All About Astilbe

Astilbe are native to the Far East and North America.Their common names, False Goatsbeard and False Spirea, gives you an idea of their flower forms. Their plume-shaped, colorful flowers stand above the ferny foliage and dance in the breeze.

I often see wild Astilbe growing in abandoned fields, especially in moist clay soils. Their biggest attributes are their hardiness, low maintenance, and ability to flower freely in shady conditions, producing colorful, long lasting blooms. No wonder astilbe has become such a darling of the perennial flower garden.

Astilbe varieties took a giant leap forward through the breeding work of the German scientist, George Arends. He crossed species of Asian and North American astilbes by collecting the dust-like seeds, and specialized in getting this hard-to-germinate seed to grow. These hybrids increased the number of flower forms, colors and plant sizes dramatically, making this wild plant an attractive option in the formal flower garden. You'll often see his name associated with many astilbe varieties.

While astilbes are mainstays of shade and woodland gardens, they can also be grown in a variety of other locations in your landscape. Astilbe makes excellent pond-side plants, spreading and providing habitat for dragonflies and hummingbirds. Plant them where the soil stays moderately moist, but not where the waters will inundate the plants. Some varieties, such as 'Darwin's Surprise', grow less than 1 foot tall, making them good candidates as ground covers in shady locations.

Astilbe can also be grown under tall deciduous trees such as maple and oak. However, because of their need for soil moisture, they may not thrive in these locations as they try to compete with the trees' root systems for water. They make a better transition plant.

Astilbe in flower gardenAstilbe in flower garden
Bright Astilbe plumes add color and contrast to the garden. (Photo by Don Paulson)
Pink astible with bearded irisPink astible with bearded iris
Pale pink Astilbe pairs beautifully with traditional spring Iris. (photo by Don Paulson)

Planting Tips

Plant astilbe to create a visual change from a cultivated landscape and lawn to the forest. Plant them along the forest edge to provide height and color. In this area, they will have less competition from tree roots for water and nutrients. The flowers look like steeples dancing in the wind, while the ferny foliage adds a green backdrop. Since deer seem to ignore astilbe, they make a nice planting in these semi-wild areas where deer are likely to roam.

In the shade garden, astilbe pairs well with common shade plants, such as hosta, fern and ligularia (yellow rocket). However, it is versatile enough to grow with iris, peony, salvia and other sun-loving perennials too - especially in locations where it doesn't get so hot and the soil can be kept moderately moist.

In northern gardens, astilbe can be seen blooming with asters and sedums in late summer. It's best to choose mid to late-season astilbe varieties if you want to pair them with these perennials. Look for 'Cattleya' (rose), 'Visions' (pink) and 'Bridal Veil' (white). Astilbe makes a great addition to a butterfly and bee garden for its long-lasting flowers.

Bright Pink AstilbeBright Pink Astilbe
<a href="/perennials/astilbe/astilbe-key-west"> Astilbe Key West</a> bloom with bright pink plumes, contrasted against their deep, burgundy foliage.
Astilbe as a border plantAstilbe as a border plant
Astilbe handle shade well and are great additions to borders.

Growing Tips

Where ever you grow astilbe, it looks most dramatic when planted en masse. Look to plant at least 3 to 5 plants and let them naturally spread. Select similar height varieties to provide a solid block of astilbe. Mix and match flower colors or plant a block of the same color to provide a dramatic visual effect. Look for varieties that will bloom at the same time. Some of the best-colored varieties include 'Fanfare' (red), 'Amethyst' (lavender), 'Deutschland' (white), and 'Finale' (pink), and 'Peach Blossom' (peach-pink).

Another approach is to plant a bed with ground cover types, medium-sized varieties and tall varieties. Gradually increase the height of the planting with various sized varieties of astilbe. There is enough variation and variety selection to make a whole astilbe garden if you desire. Start with a low-growing variety, such as 'Love and Pride'. Then increase the height with a 2 to 3 foot-tall selection, such as 'Superba'. Finally provide a 4 to 5-foot tall backdrop with a variety such as 'Pumila'. You'll create a wall of astilbe that you, your neighbors, butterflies, bees and hummingbirds will love.

  1. Red Astilbe japonica Montgomery, Astilbe, False Spirea

    'Montgomery' Astilbe produces feathery, magenta-crimson blooms that stand tall over its deep green foliage. A standout addition to the shade garden, 'Montgomery' delivers loads of co...

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    Montgomery Astilbe False Spirea Montgomery Astilbe japonica Montgomery
    $24.98 Sale $12.49
    Per Bag of 3
    'Montgomery' Astilbe produces feathery, magenta-crimson blooms that stand tall over its deep green foliage. A standout addition to the shade garden, 'Montgomery' delivers loads of color and is a perfect choice for mass plantings. Leaves emerge bronze-red in spring and turn green over the course of the season. Prefers moist soil. (Astilbe japonica)
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  2. Astilbe Mix, Astilbe, False Spirea

    Add bold, bright color to a shady spot in your garden with our Astilbe Mix. 'Deutschland' Astilbe's pure white plumes are lovely in the moonlight, 'Montgomery' Astilbe has feathery, ...

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    Astilbe Mix False Spirea Mix Astilbe Mix
    $23.98 Sale $11.99
    Per Bag of 5
    Add bold, bright color to a shady spot in your garden with our Astilbe Mix. 'Deutschland' Astilbe's pure white plumes are lovely in the moonlight, 'Montgomery' Astilbe has feathery, magenta-crimson blooms and 'Rheinland' Astilbe adds graceful pink plumes to illuminate the shade garden. Also known as False Spirea, our Astilbe Mixture is deer resistant and amazingly easy to grow. Make sure to plant extra, as these blooms make for gorgeous summer bouquets and last all year long if dried. Astilbe makes a bold statement on their own or paired with other shade-loving perennials, such as Hostas and Columbines.
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  3. White Astilbe japonica Deutschland, Astilbe japonica, False Spirea, Photo Credit Walters Gardens Inc

    'Deutschland' Astilbe's pure white plumes are lovely in the moonlight and can brighten the shade garden with grace. Soft and feathery flowerheads play beautifully against the glossy ...

