Story and Photos by Norman Winter
Stokes’ asters (Stokesia laevis) are wonderful native perennials that attract all sorts of pollinators – from bees to butterflies. Its striking blue flowers and fiery orange butterflies make for a winning combination.
The Stokes’ aster is a native from Louisiana eastward to North Carolina. Surprisingly, they are cold hardy to Zones 5 and 6, which means with a good layer of mulch, almost everyone can enjoy their exquisite blooms.
Speaking of which, the blooms are large – 3-4 inches wide – and have an exotic look. In our garden we have the typical sky blue, some deep dark blue, and others that are pristine white. The blooms are heaviest in early summer, but they produce for a long period.
Even though this is a native, there are several great named selections. ‘Purple Parasols’ has violet flowers and has performed wonderfully for me. Other varieties to try include ‘Blue Danube’ (lavender blue), ‘Bluestone’ (blue), ‘Klaus Jelitto’ (light blue), and ‘Wyoming’ (purple).
For the best show, plant in bold informal drifts in full sun; however, it does tolerate partial shade much better than many other perennials. Ensure well-draining soil by incorporating 3-4 inches of organic matter, such as fine pine bark, humus, or compost. Well-drained acidic soil is pretty much mandatory. Wet winter feet can spell doom.
Till to a depth of 8-10 inches and add 2 pounds of a slow-release, 12-6-6 fertilizer. Plant 6-inch or 1-gallon plants at the same depth they are growing in the container. Space them 15-18 inches apart.
The clumps will be rather large after a couple of years. When this happens, dividing them is easy. After the stalks finish blooming, promptly cut them back even with the plant. This will prolong bloom production.
You may also want to use them as cut flowers. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how long they last in the vase. The color blue is much sought after in the garden, the fact that those blooms also have an exotic look and attract butterflies makes this a real winner for any Georgia landscape.
Quick Facts and Keys to Success
Common Name: Stokes’ aster
Botanical Name: Stokesia laevis
Bloom Color: Blue, purple, white, pink
Bloom Time: May-June
USDA Hardiness Zones: 5-9
Size: 12-24 inches
Exposure: Full to part sun
When to Plant: Spring or fall
How to Plant: 12-15 inches apart
Soil: Fertile, organic-rich, well-drained
Maintenance Needs: Low
In Your Landscape: Combine in perennial gardens with Coreopsis and Rudbeckia for a wonderfully complementary color scheme. Sizzling partnerships can be made with Compact Electric Orange SunPatiens (Impatiens ‘SAKIMP025’).