The following article is part of a series geared toward entry-level gardeners. For deep dives into a variety of perennials that we have sold over the decades, visit our archive of in-depth perennial articles written by Tony Avent, Dr. Patrick McMillan, and other Plant Delights and JLBG experts. We also have transcripts of our Gardening Unplugged videos, recorded during our Open Nursery and Garden Days, that have great information for gardeners of all experience levels.
Gardening enthusiasts are often on the lookout for unique and captivating plants to add to their landscape, and Amsonia, commonly known as Blue Star, is a delightful choice. With its striking blue flowers and graceful foliage, Amsonia is a perfect addition to any garden. If you're new to gardening or looking to expand your plant collection, here's a comprehensive guide on growing Amsonia, including its growing conditions, care and maintenance tips, propagation techniques, companion plants, and the best varieties for beginners.
Amsonia is a hardy and versatile perennial plant that thrives in a variety of climates. Here are the essential growing conditions to keep in mind:
Sunlight: Blue Star plants prefer full sun to light shade. While they can tolerate some shade, they tend to produce more flowers and maintain better foliage color when exposed to sunlight.
Soil: Well-draining soil is crucial for Amsonia. They can adapt to various soil types, but they prefer slightly acidic to neutral soil pH.
Watering: Once established, Amsonia is fairly drought-tolerant. However, regular watering during its initial growth period is essential to help the plant establish strong roots.
Climate: Amsonia is native to North America and is well-suited for USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9.
Care and Maintenance
Caring for Amsonia is relatively straightforward, making it an excellent choice for beginners. Here are some care tips to ensure your Blue Star thrives:
Mulching: Applying a layer of mulch around the base of the plant helps retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature.
Pruning: Trim back the stems after the plant has finished flowering to encourage new growth and maintain a tidy appearance. In late fall or early spring, you can cut the plant down to ground level to rejuvenate it.
Fertilization: Amsonia doesn't require heavy feeding. A balanced, slow-release fertilizer applied in early spring can provide the necessary nutrients.
Pest and Disease Control: Blue Star is generally resistant to pests and diseases. However, keep an eye out for aphids or powdery mildew, which can occasionally affect the plant. If necessary, treat with organic pest control solutions.
Propagating Amsonia is a rewarding way to expand your garden. The plant can be propagated through division or from seeds. Every few years, divide mature Amsonia plants in the spring or fall. To divide your bluestar, simply dig up the plant, separate the clumps, and replant them in desired areas.
For seed propagation, collect seeds from mature plants in the fall and sow them in containers. Place the containers in a cold frame or a protected outdoor area to allow for natural stratification. Transplant the seedlings to the garden once they are established.
Blue Star Companion Plants
Amsonia's delicate blue flowers and soft foliage create a charming contrast when paired with various companions. Consider planting them alongside:
Sedum: The vibrant colors of Sedum 'Autumn Joy' or 'Brilliant' create a stunning visual combination.
Echinacea: Coneflowers provide a bold splash of color that complements the subtle elegance of Blue Star.
Grasses: Ornamental grasses like Panicum virgatum or Calamagrostis acutiflora add height and texture to the planting bed.
Best Amsonia Varieties for Beginners:
As a beginner, selecting the right Amsonia varieties can set you up for success. Here are some top choices:
Amsonia tabernaemontana 'Storm Cloud'
In 2011, plant breeders Hans Hansen and Plant Delights founder Tony Avent discovered Amsonia tabernaemontana 'Storm Cloud' while exploring a wooded stream in Bibb County, Alabama. The plant was thriving in wet, shaded conditions. After collecting divisions of several clones and testing them in different locations, they identified a standout variety. 'Storm Cloud' stands out with its compact size, reaching 2 feet in height and 3 feet in width. The emergence of black stems creates a striking contrast against the dense clusters of sky blue flowers, resulting in a truly fantastic plant.
Amsonia hubrichtii, a native North American perennial, was found by Leslie Hubricht in Arkansas in 1942 and named after him. It features incredibly narrow and delicate foliage among the upright blue star species. Initially introduced into cultivation by Woodlanders Nursery, this southern native is considered one of the finest blue star varieties. Its sky blue flowers grace the plant, emerging in April and lasting through May (Zone 7b), atop a 3-foot tall and 6-foot wide cluster. During autumn, the deciduous leaves transform into a stunning golden shade, making it a standout choice for fall foliage.
Amsonia ciliata var. filifolia 'Georgia Pancake'
Amsonia 'Georgia Pancake' is a rare and unique blue star variety discovered by Bob McCartney in central Georgia's Wheeler County. This ecotype features soft, green, needle-like foliage that covers its low, spreading stems. It may even be classified as a new species due to its distinct characteristics. When grown in a rock garden, it forms a striking carpet of vibrant green foliage, expanding up to 2 feet wide. During fall, the leaves transition to a golden hue before entering dormancy. Upon spring's arrival, the plant awakens with clusters of delicate pale blue flowers adorning the tips of its branches. Its ability to provide a soft-textured contrast when paired with bold plants is unparalleled, and it also boasts resistance against deer.
In conclusion, growing Amsonia, or Blue Star, is an excellent choice for beginners and experienced gardeners alike. Its captivating blue flowers, low-maintenance nature, and versatility make it a valuable addition to any garden landscape. By providing the right growing conditions, regular care, and a thoughtful selection of companion plants, you can enjoy the beauty of Amsonia throughout the seasons. Experiment with propagation and explore different varieties to create a garden that's uniquely yours, adorned with the enchanting charm of Amsonia.