How to Grow and Care for Early-Blooming Alpine Aster

Aster alpinus

The alpine aster, Aster alpinus, is a short-lived cold weather perennial in the very large Asteraceae family that includes daisies, dahlias, and sunflowers.

Close up of light purple alpine aster in bloom.

This herbaceous ornamental species is unique for having an early bloom time, low profile, and single blossom per stem.

In this article, you will learn all you need to grow and care for the alpine aster.

Cultivation and History

Best suited to USDA hardiness zones 4 to 7, A. alpinus thrives in full sun with average to poor, well-draining soil. Bloom time is from late spring to early summer, and sometimes mid-summer. Mature dimensions average 8 to 12 inches tall and wide.

A view overlooking green European mountains with Alpine aster in bloom in the foreground.
Purple alpine asters growing in the Carpathian Mountains of Slovakia.

This species is native to the mountains of China and Europe, including the Alps. A few subspecies may be found in the wild in Canada and parts of the western United States and Alaska, including the Plumas alpine aster, Oreostemma elatum (Greene) Greene, and Vierhapper’s aster, A. alpinus var. vierhapperi (Onno) Cronquist.

Unlike many aster species that produce clusters of flowers, the blossoms of A. alpinus are borne on individual stems, like daisies.

Propagation

This species grows from seeds, cuttings, and divided plants.

Seeds

Start seeds indoors to give them a jump start on the growing season. Scatter them on moist soil and tamp lightly, barely covering them. Expect germination in 2 to 4 weeks. Transplant seedlings to their permanent location after the last average spring frost date.

Close up of aster seedlings in grow trays.

Note that seed from a native species produces a replica of its parent plant. However, seed harvested from a cultivar that has been selectively bred for particular traits, or crossed with another type to create a hybrid, does not produce true from seed, and may even be sterile.

Cuttings

Once plants get underway in spring, take cuttings from stems with new leaf growth. Dip the ends into rooting hormone and place into potting medium. Once roots are established and the cuttings begin to grow, you may plant them permanently.

Propagation by cuttings is one way to reproduce the traits of a cultivar or hybrid.

Division

Divide your plants in early spring, once you see them coming up again. Slice down into a clump with a sharp spade and remove a portion of the plant with roots attached. Transplant the divided section(s) immediately.

Close up of natural Alpine aster in bloom.

Dividing plants ensures the replication of parent plant characteristics.

Be sure to maintain even moisture during the propagation stage of growing.

To replicate the exact traits of a cultivated variety, propagate by cuttings or division only.

Please note: If you are growing a native species, seeds will normally replicate the characteristics of the parent plant. However, if you harvest seeds from varieties that have been cross-bred, called hybrids, the seeds won’t replicate the parent plant, but will revert back to one of the crossed species.

How to Grow

To successfully cultivate A. alpinus, choose a location that gets full sun. Poor to average soil is adequate, as this plant does not crave nutrients.

The soil should drain well and have a pH of about 6.0 to 7.5. Asters don’t mind a little acidity.

Space your seeds, seedlings, cuttings, or divisions at least 12 inches apart to accommodate mature dimensions and allow for adequate air flow.

Close up of a mass planting of native Alpine aster. Flowers are in bloom with purple-lavender petals.

As with the propagation phase, maintain even moisture until your transplants become established. At that point, watering needs are minimal and plants exhibit a high degree of drought tolerance.

Unlike some native species, this type is not likely to become a weedy menace. While it does self-sow, it is a slow grower that is not considered to be invasive.

You may also grow this type in well-draining containers, either alone or with companions of a similar culture. Some suggestions are:

Containers should exceed plant(s)’ mature dimensions by at least two inches in diameter to allow room for watering and airflow.

Remember that containers dry out more quickly than ground soil, so although these plants are drought tolerant, water before they completely dry out.

Growing Tips:

  • Poor soil is preferred
  • No fertilizer is needed
  • 12-inch spacing promotes good airflow
  • Water needs are low once established, but higher for container plants

Care and Maintenance

As we’ve said, once established, A. alpinus is relatively self-sufficient. However, while it is drought tolerant, it’s not a huge fan of humidity. This is where adequate drainage and proper spacing come into play, as ways to minimize the potential for fungal growth from excess moisture and inadequate air flow.

Pink Alpine aster flowers in a large terracotta container.

Another good way to maintain ample circulation is to divide mature plants every few years. An added benefit is the revitalization of the main plant.

You may also want to deadhead spent blossoms to minimize self-sowing, particularly with cultivars and hybrids that may be fertile and not produce true to seed.

And finally, while this plant is drought tolerant, that doesn’t mean it won’t appreciate a drink in a dry spell, especially if it’s in a container.

Cultivars to Select

When shopping for plants or seeds, you’re likely to find listings for alpine aster, A. alpinus, or dwarf aster. Following is usually a generic color such as “pink,” “purple,” “white,” or “mixed.”

However, there are also named cultivars available. Cornell University’s Home Gardening Flower Growing Guides cites six noteworthy selections:

1. ‘Beechwood’

This cultivar has lavender petals resembling those of the native New England aster.

