How to Deadhead an Astilbe

Astilbes are one of those garden plants that are just so easy to love. Originating in Asia, there are now a number of hybrids available worldwide, providing gardeners with a wide range of choice in size, color, and growth characteristics. There are so many different species and presentations — from short to tall, rigid to droopy, and even wispy to bushy.

Their striking good looks complement just about any garden, especially when planted with variegated hostas, grasses, and a variety of ferns. Astilbes in general are gorgeous when they are in flower and the blossom can last for quite some time. Once done flowering, their seed heads also can last a long time, adding texture and visual interest to many gardens with their vertical, bottle-brush, feathery shape. Colors range from white to pink to reds. Astilbes do well in shade to partial sun but they need moisture, so the more sun you offer, the more important it is to have a moist soil profile that enables them to handle it.

Depending on the type of astilbe you have, the seed heads can be sturdy and upright or they can flop over. Sometimes they look great and other times, not so much. Because of the seed heads’ longevity, you’ll need to decide if they add or detract from the overall look of your garden and whether you’ll want to deadhead them or just leave them alone.

Astilbe Ostrich Plume in Bloom

Start by making a visual assessment of the seed heads:

  • Are they standing up tall or flopping over?
  • Does the seed head color work nicely with the other foliage and blossom in your garden or is it distracting?
  • Do you like them or not?

Once you go through this short and easy assessment you can decide whether to deadhead or not. The good news is, if you decide not to deadhead and take a little time to figure out if you really do like how the seed heads look, you can always go back and deadhead later in the season.

Astible Peach Blossom in Bloom

Astilbes add year-round visual interest to any garden

Personally, I love the seed heads of Astilbe chinensis ‘Pumila’. This is an amazing astilbe with low groundcover-like foliage that will spread beautifully to cover large areas. The flowers are sturdy and low as well as prolific. When they bloom there is a flurry of pink covering the plant. They bloom in August and sometimes right into September, so it’s a great late season plant.

The seed heads are rigid and upright and stand up beautifully to the changing fall season. If you’re lucky, they’ll hold up right through the first snow and provide an interesting visual feature until they are finally buried by higher drifts.

So while I prefer to forego deadheading Pumila astilbes, I’ll assess all other varieties and decide on deadheading them based on their performance and location in the garden. After scrutinizing them using my quick-and-easy assessment mentioned above, I’ll make the call on deadheading. If I decide to leave them alone, I can always change my mind later.

Astilbe chinensis ‘Pumila’ in Bloom

The right way to deadhead astilbes

Because there are so many varieties of astilbes, you may need a couple of different tools to deadhead them. For the thicker-stemmed varieties, a pair of pruning shears will work well. For the thinner, more delicate stalks, a pair of snips will do just fine.

To start, follow the long seed head down the stalk to the first leaf and snip the stalk just above that intersection. This minimal cut will allow you to see how the plant looks after the initial deadheading while leaving yourself some room to cut further, if necessary. Some plants will look better cut farther down the stalk at the next leaf intersection, especially if the first cut looks a little too “stubby” and obvious.

It’s important to remember that your garden is always a work-in-progress. What works today, may not tomorrow. What was dazzling in your garden this year, may be just ho-hum next year. The point is, your garden is not static – it’s always evolving and changing, so as a garden owner or Fine Gardener, you need to be constantly assessing. We have some clients who hate the seed heads and we just deadhead without much fanfare. Most, however, are like me and like to see how their gardens evolve over the seasons and the years. They trust that we are making decisions about things such as deadheading based on overall landscape aesthetics and structural plant performance.

Atilbe Deutchland in Bloom

When it comes to astilbes, there is no hard and fast rule for this workhorse perennial. They come in so many sizes, shapes, and colors that there are sure to be more than just one variety that will fit beautifully into your gardening strategy. Everyone can – and should – have several varieties in their garden. They’re just so lovely and easy to grow.

TWEETABLE TIP

Astilbes are gorgeous when they are in flower. The blossoms and seedheads can last a long time adding texture and visual interest to your garden.

VIA @GardenContinuum

When to Prune Astilbe?

