By Josie Borlongan, Garden Guides Contributor
Astilbes are herbaceous perennials that have feathery plumes and attractive foliage that are long lasting and abundant. They are easy to grow and great for the perennial garden, in bed plantings or even as additional color for containers.Astilbes come in white, light pink, dark pink, fuchsia, burgundy, maroon and lavender.
Astilbes require a peaty soil for their successful cultivation. They grow best in rich, moist soils that are not water logged and can tolerate clay soils as well. Most will not do well in dry ground soils. They require planting under light shade or filtered sun.They prefer loose, fertile soil but the primary key to their growing success is an abundance of moisture. Before planting, mix the soil with lots of compost, sphagnum peat, aged manure or other organic material.
The height of the astilbe plants, including flower spikes, can range from 10 inches to 4 feet or even higher. The flower plumes are long lasting and dry beautifully for arrangements.
Choosing a Variety
The preferred cultivar groups are: Astilbe Arendsii Group--are made up of hybrid crosses produced by George Arends. These are the most common varieties found in the US. * Astilbe Crispa Group--have crinkled leaves with pink blooms. Their small size makes them suitable for use in rock gardens or near thefront of flower beds. They are also used as ground covers. Astilbe Japonica Group--bloom early and have glossy green leaves tinged with red. The blooms of this type are produced in tight triangular clusters. * Astilbe Simplicifolia Group--with lobed leaves and open spikes of tiny star-shaped blooms, followed by decorative seed heads. These grow slower than other varieties and require about three years to reach full maturity.
Several plants of the same cultivar can successfully be massed together to create larger groups. Typically, sow seeds at least 18 inches apart to allow for bushier growth. They can be propagated through divisions. Astilbes can be purchased as bare root or potted plant.When planting from potted plants, loosen the soil to expose the roots. Dig a hole and plant at ground level, ensuring that the roots are covered with moist soil.
Ensure that there is enough moisture. Astible will dry up, go dormant or die if lacking water. During dry weather, water astilbes regularly. Check if any of the shallow roots are exposed. If they are, gently dig under the roots and settle them back into the soil.Astilbes need to be divided every three to four years. Do this during early spring. Start by digging up the plant, then divide the clump into several pieces using a sharp knife or a spade. After dividing, replant immediately and water well to prevent it from dehydrating or drying.
Harvesting and Storage
Astilbes can be cut and used for fresh flower arrangements and can also be dried for use in dry arrangements and potpourri.