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Growing Astilbe – False Spirea Plant- How to Grow and Care for Astilbe

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.Astilbe is a showy perennial plant that does well and flowers in a shady garden spot.

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.  Cooler climates like the Northeast are idea for using astilbe as a border plant. This photo was taken in the Boothbay Botanical Gardens in Maine and shows how pretty and lush astilbe grows there as a companion to irises.astilbe in a border with bulbs in Boothbay Botanical Gardens

Tip for Growing AstilbeImages of 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.” Pink goats beard flowers

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.Astilbe is a flowering shade loving perennial

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.

If you live in a cool northern climate, astilbe can take full sunlight, but for the rest of the US, it does prefer some shade.

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.Colors of astilbe perennials

Astilbe is considered non-toxic to pets.

Why is my astilbe plant turning brown?

Astilbe like a soil that is very rich and well draining and also likes moisture.  If you let the soil dry out too much, the plant will start to turn brown.

When you water astilbe, make sure that the water soaks down deeply to the roots to ecourage them to root deeply . Deep rooted plants benefit from the even moisture that is lower than that at soil level.

Astilbe plants also can turn brown as a result of too much sunlight.

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.

This can vary for different types of plants, though.  Astilbe will not flower for the whole of the summer. 

Some plants bloom in late spring and others in mid-summer or late summer. Most plants will give a show in the latter part of the summer.

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.

Eventually the flowers on the plant will dry in place.

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.astilbe plants

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.
glossy leave and pink and white flowers

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. Be sure to check out other cold hardy perennial plants here.

To prepare your astilee for the winter months, remove stems and foliage down to the soil level in late autumn.  Cover the plant with a blanket of mulch.

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.

Astible as a border in Culzean Castle in Ayrshire, Scotland.

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.

Astilbe as a border plant

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.

Straussenfeder Astilbe

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

You can print out this astilbe care card here. It gives you the growing tips on a handy card to put in your garden journal for easy access later.

Print out the growing tips for astilbe

Pin it for later

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.Astilbe is a very popular perennial with fern like foliage and plumes of very showy flowers. It is perfect for a moist, shady garden bed.

Yield: Great in a shade Garden

Tips for Growing Astilbe -

White astilbe flowers

Astilbe is also known as false spirea and Goat's beard. It is a shade loving perennial plant that will flower even in full shade.

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.


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