Astilbe, a shade perennial

Astilbe prefers shade but can handle some sun as long as the soil is moist. This perennial reaches a height from 10 inches to 4 feet. The soft-looking plumes bloom from June to mid-July in colors of cream, pink, lilac, coral or crimson. After the color fades, the plume takes on a rusty appearance giving the plant continuing beauty into fall.

Plant in early spring from pot or bareroot about 18 inches apart (for the shorter varieties) to 3 feet apart (for the taller varieties). The base of astilbe has dark green foliage growing up to 3 feet across. Dig up an established astilbe (at least two years of growth) and split into two to six sections (divisions) for replanting. Divide in spring or fall; expect less than spectacular blooms the first year after dividing. To divide, dig up and pull the plant apart (or cut if pulling is not working for you) into a clump of roots and green leaves that you can hold in your cupped hands. Astilbe also self-seeds. In spring or fall, cut the clump down to the ground. If you did not already clip off the spent blooms, leave them on the ground to drop their seeds.

Astilbe going to seed
For indoor use, cut the plumes for floral arrangements, if desired. Use the colorful plumes alone or as filler in a flower arrangement. For continued outdoor beauty, after blooming, the plume of astilbe turns to a rusty color. Cut off spent blooms (which can be dried) or allow the blooms to remain for visual impact in your garden. The spent blooms also cast for new growth. I initially purchased three pink and three cream astilbe. By allowing the plumes to go to seed, in about 10 years time, those six plants have self-seeded, more than tripling the number of plants. (See more pictures of astilbe below.)