By Karanne Atkinson

The Rouge Butterflyway group chose the aster as our “Native Plant of the Year” for 2024. There are over 32 different species of aster, each with special adaptations to the particular habitats found in your garden. You can grow an aster in the driest to the wettest of gardens.

With so much diversity, it’s no surprise that experts consider it the “Swiss army knife” in native garden design, providing gardeners with many different options for increasing wildlife, beauty and function in their gardens.

I hope you are thinking, “How will an aster, or maybe 3, 5 or 7, help my garden thrive?” Asters come in a multitude of different colours including hues of blue, lavender, purple, pink and white. It’s also worth repeating that whatever types of conditions your garden has, there is likely an aster for that. Our plant sale catalogue will be available in April and there will be three different asters that you’ll be able to order for planting this spring.

Asters are great host plants. The leaves of the aster are known to feed caterpillars of many different butterfly and moth species. By feeding the caterpillars, you are more likely to see butterflies and moths in your garden.

Your garden will also be supporting other wildlife, like birds. In fact, 97% of bird species feed their young insects, not seeds or berries. Not only being great host plants, the aster is by far a pollinator heavy hitter, supporting a wide range of pollinators, including specialist bees that simply cannot feed on anything else.

Being fall blooming flowers, asters are very important to ensure that pollinators have the energy they need before going into hibernation. Late blooms are also important for migrating species such as Monarch butterflies that need to stock up on energy for their trip to Mexico.

Circling back to my earlier comment about grouping native plants together, by planting an odd number of plants (3-5-7) of the same species close together is a good practice. This type of grouping of the same species will better support pollinators by offering more foraging opportunities. 

Another way to support our pollinators is to resist the urge to clean up our gardens early in the spring. By leaving all leaves, twigs and other natural debris in place until the end of May, your garden will continue to provide shelter and warmth for our native bees and other overwintering insects on cool spring nights.

I love asters, but not an entire garden of them. A successful native garden has a variety of flowering annuals, perennials, climbers, creepers and grasses that bloom at different times. Each plant has a special role to play in the garden, whether it is to provide food for pollinators, improve soil health or simply add visual interest to the space.

​​​Remember, if you plant it, they will come!

I hope I have piqued your interest in adding an aster or other native plants to your garden.