly -Tone also calls for a fall feeding. I use it for the Rhodies, Azaleas and Enkianthus, etc.

N = Nitrogen, leaf growth
P = phosphorus, promotes flower and root growth
K = necessary for the overall health of the plant, important for disease resistance

Always read the labels. Slow release is granular, but not all granulars are slow release.
Water soluable is quick acting, usually does not have an effect longer than 2 weeks.

Nitrogen comes in different chemical compositions. Ammoniacal nitrogen is preferred when you want to promote or maintain soil acidity. Nitrate of Soda, increases soil pH and shouldn't be used in low rainfall regions. I wouldn't get too concerned about the forms of nitrogen as most manufacturers produce fertilizers that are best formulated for the plants they are labeled for. Like roses or rhododendrons. Use them only for what they are labeled for and you'll do fine. I only point this out because a balanced fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, isn't always the best choice. It's a jack of all trades, but not really good for specialty plants. Perennials are a class all by themselves. It's a plant by plant consideration.

Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

No it's not too late for the superphosphate. Work it into the top inch or so of the soil and then water it in. You should see reults in about two weeks. I'll post more later. I'm at work and have to keep doing work stuff.

Southwest , NH(Zone 5b)

Thanks, Snapple, for all that great info!! Now get back to work.....LOL

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

snapple, I picked up some of that Hi -Yield Super phosphate...but it looks like I goofed and didn't get the "triple" one. Do you think the regular super phosphate will still have an effect, and how much would you use on a 3 foot hydrangea?

Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

No goof! Both work fine. At that strength I'd use about 1 cup side dressed inside the drip line. Work into the top 1" of soil and water in. It takes about two weeks for the plant to begin to react by showing new buds. This is not a fertilizer component that will burn. If overdone leaves crinkle and pucker. Not pretty, but not fatal. Iris are sensitive to it. The leaves ripple.

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

So one cup for the whole shrub? I kind of have a problem where half the plant is blocked by astilbe...so I may have to do half of it! It's Blushing Bride, and though it has buds, they just seem so wimpy....even the stems are wimpy and thin. My older non endless summer macrophylla just seems so much beefier, both stems and leaves (but sadly, no blooms on that this year. When I get flowers on that, they are large.)

Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

I don't have any experience with Blushing Bride, so I'm not sure how stocky/beefy they're supposed to be. Roots from the astilbe might be robbing the Endless Summer too. Astilbes are heavy feeders. They'll take all the soil has to give and then some. If you can't get the astilbe out of the way then get the superphosphate as close to all the roots as you can reach.

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

Right now, I can't see how the stems could possibly support a large mophead bloom...so I imagine the blooms will stay on the small side. I noticed the super phosphate bad said, "stronger stems", so that gave me hope! The astilbe was moved there this Spring, so I don't know how much they are stealing from the hydrangea...I'm going to have to move them out next year anyway because I think they are too big if that hydgrangea continues to grow. I'm not going to winter protect it this time, though, so I'm not sure how much bigger it can get if it has to grow from the base up every year.

Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

You'd be surprised. I have never winter protected mine. It's about 3-1/2' x 4' right now from new growth and still going. The root mass just gets bigger and produces more new growth each year. The height stays at about 3-1/2' but the width keeps expanding.

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

Yes, it is remarkable how much a hydrangea can grow in just one season. My other one, Merritt's Supreme, did something funky last year where all the middle buds did not open so it looked like a Dr Seuss hydrangea. This year, despite only having 2-3 flowers, it sent up a ton of new growth and looks incredibly full and healthy again. I have to decide whether or not to winter protect it again.

Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

How odd looking that must have been. This year I bought two garden center annuals for pots that were over treated with PGR - plant growth regulator. Talk about funky leaf growth. The leaves were cupped to the point of being small bowls that could hold water! I needed those particular varieties for my color schemes so I bought them anyway, thinking that they would out grow the PGR. One, a coleus mostly has. The other, an irisine, still looks like the stems end in bowls. I don't like it but I'm stuck with it now. Next time I'll leave any PGR over treated plant sitting at the garden center. Gardening is a never ending learning adventure.

Snapple - do you use the super phosphate for your Astilbes since they're heavy feeders? I've recovered from the strained whatever and intend to start some of my garden "remodeling" which will involve dividing and moving. It's not the ideal time but I've got a lot in mind to accomplish. Was wondering of super phos would help the divisions or moved plants settle in a little quicker. 'Key West' is the last Astilbe left blooming but I'm not moving that one from it's present site.

Holland, OH(Zone 5b)

No - I dont. Astilbes don't seem to need the extra phosphorous to encourage bloom. They are one of the few plants that actually perform well with a generous 10-10-10 in the early spring. When I transplant anything I put a pinch or two of super phosphate in the bottom of the planting hole and incorporate it with the soil, then plop in the plant. Gives the roots a little boost.

Getting started on a garden remodel is the hardest part. As the new improved garden begins to take shape it gets easier and easier to take a critical look at the plants and toss the less than fabulous or rearrange into better combinations. Heck, if you water well when transplanting and keep regular watering, transplanting now is fine. If you don't mind losing the bloom on some plants for the season. Just think how settled in they will look next year. Now don't go and reinjure yourself. The fun has just begun!

Rosamond, CA(Zone 8b)

No it is not a hydrangea. Exhibit A.

Thumbnail by hellnzn11
Rosamond, CA(Zone 8b)

This is a great color. I love it and the thing is giant. My husband rolls on it, thinks it does not look real. Below the smaller one succumbing to the heat and toppling over. Any of you know the variety?

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