How to Plant, Grow and Care For Astilbe

Thinking of growing some Astilbe in your garden this season? This shade garden favorite has beautiful blooms in many different colors. In this article, certified master gardener Laura Elsner takes you through every aspect of growing astilbes in your garden, including maintenance and care.

Astilbe flower blooming in a green garden in the spring

Astilbe is an herbaceous perennial that you should consider adding to your garden. It brightens up shady areas with large plumes of feathery flowers. Astilbe is a tidy perennial flower that doesn’t spread. Its blooms last a long time, and its foliage has a lovely lacy texture.

Astilbe blooms in many different colors. Their beautiful flowers can be seen most commonly blossoming in white, pink, red, and purple.

If grown in its ideal conditions, astilbe has few problems with pests and disease. Astilbe can also handle a wide variety of growing conditions making them easy and versatile. Keep reading to learn all about growing astilbes this season!

Astilbe Plant Overview

Astilbe Plant Overview
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial
Family Saxifragaceae
Genus Astilbe
Species Sp
Native area Eastern Asia, North America
Hardiness Zone 3-8
Season Summer
Exposure Part-shade to part-sun
Plant Spacing 18′
Planting Depth to the crown of the plant
Height 12-48″
Watering requirements Moderate
Pests Black vine weevil
Diseases Powdery mildew
Soil Type Rich, hummus
Flower Color Pink, red, purple, white
Attracts Pollinators
Plant with Hosta, ligularia, hydrangea, creeping Jenny, coral bells

Plant History

Creamy white astilba flowers in a summer garden. Many beautiful, fluffy, pinnate panicles consisting of dense small flowers. The leaves are small, trifoliate, composed of sharp-toothed, dark green leaflets.
Astilbe is an ornamental plant native to Japan and North America.

Astilbes are native to Japan and China. There is a variety that is native to North America. The North American variety is also known as the false goat’s beard.

This variety is tall with white flowers. But the large, blossomed astilbe that we see as a garden ornamental is mostly the Japanese (Japonica) and Chinese (Chinensis) species. These ornamental varieties were distributed across the globe in the late 19th century.

German horticulturist Georg Arends started to cross-breed and create hybrid varieties, which are still around today and are called astilbe x arendsii.

Cultivation

Close-up of a flowering astilba plant in a garden against a blurred green leafy background. Tall, erect panicles of small, fluffy, intense pink flowers.
There are 18 species of astilbe, the most common of which are Japanese and Chinese.

Astilbes are a member of the saxifragaceae family. Other members of this family include coral bells, bergenia, and rodgersia.

There are eighteen species of astilbe and many cultivars. Two common species that gardeners will encounter are Japonica and Chinesis. Chinensis astilbe is the later blooming variety, whereas Japonica bloom in the early summer.

Other species include thunbergii and simplicifolia. Thunbergii has plumes of flower drape slightly downwards. Simplicifolia is a dwarf species of astilbe, which is great for small spaces and front borders.

Propagation

There are a variety of ways to obtain an astilbe plant for your garden, let’s run through them.

Purchase

Close-up of a flowering astilbe plant on a blurred green background. Large, pinnate panicles, with small bright pink flowers.
You can purchase an established astilbe plant from your local garden center or nursery.

Purchasing an established plant is the easiest way to get astilbes into your garden. They are a very popular garden perennial, and you should have no problems finding one at your local garden center or nursery.

When choosing an astilbe, read the tag carefully for bloom time. Some bloom early in the summer, and others bloom in late summer. In general, Japonica will bloom early, and Chinensis will bloom later in the season.

Bare Root

Planting astilbe tubers in the spring garden. A gardener puts an astilbe tuber into the soil wearing black and orange gloves. There is a blue shovel on the ground nearby. The gardener is dressed in a green and white sweatshirt and blue trousers.
You can also purchase bare roots of astilbe, which should be planted as soon as possible.

Bare roots of astilbe can be purchased from seed catalogs and online. Make sure you choose a reputable company to purchase from. This is a great option if you are looking for a specific variety.

You will receive a dampened root in the mail. Sometimes packed in peat or wood shavings. Keep the root damp. Open your package and soak it in water immediately. Plant it as soon as possible.

To plant your root, dig a hole 2-3 times as wide as the size of the bare root. Gently tease the roots apart, so they aren’t growing in a circle. Fill with a mix of the existing soil and some organic material. Make sure you water well.

