How to plant astilbe?

How To Grow Astilbes: Planting And Caring For Astilbe Plants

(Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden)

Likely the focal point of your shady summer flower bed, astilbe flowers can be recognized by their tall, fluffy plumes that tower above frilly, fern-like foliage in the shade garden. These attractive flowers make great companions for other shade tolerant plants, such as hosta and hellebores, for contrasting foliage and coordinating blooms.

Astilbe Plant Information

Twenty five species of Astilbe exist, with hundreds of hybrids available. Some are borne on arching stems, while others are erect. Astilbe flowers range in color, from whites to dark purples, though most are pastel.

In addition, different varieties bloom at different times and are available in varying heights. Astilbe flowers may be a few inches to a few feet in height, depending on the astilbe plant you choose. If you do your research, you’ll be rewarded with their spiky blossoms (in an array of heights) all summer long.

Having and using the right astilbe plant information can mean the difference between a large, fully developed bloom and one that is stunted or displays leaf browning and dieback. Astilbe plants flourish with the right soil, food and location. Let’s learn how to grow astilbes in a way that promotes the most abundant growth.

How to Grow Astilbes

Astilbe plants grow in shade, but flowers are more productive in an area where gentle morning or dappled sun can reach them for about an hour or two.

Astilbe flowers also need correct soil and moisture to flourish. Astilbes prefer rich, organic type soil. Organic material such as compost enriches the soil and adds drainage. If your shady areas have poor, lean or rocky soil, work in some compost a few weeks before putting your plants in the ground. Amend the soil 8 to 12 inches deep so that the roots of astilbe flowers have plenty of room to develop.

Place the astilbe plants into the soil, keeping the crown at the same level as the top of the soil. Water well when planting and keep the soil consistently moist.

Astilbe Plant Care

While maintenance of the plant is minimal, care for astilbe includes regular, even watering throughout its active growth, especially if planted in areas with more sun. Drying out can lead to leaf scorch, drying leaf margins and can even be the death of the astilbe plant.

The right astilbe growing conditions and fertilizer result in large feathery plumes. Occasionally amending the soil with compost or fertilizing with an organic product or fertilizer high in phosphorus is also recommended.

Spent plumes can be cut back in spring or left alone for winter interest. They can also be divided about every four years as needed.

Proper care for astilbe plants and the right location can result in delicate, long-lasting blooms in the spring and summer garden. There is an astilbe for every shade garden and often one is not enough for the gardener that falls in love with growing and caring for these plants.

Astilbe: A Gem in the Shade Garden

Immensely popular, Astilbes are fabulous plants for shady, moist conditions. They light up your shade garden for weeks with their elegant flower plumes and add a dazzling splash of color in the landscape. Ranging from 6 in (15 cm) to 24 in. tall (60 cm), their feathery plumes, in shades of lavender, pink, red or white, can be incredibly striking. They rise gracefully above attractive mounds of fern-like foliage which remains attractive all season long (under satisfactory growing conditions) before turning progressively a rich caramel color which provides winter interest to the garden.

Chinese Astilbe ‘Superba’ (Astilbe chinensis var. taquetii), Hydrangea ‘Glowing Embers’

  • Relatively trouble-free, Astilbes require little maintenance, are heavy shade tolerant, attract butterflies, but are deer and rabbit resistant! The perfect perennial for a shady border with dappled light!
  • These part shade to full shade lovers thrive in organically rich, evenly moist, well drained soils. Easy to grow, their biggest enemy is dryness – so don’t let the soil dry out! While Astilbes can grow in deep shade, it should be noted that they will not flower as much.

  • Astilbes can take some sun, especially if you’re a gardener who lives in a region with cool, moist summers. Just make sure to keep your plants well watered, and be aware that full sun can scorch or burn their fern-like foliage.
  • Astilbes bloom between late spring and late summer. They flower over a fairly long season since each flower plume consists of hundreds of densely packed tiny flowers, opening in succession. However, they do not all flower at the same time and are classified with a blooming time, ranging from Early to Late season. Therefore, to fill your garden with continuously blooming Astilbes throughout the season, you may plan to plant a variety of cultivars, from Early- to Late season bloomers.