Astilbe (Astilbe x arendsii) is a 1 1/2- to 3-foot-tall flowering perennial plant. Varieties such as ‘Fanal’ have lacy green foliage and deep red plume-shaped flowers. Other astilbe cultivars bloom in colors ranging from white to pink and lavender. Astilbes are frequently seen in shady areas of the garden, where they grow and spread in clumping mounds.

Astilbes thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9. They die back each winter season and are pruned in October to November . They bloom mid-spring to summer and turn brown and leafless when the weather turns colder in late summer to fall, according to individual hardiness zone conditions.

These showy flowering perennials attract butterflies to the garden, tolerate deer and rabbits, and have the strong stalks needed for use as cut flowers. They do not have serious insect or disease problems.

Gather the equipment you will use to begin the pruning job.

Pruning

Rake the dry foliage 1 foot away to give a clear view for pruning. The dried leaf material can be left on the ground to decompose over wintertime.

Make a sharp cut with the pruning shears on each dry stalk 2 inches above the plant base. Two inches is the approximate distance from the tip of the finger to the first knuckle.

Rake away and discard the cut stalks.

Clean the pruning shears with hot soapy water or an alcohol-soaked cloth. This prevents the possible spread of plant diseases.

The pruning job is now complete. If you look closely into the base of the plant you may see that new growth is already starting for next year. New growth first appears as hard green nubs between the dry stalks. The newly pruned plant will now have good air circulation and access to sunlight.

Pruning your astilbe yearly does not prevent growth and spread of the mound of underground roots. Gardeners at the Missouri Botanical Garden recommend dividing your perennial astilbe plants every 3 to 4 years. They are divided by root division in fall or early spring.

Astilbe Growing Tips and Benefits

Botanical Name: Astilbe

  • Sun Requirements: Full to partial shade.
  • Soil requirements: Moisture-retentive, acidic soil.
  • Bloom time: Early to midsummer.
  • Zones: 4-9

If you need to add some pizzazz to your shade garden, astilbe should be at the top of your planting list. It’s one of the most popular perennials in America today. Why? Because it’s a great, colorful performer that’s able to not only take the shade, but thrive in a moist garden year after year. Whether astilbe is already on your planting list, or whether it isn’t, here’s some hows and whys about astilbes you should know.

Growing Benefits

There may not be a more colorful perennial than astilbe. In fact, Spring Hill’s Amethyst Astilbe’s lavender color is a breakthrough that changes shades in the fall. Couple that with the fact it prefers to grow in shaded areas and you’ve got yourself a lively addition to your yard or garden, and one that will come back year after year.

Astilbes have fern-like foliage, so it goes without saying they can be planted with ferns. But they also make good companion plants for hostas and irises, especially texturally. These dependable, reliable plants also attract hummingbirds to your garden, so not only do you have a great-looking companion plant, you’ll have beautiful wildlife visiting your garden.

Perhaps the best feature, though, of the astilbe is its carefree nature. As was mentioned earlier, virtually no pruning is required. Don’t worry about winterizing, either—astilbes don’t need any special treatment, making this an easy-to-grow perennial that fits into every garden.

Soil Preparation:

Add organic matter to the soil to buffer alkalinity and promote drainage: this plant prefers moisture-retentive soil, but won’t thrive in soggy conditions. The plant prefers acidic soil, and may yellow if exposed to too much alkalinity.

Planting:
Plant astilbe 18 to 24 inches apart, and water in well.

Growing Tips

While astilbes prefer to grow in shaded areas, they’re capable of growing in moderate sunlight if they’re watered often. It’s important to note astilbes should be watered heavily once a week, as opposed to lightly every couple days. Astilbes love moisture, but they needn’t be drowned, which means the soil you choose to plant in must drain well.

Astilbes can be planted in spring or fall, and need to be fertilized and mulched all season long. Cut them back in the spring. You can also divide the plant (digging a piece out with a shovel) in early spring or fall, but not before the third year. Dividing your astilbes is healthy for the plant and encourages growth, and divided plants will look exactly like the original plant.

Astilbes look best when planted in the ground, usually along a border or in a garden bed. They’re not a particularly common container plant, but they look just as good in a vase as they do in your garden. No pruning is needed except to remove spent flower stems if desired, or you can leave them on for interest the rest of the growing season.