Keep a close eye on your new transplant and make sure it doesn’t dry out. This is best done in the spring or fall. Planting in the heat of the summer is risky because your astilbe can dry out quickly.

Division

Close-up of flowering astilbe plants in a sunny garden. The plant has long erect stems with fluffy, pinnate panicles of bright pink small flowers. Plants are characterized by graceful, fern-like mounds, mostly basal, 2-3 trifoliate leaflets, with sharp-toothed leaflets.
Division of astilbes is required due to overcrowding or if you want to get more astilbes.

Dividing existing plants is a great way to get more astilbes. They won’t need to be divided too often. But they will eventually grow large, perhaps too large for their space, and require division.

Another sign they need to be divided is that they are flowering less because of overcrowding. This could be once every 3-4 years or so. Maybe more in cold climates where they tend to grow slower.

Division of astilbe is best done in the fall. For the early blooming varieties, you could do this in the late summer. Make sure it’s after they have finished blooming. It’s best to pick a cloudy, cool day to divide, transplant and plant.

Dig up your astilbe. If the soil is hard, water it first to make digging easier. I use a sharpened edger or my spade to split the astilbe into chunks. Depending on the size of your astilbe you can split it into 1-4 chunks. Replant the original piece back into your garden. Water in well. It will need more water until the roots can re-establish.

Dig holes for the new transplants. This is actually better to do before you dig up the plant. Dig the hole extra wide and deep. Plant the transplant and fill in with a mixture of the soil that you dug and some organic matter. Water in well.

Do not let the new transplants or the original plant dry out. Water is key for transplant success. Your new transplant and the original plant may sulk and not look the best but keep watering it and it will grow fresh next spring.

Planting

Close-up of Astilbe planting in the garden. A gardener's hands in green gloves cover a hole with a freshly planted Astilbe plant in a sunny garden. The gardener fills the soil with a blue garden shovel. The plant has lush foliage, dark green in color with jagged edges. A blue watering can stands next to a plant in a flower bed.
It is necessary to dig a hole three times larger than the plant itself and fill it with water.

Planting an astilbe is a fairly straightforward process. If you are familiar with planting perennials in your garden, astilbe will be a cinch.

Start by digging a large hole. Dig it three times as large as the plant itself. This will allow for the roots to easily spread and establish. I will then fill the hole with water. Allow the water to sink in. At this point, I will add a handful of transplant fertilizer, or you can add some bone meal or blood meal.

Then remove your astilbe from its pot. If the roots stay in the shape of the pot, you will have to break up the root ball. You can do this with your hands, or if it’s really dense, use clippers. If the bottom is a big mat of roots, I will take a knife and slice it off.

The plant will struggle if it is planted with roots that are wrapped around it. I try to avoid purchasing overly root-bound plants in the first place. But sometimes it’s unavoidable (I can’t resist a sale!).

Next, place your astilbe into your pre-dug hole and line up the crown of the plant with the soil line. Then fill in the hole with a mixture of existing soil and some organic material. Now water it in and press the soil down, so it is firmly planted.

Water it well to help establish its roots. If possible, pick a cloudy and/or cool day to plant your astilbe. Or plant it in the morning or evening to avoid the heat of the day. This will limit the stress on your new transplant.

How to Grow

Astilbes grow in a variety of conditions. You will just have to pay attention to the amount of water they get with the amount of sun they receive.

Let’s look closer at the ideal growing conditions for astilbes.

Sunlight

Close-up of a flowering Astilbe plant in a sunny garden against a blurred background. The plant has fluffy pink panicles, consisting of many tiny flowers.
Astilbes grow well in partial sun.

Astilbes can handle a wide variety of sun conditions. While they are generally touted as shade perennials, I think part-sun is the sweet spot for growing astilbe.

In a full shade area of your garden, your astilbe will be mostly a foliage plant. It will have lacy leaves and very few if any, plumes of brightly colored flowers. In warmer zones, you will want to plant your astilbes in shadier areas to protect them from the hot summers.

In a partially shaded or dappled sun area, your astilbes should flourish. The morning sun with dappled afternoon shade is a perfect location. Here you will get big fluffy plumes of flowers.

Astilbes can be grown in full sun. Just be aware that their flowers will fade out faster. Also, you will need to be watering them more frequently. This works for colder climate gardeners; the summer sun might get too hot for them in warmer garden zones.