Astilbe ‘Mainz’
Early Season Bloomer

Astilbe ‘Diamond’
Mid Season Bloomer

Astilbe ‘Montgomery’
Late Season Bloomer

  • Native to China, Japan and Korea, there are about 25 species of Astilbes and hundreds of cultivars, some less than 12 in. tall (30 cm) while others can easily reach 4 ft. in height (120 cm) and are better suited for the back of the border.

Astilbe ‘Fanal’ (18 in. – 45 cm)

Astilbe ‘Europa’ (18-24 in. – 45-60 cm)

Astilbe ‘Amethyst’ (36 in. – 90 cm)

  • Their diversity in height makes Astilbes quite versatile, and they overachieve in providing a spectacular flower show, whether planted in perennial borders, woodlands, by streams, ponds or in containers.
  • Good dwarf varieties include ‘Darwin’s Dreams’, ‘Fanal’, ‘Younique’, ‘Jump and Jive’, ‘Vision’, Pumila, ‘Sprite’ or ‘Bronze Elegance’. They are quite compact and suitable for small gardens, front of perennial borders or containers, reaching only 12-18 in. in height (30-45 cm).

Astilbe ‘Younique’

Astilbe ‘Jump and Jive’

Astilbe ‘Bronze Elegance’

  • The larger varieties of Astilbes make a striking focal point or specimen plant thanks to their sculptural qualities. They also create outstanding backdrops for perennials and shrubs. Among the most spectacular, Astilbe chinensis var. tarquetii ‘Purpurlanz’, with showy lance-shaped purple flower spikes rather than tufted plumes rising 4 ft. high (120 cm) above fern-like mounds of dark green glossy foliage.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Cosmopolitan’, Astilbe chinensis var. taquettii ‘Purpurlanze’, Astilbe simplicifolia ‘Aphrodite’,
Carex flagellifera (Sedge) and Anaphalis triplinervis ‘Sommerschnee’ (Pearly Everlasting Flower )

  • Astilbe chinensis var. tarquetii ‘Superba’ is one of the tallest varieties of Astilbes and always creates a dramatic statement in the garden, with its stunning, purple-rose, lance shaped flower plumes rising up to 4-5 ft high (120-150 cm). They rise gracefully in mid to late summer, on strong, erect flowering stems above an attractive mound of fern-like foliage which emerges mahogany-red before changing to dark green. This fabulous Astilbe has won the Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society.

Astilbe chinensis var. tarquettii ‘Superba’ growing next to the Lily Pond at The Courts Garden, Wiltshire.

  • Plant your Astilbes in groups for better visual effect (5 or more) in a corner of the garden or in drifts around evergreens. If you are an unconditional Astilbe lover, select several Astilbe varieties with different flowering periods to enjoy their incomparable beauty longer!
  • Their flower plumes also make excellent fresh cut flowers and can be dried in natural bouquets. Include a few Astilbes in your cutting garden where they will attract happy butterflies.
  • No deadheading is required unless you do not like the look of the faded flower stalks. If allowed to remain, the dried seedheads will provide additional interest later in the season.
  • Create pretty garden scenes and combine your Astilbes with their favorite companion plants such as Japanese Irises (Iris Ensata), Siberian Irises (Iris sibirica), Peonies (Paeonia), Daylilies (Hemerocallis) in partial shade to full sun sites. Mix them with Plantain Lilies (Hosta), Columbines (Aquilegia), Bleeding Heart (Dicentra), Coral Bells (Heuchera), Meadow Rue (Thalictrum aquilegifolium), Heartleaf Bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia) or with Ferns in shady locations.
Hosta, Astilbes, Daililies, Geranium
  • In this summer garden, the luminous, pure white flower plumes of Astilbe ‘Deutschland’ create a charming display when combined with the deep purple-blue flower spikes of Salvia ‘Caradonna’ and the blue-colored flowers of great decorative beauty of Geranium ‘Rozanne’. This planting is enriched with the flat umbel flowers of Achillea, the bright pink blossoms of Rosa ‘Fortuna’ and the handsome mound of ovate, dark green leaves with creamy markings of Hosta crispula – all contributing to a lovely summer scenery.
  • Because Astilbes like moist soil, they are ideally suited for borders of ponds and streams. This lovely plant combination includes the abundant and incredibly pretty, lavender-pink blossoms of Astilbe ‘Hyacinth’ (or ‘Hyazinth’), an early-mid summer flowering variety which grows up to 3 ft. tall (36 cm). It is beautifully combined with the pastel flat heads of Yarrow (Achillea), the purple blooms of Big Betony (Stachys grandiflora) and the glowing flowers of Primula Candelabra (Primula florindae).