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    Deutschland Astilbe Deutschland False Spirea Astilbe japonica Deutschland
    $26.98 Sale $13.49
    Per Bag of 3
    'Deutschland' Astilbe's pure white plumes are lovely in the moonlight and can brighten the shade garden with grace. Soft and feathery flowerheads play beautifully against the glossy green, mounding foliage. Very showy and very easy to care for, like most astilbes, this one is resistant to both deer and rabbits. Try pairing with any fern for a gorgeous, contrasting look. (Astilbe japonica)
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  4. Sister Theresa Astilbe

    'Sister Theresa' Astilbe glows with thick, cotton candy-colored plumes that sway softly in the breeze. Mounds of finely-cut, green foliage remain true throughout the season, providin...

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    Sister Theresa Astilbe False Spirea Sister Theresa Astilbe arendsii Sister Theresa
    $25.98 Sale $12.99
    Per Bag of 3
    'Sister Theresa' Astilbe glows with thick, cotton candy-colored plumes that sway softly in the breeze. Mounds of finely-cut, green foliage remain true throughout the season, providing a graceful backdrop for later-blooming flowers. Lovely in rock gardens and when planted in drifts. Prefers moist soil. (Astilbe arendsii)
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  5. Purpurkerze Astilbe

    A striking giant for the shade garden, 'Purpurkerze' Astilbe grows up to 42 inches tall with spectacular, candelabra-like flowers in rich purple. Foliage is deeply-cut and carries a ...

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    Purpurkerze Astilbe Purpurkerze Chinese Astilbe Astilbe chinensis Purpurkerze
    $26.98 Sale $13.49
    Per Bag of 3
    A striking giant for the shade garden, 'Purpurkerze' Astilbe grows up to 42 inches tall with spectacular, candelabra-like flowers in rich purple. Foliage is deeply-cut and carries a bronze tint. Like other astilbes, 'Purpurkerze' prefers shade and moist soils, but seems to have more tolerance for drought and sun. (Astilbe chinensis)
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  6. Purple Astilbe arendsii Amethyst, Astilbe arendsii, False Spirea

    Plant this luminous Astilbe in any shady spot of the garden and it will be sure to turn heads – Amethyst’s rich, lavender plumes almost seem to glow! (Astilbe arendsii)...

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    Amethyst Astilbe False Spirea Amethyst Astilbe arendsii Amethyst
    $23.98 Sale $11.99
    Per Bag of 3
    Plant this luminous Astilbe in any shady spot of the garden and it will be sure to turn heads – Amethyst’s rich, lavender plumes almost seem to glow! (Astilbe arendsii)
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  7. Astilbe chinensis Pumila Plant with pink plumes

    A fine choice for moist shady soil, particularly when used as a groundcover, ‘Pumila’ Astilbe will light up your garden in late summer with slender, feathery plumes of lavender p...

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    Pumila Astilbe Pumila Chinese Astilbe Astilbe chinensis Pumila
    $23.98 Sale $11.99
    Per Bag of 3
    A fine choice for moist shady soil, particularly when used as a groundcover, ‘Pumila’ Astilbe will light up your garden in late summer with slender, feathery plumes of lavender pink. The finely dissected, fern-like foliage of this Chinese dwarf variety is low growing and spreads rapidly via rhizomes. Blooms later than other astilbes. (Astilbe chinensis var. pumila)
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  8. Pink Astilbe thunbergii Straussenfeder, Astilbe thunbergii, False Spirea

    A departure from the more familiar upright astilbes, 'Straussenfeder' creates a fountain of rich pink, weeping blooms that bend and arch with grace. Flowering in mid summer, this var...

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    Straussenfeder Astilbe Straussenfeder False Spirea Astilbe thunbergii Straussenfeder
    $23.98 Sale $11.99
    Per Bag of 3
    A departure from the more familiar upright astilbes, 'Straussenfeder' creates a fountain of rich pink, weeping blooms that bend and arch with grace. Flowering in mid summer, this variety still prefers a shady spot and moist soil. 'Straussenfeder' Astilbe is sometimes called Ostrich Plume, because of its dramatic draping plumes. (Astilbe thunbergii)
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Importance of Deadheading

In the garden, deadheading (trimming off spent blooms from) ground cover types may be tedious, but does lead to a neater appearance. Deadheading taller varieties in a formal flower garden allows the attention to be drawn to other flowers with the astilbe dark green foliage being the backdrop. The ferny-green foliage will provide a lush cover in front of a flower border. In a woodland or massed shade planting, leave the flowers to dry naturally on the plant, and allow seed heads to form. This will give a dramatic visual for fall and into winter.

In either case, come fall, cut astilbe foliage to the ground, but don't necessarily compost it all. The spent flower and seed heads make for an interesting addition to your fall flower indoor arrangements. Tuck them in next to panicle hydrangea, rudbeckia and aster flowers from the garden.

Maggie Daley astilbe in a vase Maggie Daley astilbe in a vase
<a href="/perennials/astilbe/astilbe-chinensis-maggie-daley">'Maggie Daley' Astilbe</a> make a big impact in a vase.

About the Author: Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden speaker, author, consultant, radio and TV show host. He delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun and accessible to everyone. Visit his website, GardeningwithCharlie.com for info.

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