Soil

A close-up of a blue-gloved gardener's hand digging a hole in the soil in a flower bed to plant Astilba. Nearby is an astilba plant ready for planting. The plant has long stems, with fern-like, trifoliate, sharp-toothed leaves. There is also a blue watering can next to the plant.
These plants require fertile, well-drained soil with a slightly acidic pH.

Astilbe prefers rich, well-drained soil. They like a slightly acidic pH. This can be achieved by adding organic matter such as compost, aged manure, worm castings, or sea soil to your garden before planting. This will also help loosen clay soil and help with drainage.

For very alkaline, clay soils, try an ending with coconut coir or peat moss to loosen your soil. You can tell if your soil has a lot of clay by simply grabbing a handful of it and squeezing it.

It should crumble away back to soil once you release it. If it stays in a tight ball, it has a high clay content. Clay is alkaline and should be amended with coconut coir or peat moss and organic matter to lower the pH for astilbes.

This is what most of the typical shade-loving perennials prefer as well (e.g. Hosta, hydrangea, etc.). So, if you already have an established garden, it should not be a problem adding in some astilbes.

Water

Watering a freshly planted astilba plant from a blue watering can in a flower bed, in the garden. The plant has slender green stems covered with graceful, fern-like, 2-3 trifoliate leaves, with sharply toothed leaflets.
Astilbes need abundant watering but do not like being left in stagnant water.

Watering is the tricky part for growing astilbes. While they require more water than typical perennials, they do not like being left in standing water. You have to find the sweet spot where they receive adequate but not too much water.

Make sure your soil has adequate drainage. This means that it doesn’t not have sitting water. Boggy areas in your garden are not suitable for astilbe even though they are known as water-loving plants. Add coconut coir or peat moss and plenty of organic matter to help with drainage.

Astilbes do not like to dry out. Make sure the soil is evenly moist. The tips of your article will go crisp if they are drying out. They also like to be continuously moist. Try not to let them dry out completely at any point.

If you are planning your astilbe in full sun, you will need to be providing more water as they will dry out faster. I like to use a drip hose snaked through the garden and give them a slow feel watering once or twice a week as needed.

Climate and Temperature

Close-up of an astilbe inflorescence in a garden against a green leafy background. The plant has a large inflorescence of thin stems covered with tiny white fluffy flowers.
Astilbes thrive in a wide range of climates but cannot tolerate harsh heat.

Astilbe has a great range for differing climates. They can survive anywhere from zone 3 to zone 8 with no problems.

As for temperatures, you will want to keep your astilbe protected from harsh heat and sun. Planting your astilbes in an area that receives afternoon shade will keep them flourishing.

Fertilizer

Close-up of a flowering astilbe in a garden lit by sunlight. Large panicles of bright pink small fluffy flowers, reminiscent of feathers, grow on tall, erect stems above lacy leaves.
It is recommended to fertilize the soil with compost or worm waste to keep the soil healthy and nourished.

I am not an advocate for applying fertilizers to perennial gardens. Instead, I believe in soil health. Soil is a living thing full of microbes that is essential for soil structure. In the long run, healthy soil will make healthy plants.

Every second-third fall season, I add organic material to my garden. I also top-dress the garden with compost, aged manure, sea soil, or worm castings. I then apply a compost tea (usually made from worm casting) at some point in the season. This keeps my soil healthy and, therefore, my plants healthy.

Maintenance

Purple astilbe flowers, cut in autumn, on the grass in the garden. The inflorescences are large, fluffy, consist of many tiny purple flowers, reminiscent of feathers.
Astilbes do not require pruning, and even the dried flowers can add extra texture to your garden.

Astilbes are a wonderfully low-maintenance perennial (unless you planted then in an area where they require extra water). They do not need to be deadheaded.

They will not produce a second flush of flowers if you deadhead them. Plus, I think the dried plumes of flowers after they finished blooming still add interest and texture to your garden.

They do not need to be cut down in winter either. The dried stalks can stay on through the winter. In the spring, you can give them a quick trim to the ground and allow them to grow fresh again.

Varieties

There is a secret for longer-lasting astilbe blossoms, and it’s not what you might think. It’s not watering, pruning, or location. It is all in the different astilbe varieties. There are two different types of astilbes that bloom at two very different times in the season.