Astilbe ‘Hyacinth’, Primula florindae, Acorus calamus, Achillea ‘Pastel mix’, Stachys grandiflora

Recommended Astilbe Varieties

If unsure which Astilbe to select for your garden or containers, here is a list of favorite Astilbe varieties among gardeners. If acclaimed by others, you cannot go wrong!

Astilbe ‘Sprite’ (Simplicifolia Hybrid) is a popular choice with gardeners thanks to its airy, shell-pink flowers which open even in heavy shade. This dwarf Astilbe is particularly suited to outdoor containers and won the 1994 Perennial Plant of the Year Award as well as the prestigious Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society. Blooms in mid-late summer and grows up to 12-18 in. tall (30-45 cm).

Astilbe ‘Deutschland’ (Japonica Hybrid) features its stunning, dense, white plumes which make long-lasting cut flowers. Blooms in late spring or early summer and grows up to 24-30 in. tall (60-75 cm).

Astilbe chinensis ‘Pumila’ is a low-growing Astilbe which makes an attractive groundcover. Winner of the Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society, it displays fluffy, rich, lavender-purple flowers in late summer. Grows up to 12-18 in. tall (30-45 cm).

Astilbe chinensis ‘Vision’ is another Astilbe variety that is admired by many gardeners for its upright, thick pyramidal, slightly fragrant flower plumes in shades of raspberry pink, deep red or white. Blooms in early-mid summer over a deep bronze green foliage and grows up to 18 in. tall (45 cm).

Astilbe ‘Rheinland’ (Japonica Hybrid) is another popular variety with its clear pink flowers born on upright, reddish stems in early-mid summer. Winner of the Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society, it grows up to 12-24 in. tall (30-60 cm).

Astilbe ‘Bridal Veil’ (Arendsii Hybrid) is a reliable and free flowering Astilbe with luminous, dense, ivory-white flower plumes in late spring – early summer, which stand out in the night garden. Winner of the Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society, it grows up to 28 in. tall (70 cm).

Astilbe ‘Deutschland’
Early Season Bloomer

Astilbe ‘Bridal Veil’
Early Season Bloomer

Astilbe ‘Rheinland’
Mid Season Bloomer

Astilbe Chinensis ‘Vision’
Mid Season Bloomer

Astilbe ‘Sprite’
Late Season Bloomer

Astilbe Chinensis Pumila
Late Season Bloomer

Growing Astilbes

  • Astilbes are undemanding and very hardy (USDA Zones 4 – 9). Some are even hardy to zone 3. While they overwinter well, it is still recommended to apply a layer of mulch.
  • Astilbes can be grown from seed. Sow seeds early in the spring indoors, or directly into your garden after both weather and soil have warmed up. Note that seeds may be difficult to germinate and it is easier to plant Astilbe plants.
  • Astilbes thrive in part shade to full shade in organically rich, evenly moist, well drained soils. Make sure your soil drains well and does not puddle or get water-logged in rain. Mulch should be added to reduce water evaporation and maintain moisture. Note that Astilbes may be planted in full sun in areas with cool summers and with adequate moisture. In hot summer areas, shade is important.
  • Astilbes are heavy feeders. In addition to a rich soil, feed them with a fertilizer high in nitrogen, on a regular basis.
  • After blooming, feel free to clip off any spent flower stems if you do not like their look. Your Astilbes will continue to provide attractive foliage until fall. After the first frost, the leaves may yellow and may be trimmed until fresh growth appears next spring.
  • Most Astilbes spread easily, so divide your plants every 3 to 4 years to prevent overcrowding, keep them vigorous and assure the maximum number of blooms.

