One of the biggest challenges to gardening in the shade is how to bring color to your landscape. Shade gardens are often dominated by the color green and adding some plants with different colors is a way to add a splash to that sea of green. Astilbe is a great candidate for this job! While the fern-like foliage may make this plant seem delicate this is one tough customer! It is easy to grow and since it is a perennial flower it will stick around in your garden for years to come.
Astilbe can be grown in USDA Zones 3 through 9. It generally flowers in the spring and early summer and is a good plant to combine with hostas, bleeding hearts and columbines. It grows 1 to 3 ½ feet tall and prefers part sun to full shade. Astilbe comes in a variety of colors including red, purple, peach, white and several variations of the color pink. It is very low maintenance and is usually only needs to be divided every 4 to 5 years. While dividing it in the spring is recommended I have also done so in the fall with no difficulty or problems with the plant the following spring. Dividing the plant is the best way to propagate it as it does not grow well from seed. Astilbe is generally not bothered by insects and its flower stalks require no additional staking or support.
The plant does prefer to be grown in soil that is moist and even does well near ponds and streams. Some of the smaller varieties also make an effective ground cover as well as a good edging plant. I usually fertilize it in the spring with a standard garden fertilizer such as 5-10-5 or 10-10-10. While a good plant for partly shady conditions when grown in deeper shade settings it will flower but you may not get as many blooms under these circumstances. It is also possible to grow astilbe in sunnier conditions but the soil must be watered regularly so that it doesn’t dry out. The foliage can burn as a result of too much sun and the flowers won’t last anywhere near as long as they will in shadier conditions.
Even though astilbe will only bloom for a few weeks the foliage retains its color and remains intact throughout the garden season. It is not necessary to remove the spent flowers and some gardeners actually leave them on the plant to add some additional interest to their garden. Astilbe also makes a good cut flower and the spent flowers can even be dried and incorporated into flower arrangements. Astilbe can be a great addition to any garden and with spring just around the corner why not add some to your garden this year.