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