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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Try growing astilbe for beautiful, showy flowers that do well in a shady garden bed. This perennial has feathery flowers that sit above the fern like foliage in a majestic way. These tips will show you how to grow astilbe and bring color to your shady perennial garden beds.

Most shady garden beds are filled with ferns and hostas. While these plants are lovely in themselves, it’s still nice to have a plant which will actually flower well in very little direct sun. Astilbe is one of those plants.

My mother had a lovely garden set up until she died. Once she retired and had time to spend in the garden, she became an expert at making them really beautiful. Most of her beds were in full sun but she had a long raised planter along one side of her house that was in part shade most of the day.

To give a pop of color in this shady spot she chose to grow astilbe. And grow well, they did! I loved seeing their pretty blooms every time I walked by the garden spot.

I visited her a few years ago and she gave me some divisions of astilbe to bring back to North Carolina for my garden (she lived in Maine.) They survived the trip back and are growing well and increasing in size each year.

Astilbe loves the cooler weather that Maine has. This border of astilbe in the Boothbay Botanical Gardens on the coast of Maine was magnificent in bloom when we visited last year.

Tip for Growing Astilbe

Astilbe is easy to grow, and is very tough and hardy. One of the beauties of them is that they do equally well in part sun or partial shade and will flower in either location. They prefer shade to look best.

The prettiest thing about astilbe is their canopy of tall flower stalks about a glossy green leaf structure. And one can easily see where it got the common names like “false goats beard” or “goats beard plant.”

Caring for astilbe is easy if you follow these tips:

Astilbe growing conditions are mainly focused on making sure that the plant gets enough water and not too much sunlight. Here are some general growing tips.

Sunlight Needs for Astilbe

Planting astilbe is best done in a bed that is either in half sun/half shade or in full shade with just filtered light. I have mine growing in garden beds that are facing north and they get a bit of late afternoon sun. This seems to suit them beautifully.

Astilbe Flowers

The most commonly grown astilbe have flowers that are in the red/pink variety with colors ranging from dusty pink through to vibrant pinks and reds.

Some varieties of astilbe are also pale tan or even white. Check out this post for some great images of astilbe colors.

Some astilbe flowers are fine and feathery and others have the goats beard flower shape and texture that is much firmer and more plump.

How large does astilbe grow?

Most will grow to about 36″ tall with the flower stalk and about 2 feet wide. But there are also varieties that will grow to 5 feet so be sure to choose one suited to the space you have.

You can plant astilbe fairly closely together if you want a cluster like look. For individual plants space them 1-3 feet apart depending on the variety.

When does False spirea bloom?

The leafy green party of the plant grows steadily all spring and then about mid to late summer it is astilbe bloom time, when the long flower plumes will open up above the plant.

Plants grown completely in the shade will not give quite as good a display of flowers but dappled shade will give a good flower show.

Should I deadhead astilbe?

Deadheading is done to encourage new blooms on a plant. Since this task won’t push your astilbe into putting out more blooms, it is not necessary. (See other plants that don’t need deadheading here.)

Leaving the spent blooms in place through the fall encourages birds to feed which is always nice to see in a garden. Eventually the flowers will dry. I leave my seed heads right into the winter for the birds and then just trim them up in early spring.

Companion Plants to grow with Astilbe

When choosing Companion plants for goats beard perennial, select perennials and bulbs that have similar growing habits. Once you find a spot where one will do well, they all benefit.

Ferns, and hostas are good choices, as are many other shade loving plants such as coral bells. See my list of good companion plants for Astilbe.