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Astilbe

As your eyes move across a beautiful landscape, consider the plants that give you pause. In the opinion of renowned garden writer Allen Lacy, the astilbe is one of these prized garden plants. Multidimensional, versatile and adaptable to a variety of settings, it is one of the “steeples and spikes” in a panoramic garden. At the Chicago Botanic Garden, these lovely perennials are integrated throughout many garden vignettes, from the high-volume Waterfall Garden to the serene pond plantings of the Landscape Gardens, and along vast stretches of the Lakeside Gardens.

The roar of tumbling water serves as a dramatic backdrop to the botanic waterfall of cascading plants. Punctuating these waves of greenery are masses of astilbes, pointing skyward. “Astilbes are tremendous weapons in the fight against rugs and dumplings.” So stated Mr. Lacy as he cheered the use of the astilbe amid one-dimensional ground covers (rugs) and mounding plants (dumplings). In the Waterfall Garden, astilbes undulate through a stand of American hornbeam, sweep as ground covers in a wooded glen, line trails of contrasting colors, and mix with spring hostas, ferns and columbines, and summer daylilies.

From their early spring emergence in tones of glossy green, bronze, or red to their final winter display of dried foliage and seed heads, astilbes offer an astounding array of qualities to the garden. The basal clump of bright, feathery, or dissected leaves supports strong stems of feathery plumes or tight spikes containing hundreds of tiny florets. Demanding full to part shade and a ready supply of moisture throughout the season, they are one of the few such plants not bothered by slugs. Disease- and insect-resistant, they prefer well-drained, organic soil with a good mix of leaf mold and compost, which imitates the natural forest floor. Known to be heavy feeders, they can be satisfied with a one-time application of a timed-release granular fertilizer.

Astilbes can be problematic if planted in strong sun or exposed to drought — both situations will cause their leaves to curl and scorch. To preserve precious moisture, mulch garden beds. Hardy from zones 4 to 8, they are a favored winter-interest plant and many gardeners keep them standing in their dried form. The season of bloom varies with the species and cultivar, but astilbes could bloom from May to August. To keep plants fresh, divide clumps every three to four years in spring.

The options in flower color, fragrance, height, and bloom time all add to the astilbe’s interest. A favorite choice of the lowest-growing, ground-cover type is Astilbe simplicifolia ‘Sprite’. It blooms with soft pink flowers that top out at 1 1/2 feet. Another good selection from the shorter astilbes is the sturdy-stemmed, lavender-pink Astilbe chinensis ‘Pumila’, a late-blooming, fast-spreading ground cover.

For a dramatic statement, the tallest of the genus, Astilbe chinensis var. taquetii ‘Superba’, grows 4 to 5 feet and features purple-rose flowers. Cultivars of the Chinese astilbes are faster to spread, making them fine candidates for ground covers. The famous German hybridizer George Arends (1862-1952) considered the astilbe such a favorite that he introduced 74 new cultivars in 50 years. Astilbe arendsii cultivars are among the early bloomers (May to June) and must be planted where they can receive constant moisture.Astilbe x arendsii ‘Fanal’ (red) lines the Waterfall Garden path along with Astilbe thunbergii’Straussenfeder’ (salmon pink). The red foliage of ‘Fanal’ echoes the mahogany red of the fallen Scots pine needles that surround these plants.

Astilbe is a densely bushy perennial, notorious and found appealing thanks to its very ornamental leafage.

A summary ofAstilbe facts

Name – Astilbe
Family – Saxifragaceae
Type – flower, perennial
Height – 12 to 40 inches (30 to 100 cm) depending on the variety
Exposure – shade or part sun
Soil – heath soil
Flowering – April to May

However, its elegant and ethereal inflorescence also dresses up in hues of white and pink, even purple, in spring.

Planting astilbe

The season is of no importance, astilbe can be planted in spring or in fall, but what it needs is acidic soil such as heath soil.

  • Select a spot that is preferably shaded over, especially during the hottest hours of the day.
  • The soil must be acidic, quite cool and well drained.
  • It is important to add heath soil.
  • Astilbe loves rather rich soil, so in the best of worlds it would be fertilized before planting.

Propagation through rhizome division in spring or in fall, ideally every 3 years.