Alpine aster ‘Beechwood’ in bloom in a garden setting.

However, flower heads are borne on individual stems instead of in bushy clusters, and heights are in inches instead of feet, for a low-profile, far less aggressive aster.

2. ‘Dark Beauty’

This purple cultivar also resembles the New England species, only this time, in a dark shade of purple. The early bloom time, low profile, and single blossom per stem remind us it’s an alpine.

Aster alpinus 'Dark Beauty' in bloom with purple petals.
‘Dark Beauty’

And, although it self-sows like other aster species, it grows slowly and is not considered to be invasive.

Find this variety now on Amazon.

3. ‘Goliath’

Another you may come across is ‘Goliath’, which has lavender flowers that shade toward blue. This is a slightly larger plant that exceeds the typical 8 to 12 inches, reaching a height of approximately 15.

A mass planting of Aster alpinus 'Goliath' in bloom. Flowers have lavender petals and yellow centers.

In addition, this cultivar bears especially large blossoms that measure up to three inches across, more like those of a China aster than a typical 1-inch A. alpinus blossom.

Find this variety now on Amazon now.

4. ‘Happy End’

Each purple-hued cultivar is slightly different, and this one’s claim to fame is its distinctive pink-purple double-rayed flower head.

Aster alpinus 'Happy End' in bloom with distinct purple-pink double flower heads.

And the fuller look is not its only key feature. The growth habit of this kind is especially compact.

5. ‘Wargrave Variety’

If pink is more your color, you may like this one best.

Pink flowers of alpine aster 'Wargrave.'

Pink rays display a blush of purple for greater depth.

6. ‘White Beauty’

The flower heads of this cultivar are snowy white, an aster color with which you may not be familiar. White flowers flawlessly integrate a variety of pastel shades and can also soften the intensity of bold-color blooms.

A. alpinus var. albus ‘White Beauty’ in bloom with white petals and yellow centers.

And with their daisy-like appearance, they make a cheerful addition to the spring to summer garden, and the anticipation of warmer days to come.

You can find this variety on Amazon.

Managing Pests and Disease

Asters in general are not prone to problems. However, if too much moisture builds up due too poor drainage, they may fall victim to nibbling nematodes, slugs and snails.

An application of food grade diatomaceous earth is an excellent way to combat root-feeding pests.

In addition, too much moisture plus inadequate air circulation due to poor spacing may make plants vulnerable to fungal conditions like powdery mildew, rust, fusarium or verticillium wilt, or white smut.

A biological fungicide may be useful against the ravages of fungal disease. It may also keep the dreaded aster leafhopper at bay, an insect that transmits a fatal condition called aster yellows.

As for wildlife, you may find it necessary to take measures to prevent damage from deer and rabbits that find the tender shoots tasty.

Your best defense is a good offense. To maintain optimal health:

  1. Start with good quality plants or seeds.
  2. Space adequately to allow for optimal airflow between plants.
  3. Provide appropriate drainage to prevent excess moisture build up.
  4. Keep weeds and debris at bay to minimize insect infestation.

Best Uses

Low-profile, early-blooming A. alpinus has low water and maintenance needs, making it suitable for xeriscaping. It does equally well in rock gardens, containers, and fronts of borders, provided the soil drains well.

It’s a welcome addition to the garden because it attracts beneficial wildlife like bees, birds, and butterflies.

Quick Reference Growing Chart

Plant Type: Herbaceous flowering perennial Flower Color: Pink, purple, white
Native to: Asia and Europe with some subspecies in the US and Canada Maintenance: Minimal, deadhead spent flowers if desired
Hardiness (USDA Zone): 4-7 Soil Type: Average
Bloom Time: Late spring to early-, sometimes mid-summer Soil pH: 6.0-7.5
Exposure: Full sun Soil Drainage: Well-drained
Time to Maturity: 14-28 days to flower from seed Companion Planting: Alyssum, creeping thyme, rock cress, twinspur
Spacing: 12 inches Uses: Xeriscaping, rock gardens, containers, and fronts of borders
Planting Depth: Depth: Place on moist soil and tamp lightly, barely covering Family: Asteraceae
Height: 8-12 inches Subfamily: Astereae
Spread: 8-12 inches Genus: Aster
Water Needs: Minimal Species: Aster alpinus
Tolerance: Cold, drought, light shade, and poor soil; deer resistant
Attracts: Bees, birds, and butterflies
Pests & Diseases: Nematodes, slugs, snails; aster yellows, fusarium and verticillium wilt, powdery mildew

From the Alps to Your Garden

It’s a treat when a beautiful flower from a foreign land thrives in the home garden. For me, alpine aster conjures images of the Von Trappe family frolicking across blossom-laden mountainsides in The Sound of Music.

With its ability to tolerate cold, drought, and poor soil, this rugged little gem deserves a place in your spring-to-summer landscape. And it grows slowly, unlike some fall asters, so it won’t wear out its welcome.

Close up of lavender blue alpine aster flowers in bloom with yellow centers.

Will it be pink, purple, or white? Why not mix and match?

Introduce this Alpine treasure to your outdoor living space today!

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

About Nan Schiller

Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!

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