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Plant Purple Parasols, A New Stokes' Aster
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Every state has wildflowers they boast about, and Mississippi can certainly hold its head high in this category as well. Flowers like the coreopsis and spigelia, or Indian Pinks, have been awesome. The Stokes' Aster is one of my favorite wildflowers budding up now and showing color in many gardens.
In years past I have driven down miles of Mississippi roadways and looked astonishingly at the number of Stokes' Asters blooming. Large 3 to 4 inches wide blue flowers adorn this plant from late spring through summer.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with the natives, there is a new selection called Purple Parasols that has made its way to our state surprisingly fast. I first saw Purple Parasols last August at the Southern Nursery and Landscape Annual Convention in Atlanta. It is pretty hard to make herbacaeous plants look good for a convention held indoors, but these were almost spectacular.
The nursery introducing Purple Parasols told me they were indeed our native species and that European companies had been working on improved varieties. Judging from my garden, I think they may have a real winner. The flowers are huge and have a strong violet cast. These blooms are as exotic looking as the passion flowers.
Plant yours boldly in drifts adjacent to large marigolds like Antigua or Marvel. Lantanas like Lemon Drop or Silver Mound also look good with the Stokes' Aster. I am growing Purple Parasols with Stella d Oro daylily which makes a very nice companion planting both from a color and a perennial standpoint.
Choose a site in full sun for best blooming, however partial shade is tolerated much better than many other perennials. Make your beds well drained by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter like fine pine bark, humus or compost. Well-drained soil is pretty much mandatory if you want it have a long-lived perennial. Wet winter feet can spell doom.
Till your bed to a depth of 8 to 10 inches and add 2 pounds of a slow-release, 12-6-6 fertilizer into the bed. Plant 6-inch to gallon-sized plants now and set out at the same depth they were growing in the container. The plants reach 18 inches in height. You will want to space them 15 to 18 inches apart.
With temperatures already starting to approach 90, be sure and apply a good layer of mulch and train the roots by watering deeply. They sometimes rest in summer to bloom again in the fall. They form large clumps that are easy to divide in early spring. Go into the winter tidy and with a protective layer of mulch.
When growth emerges next spring, feed with a light application of the fertilizer and again in mid-summer. When stalks have finished blooming, cut them back to the base even with the plant.
The Stokes' Aster is one of those plants that form large clumps for dividing throughout the garden.
Purple Parasols may be sold out by the time you shop, but you may find other varieties like Blue Danube (lavender blue), Bluestone (blue), Klaus Jelitto (light blue) and Wyoming (purple). But should generic be the only thing available, they are still great plants for the Southern landscape.