Focus on Natives: Carolina Aster

Late-blooming asters are a favorite of many gardeners. One native aster is perfectly suited for the wildlife garden: Carolina aster.

Late-blooming asters are a favorite of many gardeners, and here in the Southeast we have a native aster that’s perfectly suited for the wildlife garden. Carolina Aster (Aster carolinianus) is a wildflower first documented in South Carolina in 1788. It grows wild throughout the Southeast in freshwater wetlands like river banks, marshes, and swamps. It flowers in mid-fall, when the feathery purple blooms are a draw for late-season butterflies and other pollinators.

Carolina Aster is also known as Climbing Aster, and this plant does tend to reach for the sun. However, it is not an aggressive climber – instead, it’s more of a “leaner” on the foliage and structures around it. Like many wildflowers, it’s more suited to a untamed wildlife garden than a more formal setting. Though it’s a wetland plant, it will survive in drier areas as long as it receives plenty of rain throughout the hot summer and a little help during the dry months. It flowers best in sun, but I grow mine in part shade and receive lots of blooms once it gets going.

Grow Carolina Aster in zones 6 – 10. In cooler areas, it will die back to the ground in the winter, but should regrow readily in the spring. Cut it back in winter after flowering to tame it and get rid of older unattractive foliage. Plant it near a trellis (it may need a little help to climb) or where it can clamber among bushes or trees. Finding it can be difficult outside of native plant nurseries, but if you know someone who grows it, ask them to save seeds for you in the fall and give it a try – keep the seeds and seedlings consistently moist or they will not thrive.

Do you grow Carolina Aster? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.