All asters provide nectar to butterflies, and support bees and pollinators. Some species also provide the larval food for butterfly caterpillars. Songbirds and small mammals rely on the late season seeds. Various species support specialized bees. Plant asters in groupings of 3 or more to provide a ‘target’ that pollinators can easily find.
Plant several species to provide variety for the many native bee species. Native bees are vital to our ecosystem and require native plants to survive. Some bees even require certain plant species! (The honey bee is not a native species and may be harming populations of native bees. For more about the Europeans honey bee, see this article. An excerpt from that article is below.)
But the honey bee is hardly at risk of extinction. “There are more honey bees on the planet today than at any time in history,” says Black. Writing in Scientific American, Alison McAfee, a honey bee researcher at North Carolina State University, notes: “For some reason, maybe because they are small, honey bees are not generally viewed as the massively distributed livestock animal that they are.”
So we will focus on the massive good that the asters do for our native bees. Native bees are solitary, meaning they do not gather in hives. Without a hive to protect, they generally are not aggressive and do not sting.
Here’s a run down of a few of the species of aster that love sun. All of them support native bees. For asters that prefer shade, view this post.
Symphyotrichum novi-belgii New York Aster
Zones 4 to 8
Full to part sun
3’-5’ tall, 1’-2’ wide
Grows in clay, loam, or sand
Symphyotrichum laeve Smooth Blue Aster
Sun to part sun
Moist to dry soil
Symphyotrichum novae-angliae New England Aster
Sun to part sun. 2’-5’ tall
Moist soil, clay OK
Good for cut flowers
This is one of the showiest asters, and sports flowers that are violet to purple to rose. Our crops are usually seed grown, so the colors will be a surprise! To be sure of the color, purchase when in bloom. New England Asters are host plant for the Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) caterpillars which have several broods and appear from April through November. Plant this in your butterfly garden or your rain garden…. Really, almost any garden! You will be sure to see butterflies on it.
New England Aster is the larval host plant for the Pearl Crescent Butterfly and the Canadian Sonia Moth. The Mining Bee is one of the specialist bees that visit New England Aster. Other bees are the small carpenter bee, leafcutter bees, bumblebees, long horned bees, cuckoo bees and green sweat bees. Many butterflies and flies also rely on this aster.
Symphyotrichum oblongifolium Aromatic Aster
Mounding Habit, 1’ to 3’ tall and wide
Average, dry to medium, well-drained soil
Tolerates Drought, Clay, Dry or sandy Soil, Shallow-Rocky Soil, Deer and rabbit
A great alternative to fall mums! Beautiful sky blue profusion of flowers. Can use for erosion control or along a walkway or in masses. Like all asters, supports many pollinators and, butterflies. Songbirds rely on the seed.
Symphyotrichum oolentangiense Sky Blue Aster
Moist to dry soil, shallow rocky soi/ or clay ok
Symphyotrichum patens v patens Late Purple or Spreading Aster
Full sun to part shade
Height 2’-3’ tall and wide
Dry to medium soil
Drought tolerant; salt tolerant, Fragrant!
Does well in rocky or sandy soil
Use in coastal garden, or along roadsides with winter salt applications! Use it in the front of a border along a woodland edge, or mass plant in a cottage, or rock garden.
Symphyotrichum puniceum Purple-stemmed Aster
Full sun to part shade
3’-6’ tall, 2’-3’ wide
Wet to moist
Use in rain gardens, it makes a good cut flower. Pair it with Swamp Milkweed, Rudbeckia, Goldenrod, or big blue stem. Also called Swamp Aster, its flower heads are larger than those of many species.
Symph ericoides ‘Snow Flurry’ ‘Snow Flurry’ Aster
6” tall with 2’ spread
Tolerates part sun, drought, clay, gravelly or shallow rocky soils, moderate salinity and alkaline pH
Aster ericoides ‘Snow Flurry’ is low-growing. If you don’t want, need, or like tall plants, the asters have you covered. ‘Snow Flurry’ stays to 6″ or so and makes a great groundcover for sunny area, or in a rock garden. The small white flowers are profuse, and support many late season pollinators. Use in a container and let it spill over the sides. As long as it it not too wet or too shady, it will do great. Use it as edging for a garden path or in a rock garden.
Symphyotrichum lateriflorum ‘Lady in Black’ Calico ‘Lady in Black’ Aster
3’-4’ tall, 3′ wide
Clay soil ok, juglones tolerant, deer resistant, drought tolerant
Aster lateriflorous, Calico Aster is a shrubby aster with dark leaves and white flowers. Plant in full sun for best flowering and color. Many pinkish-white flowers are borne on the horizontally branching stems. Tolerates clay soil, drought, and deer, Try in a rock garden or even as a small hedge along a walkway. Good for cut flowers.