Chinese aster is known by the scientific name Callistephus chinensis which reflects the plant’s Chinese origin. The original aster native to China had white flowers and averaged a height of around 24 inches (61 centimeters), but as the plant’s popularity spread, growers developed new varieties with different growth habits and a wide range of color selections. Today the different varieties range in height from 6 to 36 inches (15 to 91 centimeters) and the blooms can be white, purple, red, yellow, blue, or pink. The flowers bloom atop long, leafy stems. Striking, star-shaped flowers have made this plant very popular with both gardeners and florists.
The Chinese aster is an annual that blooms in the summer and early fall. It isn’t as hardy as most other popular garden plants, but some gardeners believe the beautiful blooms are worth the extra care. The Chinese aster must be watered regularly since it isn’t drought-tolerant, and the plants need to be sprayed regularly to eliminate insect pests, disease, and any weeds that might compete for the same nutrients. This plant can be grown in full sun or partial shade. It shouldn’t be overwatered nor planted in the same location two years in a row to prevent the soil-borne fungal diseases that commonly infect Chinese aster from taking hold.
Taller varieties of Chinese aster are popular for cuttings used in flower arrangements. The different varieties have different bloom times, so a gardener who wants to grow a steady supply of Chinese aster for cuttings can achieve this by a few different methods. One way is to stagger the planting of one variety of Chinese aster to ensure a steady supply throughout the growing season. Another method is to plant different varieties of Chinese aster with varied blooming times in order to enjoy beautiful flowers all season long. Flowers and leaves should be removed when they start to fade, as this will encourage the growth of new blooms and foliage.
Chinese asters are best propagated by seeds. The seeds can be sown indoors six to seven weeks before the last frost, and then the seedlings can be transplanted 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters) apart in well-drained, nutrient-rich soil. Shorter varieties create beautiful garden borders, and the taller cultivars provide a showy background that contrasts beautifully with attractive foliage plants. The flowers of some varieties closely resemble chrysanthemums, but these don’t possess the hardiness of the popular mum and still require extra care.