Astilbe in containers and garden boxes

The astilbe is the perfect plant to garnish your pot arrangements, containers and garden boxes. Since it is available in all hues ranging from pink to red, it truly embellishes arrangements with other flowers and keeps its beautiful foliage up to the first frost spells.

  • Verify that the bottom of your pots have holes in them.
  • Eventually, place a bit of gravel or clay pebbles at the bottom to increase drainage.
  • Set each astilbe at least 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cm) from the next to give them space to grow.

Pruning and caring for astilbe

Remove wilted flowers regularly (deadheading).

Cut back the clump at the end of winter in order to promote sprouting of new leaves.

Watering astilbe

It is a good idea to water regularly in the year of planting and then again whenever the weather is hot and dry, because astilbe has an aversion to dry spells.

If in pots, a good counsel is to water regularly in summer to avoid having the plant desiccate.

All there is to know about the astilbe

It is native to Europe and temperate Asia, and astilbe belongs to the same family as heuchera.

A very fashionable plant in the days of our grand-parents who used it to decorate their gardens, astilbe is now making a comeback thanks the appearance of new varieties boasting very ornamental leafage, aside from the ease of its care.

The blooming ranges from tender pink to deep red, and includes white too; this depends on the variety.

The growing is quite easy and doesn’t require any special care.

  • It is used in flower beds, along edges, on rocky ground and in pot arrangements.
  • A lightly shaded pathway is ideal to set up an edge of astilbe.

Smart tip about astilbe

Its hardiness makes it insensitive to disease, and it thus never requires any treatment.

Astilbe Winter Care: How To Winterize Astilbe Plants

Astilbe is a tough flowering perennial that is hardy from USDA zones 3 through 9. This means that it can survive the winter in even very harsh climates. While it should survive for years, there are a few steps you can take to give it a serious leg up and make sure it survives the cold. Keep reading to learn about care for astilbe plants in winter and how to winterize astilbe.

Winterizing Astilbe Plants

Astilbe plants like to be kept moist, so it’s important to keep watering yours until the ground freezes. After the first hard frost, put down about two inches (5 cm) of mulch around the stem. This will help regulate the temperature of the soil and keep the roots moist through the winter.

Be careful not to put the mulch down until the frost, though. While the roots like to be moist, mulch in warmer weather can trap too much water and cause the roots to rot. Astilbe winter care is as simple as that – plenty of water before the frost and a good layer of mulch to keep it there.

How to Care for Astilbe Plants in Winter

When winterizing astilbe plants, there are a couple routes you can take with the flowers. Deadheading astilbe won’t encourage new flowers, so you should leave them in place through the fall. Eventually, the flowers will dry on the stalks but should stay in place.

When winterizing astilbe plants, you can cut all the foliage off, leaving just a 3-inch (7.5 cm) stem above ground. It makes astilbe winter care a little easier, and all new growth will come back to replace it in the spring.

You can also save the flowers for dry arrangements indoors. If you want, though, you can leave the flowers in place through the winter. They’ll dry out and provide some interest in your garden when most other plants have died back. You can then cut back all the dead material in early spring to make way for new growth.

How to Prune an Astilbe

Astilbe, also known as false spirea and false goat’s beard, is a perennial suitable for part shade but it can handle full sun if the soil remains moist. Astilbe grows in USDA zones 3a to 8b. Its foliage has a fern-like texture growing from clumps that are easy to divide. Thin stems supporting feathery plumes of color in burgundy-red, cream, lilac, coral or pink rise above the foliage of the Astilbe plant in late spring and into July. Astilbe needs little care.

Cut the stems close to the foliage to capture plumes for floral arrangements or to dry for dried floral arrangements and wreaths.

Cut the stems under the plumes (deadheading) after their pastel color has faded if you do not want the flower to go to seed. Plumes left on the plant will turn a rusty-brown, still adding color to the landscape as they produce seeds. The seeds will drop and blow to other locations in the garden to settle for the winter before sprouting in the spring. The self-seeded growth will be short and may not bloom the first year or two.

Cut the plant to the ground in early spring when new green growth is noticed over the brown remains of the prior season. The cuttings can be added to the compost container or disposed of in the trash.

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