How to propagate astilbe

Growing astilbe from seed is possible but this can be a challenge. The normal way to propagate astilbe is from root divisions.

Astilbe will send out more and more plants as it matures. Dividing astilbe is just a matter of digging up the plant and separating some of the smaller babies to get more plants for free.

They take quite easily as is evidenced by mine in their two day car ride in the middle of summer. Advisable to plant in the early spring or fall. Divide astilbe every two to three years.

If you have a plant that was originally placed in the wrong part of the garden, you can move it to another spot where it will get the best light conditions. Transplanting astilbe is best done in the early spring or fall months when the temperatures are cooler.

Watering needs for astilbe

Astilbe likes moist soil so hotter climates will need to have them in shade and you’ll need to add extra water. They grow best in Northern areas where it is cool and wet.

While astilbe does like moist soil conditions, it does not like wet feet, so be sure not to let the water puddle at the crown and root areas.

Astilbe leaf shape

Astilbe leaves are very smooth and glossy and they contrast nicely with the feathery flower plumes. The edges of the leaves have serrated margins.

Some astilbe varieties are evergreen but many die back in the fall and go dormant until spring time.

Fertilizing and Soil requirements for Astilbe

Organic matter in the soil is beneficial. You can also use a slow release fertilizer twice a year.

Astilbe is not not too particular about the type of soil. Astilbe will grow in soils that are loamy, soils with heavy clay content or even moist and slightly wet soil. An acid soil is desirable but astilbe will grow in soil with a pH of 6.0 – 8.0. Be sure the soil drains well.

How cold Hardy is Astilbe?

Astilbe overwinters in zones 3-9. They don’t do as well in either extreme cold or heat zones.

Uses for astilbe

Because of its mounding habit, astilbe looks great when planted in groups. The flowers are good for a cutting garden and the plant is deer resistant and they attract butterflies.

Astilbe make great choices for garden beds under a canopy of trees.

Can astilbe be grown in containers?

It is easy to grow astilbe in pots and plants grown in containers may be the perfect choice for you is you have a semi shady patio or deck that needs a splash of bright color.

Astilbe can be planted alone in a container or mixed with other shade tolerant annuals and perennials. Be sure the container is in a shady spot and water it regularly to make sure the soil does not dry out.

Image shared from Rampant Scotland.

Astilbe as a border plant

Be sure to try growing Astilbe if you want a spectacular looking along a border edge as long as the bed that gets plenty of shade during the day.

Image source Tidwell Nurseries

Astilbe is a great plant grown directly in soil, but also don’t mind being planted in pots. (This makes it easy to find just the right sunlight spot.)

This unusually colored astilbe is called Straussenfeder Astilbe. It’s sold by American Meadows and is great for mass plantings.

Photo credit American Meadows

Have you grown astilbe? What zone are you in? Please let us know in the comments below.

Admin note: This post first appeared in April of 2014. I have updated the post to add additional information, new photos and a video for you to enjoy.

Astilbe Care Card

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Would you like a reminder of this post for growing astilbe? Just pin this image to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.

Active Time 30 minutes Total Time 30 minutes Difficulty moderate Estimated Cost $5-$10

Materials

  • 1 astilbe plant
  • Well draining Soil
  • A Shady garden spot

Instructions

  1. Sunlight: Likes part sun to moderate shade
  2. Watering: Easy care but water more in very hot climates
  3. Fertilizing: Slow release fertilizer twice a year
  4. Bloom Time: Spring to mid summer
  5. Flower Color: White, peach, tan and all shades of red and pink.
  6. Size: Normal size is up to 36″ tall and 2 feet wide
  7. Cold Hardiness Zones: 3-0
  8. Features: Great for Cut flowers and deer resistant.
  9. Plant type: Perennial
  10. Propagation: Root divisions

Notes

Astilbe will flower best if it gets at least some sunlight. However, I have plants in a north facing border that gets very little sun and it will still give flowers.

Grows well with Hostas, ferns, coral bellsand other shade loving plants.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission from the sale, but the price is the same for you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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