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Tales from a Plant Addict

Fun (& a few serious) facts, tips and tricks for every gardener, new and old.

Blue Star (Amsonia sp)


Looking out at my garden, the perennials are just starting to put on their show, despite my lack of attention the last couple of years as mom to a now 2 year old boy. As I manage to find a few stolen moments in the garden this year, I'm taking note of which perennials have done well despite little, if any, care. Blue star (Amsonia) is one that has done quite will in my absence.

Amsonia is a very versatile plant in the landscape. Full sun is the best place for this plant commonly referred to as blue star, but it can handle a bit of shade. It does well in moist well-drained, average soil, but will tolerate drier conditions once it's established. Plants grown in drier conditions will tend to be smaller than those grown in more moist conditions.

Honestly, when reading it prefers "average soil" in many descriptions of this plant, I'd really like to see "average soil" defined somewhere. I like to think this means it doesn't require absolutely perfect conditions to perform well in the landscape.

Blue star's foliage and flowers make it a stand out performer in the landscape. The foliage is described as bright green and fern-like, developing a bright yellow-golden color in the fall. Flowers are fairly small, light blue in color, star-shaped and borne in clusters in late spring and early summer. The blooms also attract lots of local bees and butterflies.

When a large mass of blue star comes into flower, the effect is said to be spectacular. I can see why, considering that the blooms on my single plant up near our house are quite eye catching, even from the street. It will form seed heads containing viable seeds, so if you do not want seedlings sprouting nearby, the seed heads need to be removed before or soon after they form.

This plant is fairly large, measuring about 36 inches tall and wide at maturity. The plants' stems will tend to flop open if not cut back slightly after flowering, and also if grown in too much shade.

It is particularly eye-catching when planted in large mass plantings, paired with ornamental grasses. It's also worth mentioning that Amsonia is considered to be deer resistant due to a milky sap that discourages deer feeding.

The specific Amsonia I have in my garden is Amsonia tabernaemontana,. The leaves are wider than some other Amsonias, bearing a striking resemblance to willow tree leaves. It has a nice clumping habit, and is filled with light blue star-shaped flowers in May and June.

I'd love to be able to say I chose this plant for my garden after to a lot of research and consideration—but in all honesty I chose it because it promised blue flowers. True blue flowers are a rarity in the plant world for various reasons to do with chemistry. This plant delivers a true, although pale blue for my orange and blue Illini garden.

It's a real bonus for me to also have stumbled on a plant that has been a truly "low maintenance" perennial. There are only two times per year that I do anything to this plant: early spring and late spring/early summer. Early in the spring I remove any dead stems and leaves from the previous year. After flowering, I cut it back by about 25%, which removes any potential for seed heads and keeps the stems bushy and upright. If less work in the garden appeals to you too, consider Amsonia.

 



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