I love participating in giveaways for gardening items and plants. Recently, I won a flat of fifty asters from New Moon Nursery, a New Jersey-based, wholesale company that specializes in Eastern native plants. The gift was actually a flat of any plant they had in stock and I specifically asked for Aster lateriflorus ‘Lady in Black’. I first saw Lady in Black last fall at the Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens at the Agricultural History Farm Park in Derwood, Maryland. I was struck by mass of pretty small flowers and the colorful foliage. Also known as calico aster, this particular type of aster grows to 3 feet, has purple black leaves, and blooms small, daisy-like white and purple pink flowers in September and October. Drought tolerant when established, Lady in Black is a low maintenance, native plant known for attracting butterflies but not attracting rabbits and deer.
I was excited to get the asters but fifty plants! What was I going to do? I barely had the space for five let alone fifty! And even if I had the space, it was too hot and dry to plant in the ground, the small roots would shrivel up in no time. These plants were in a 50-cell, deep plug tray which means that each plant was only about 2 inches in diameter with a 4-inch depth. Planting them in the ground now during the current drought and high temperatures would only kill them. Yet leaving them in the flat all winter long would also kill them. For now, I put the flat in a place in the garden that received morning sun and afternoon shade to reduce the heat and stress and watered every few days. Later in the month, when the heat diminishes, I will plant all fifty in my melon patch, which is a new bed in full sun, but vacant now as melon season has passed. The little asters will live in the melon patch over the winter in a holding pattern (alive but not growing) while their roots dig down for moisture and insulation. In May, I will transplant most of them into small plastic containers and plant the ones I want to keep elsewhere in my own garden. So friends and family, next year I will be sharing about 40 native aster plants, lovely perennials with beautiful fall flowers!