If you stagger plant early blooming varieties with later blooming varieties, you will have astilbes in bloom almost all summer long. For a more comprehensive list of astilbe varieties, check out my article on 19 varieties of astilbe. Below are a few of my favorites.

Fanal

Blooming Astilbe Fanal flowers in a sunny garden. The plant is lush, has tall, erect inflorescences resembling feathers, consisting of small scarlet red flowers. Inflorescences rise above basal, fern-like, 2-3 ternately compound leaves, dark green, with sharply-toothed leaflets.
This variety produces scarlet red flowers that bloom continuously throughout the summer.

‘Fanal’ flowers are plumes of feathery scarlet red flowers. It blooms in the early summer. If you mix this variety with another red variety, such as ‘Burgundy Red’, you will have an almost seamless blossoming of red astilbes through the summer.

Younique Salmon

Close-up of Astilba 'Younique Salmon' blooming inflorescence in a sunny garden, against a blurred background of a house. The inflorescence is large, resembles feathers, consists of many small delicate flowers of pinkish-peach color.
This variety blooms with incredibly delicate peach-colored feathers in early summer.

‘Younique Salmon’ is an early summer blooming variety. It features large plumes of peachy feathery flowers. It looks like a coral reef in the garden.

Sprite

Top view, close-up of a flowering astilbe 'Sprite' plant in a shady garden. The plant has large, drooping inflorescences consisting of small, fluffy, dark pink-red flowers on a blurred background of dark green 2-3 ternately compound leaves.
This dwarf astilbe variety has drooping panicles of pink flowers on curved stems.

‘Sprite’ is a dwarf variety of astilbe. If you are short on space or want a front border plant, ‘Sprite’ is a great little variety. It features light pink flowers on fine jagged foliage.

Ostrich Plume

Close-up of a flowering Astilba Ostrich Plume in the garden. Large, fluffy, weeping, panicles of small pink flowers on curved stems rise above glossy lacy foliage.
This variety is a delightful Astilbe species with large loose weeping panicles of pale pink flowers.

‘Ostrich Plume’ is a unique variety of astilbe. It has bright pink flowers that dangle downwards. It has the look of loves-lies-bleeding. These little dangling plumes grow on top of glossy lacy foliage.

Companions

Astilbes make great companions to a variety of perennials in your garden. What makes great companions are plants that like the same growing conditions. Here are a few of my favorites, but there are many more perennials to combine with astilbes.

Hosta

Delicate pink astilbe flowers in composition with hosta plants in a shady corner of the garden. Astilbe has slender, erect stems with large clusters of small, dark pink, feather-like flowers that float above fern-like tufts of leaves. Hosta has large, slightly wrinkled, heart-shaped leaves of bright green color with white edging.
Astilbe and hosta are excellent companion plants as they have similar growing requirements.

Astilbe and hostas are a match made in heaven. They both like part-shade and lots of water (but not standing water). The wide round hosta leaf is the perfect contrast to the lacy-textured astilbe leaf.

Then the plumes of astilbe flowers will rise slightly above the hosta. You can plant astilbe behind hostas, or you can stagger them in between.

Ligularia

Close-up of a blooming Ligularia perennial in a shady garden. The plant has large leaves with jagged edges and tall erect spiers of bright yellow flowers.
This perennial, like Astilbe, prefers plenty of water, making them excellent garden neighbors.

Ligularia is a large water-loving shade perennial. They go great with astilbe. The later blooming varieties of astilbe will bloom at the same time as ligularia.

The early blooming ones will bloom before. I would stagger a mixture of early and late blooming varieties around the base of your ligularia for flowers throughout the summer.

Coral Bells

Close-up of a flowering Heuchera plant in the garden. The plant has large lobed leaves, dark green with ruffled edges and tall stems of inflorescences with bell-shaped red flowers.
Heuchera has stunning ruffled leaves in a variety of colors that create a great contrast with the fine Astilbe foliage.

Coral Bells are known for their stunning foliage colors. They also have beautiful, ruffled leaves. They make a great contrast with the fine foliage of astilbe.

Coral bells shoot up long stems of foamy flowers. They look great when interspersed with the thick plumes of astilbe flowers. It looks lush and whimsical.

Bleeding Heart

Close-up of a flowering "bleeding hearts" plant against a blurred green background. The plant has a thin long stem, on which there are drooping bright pink flowers in the shape of hearts. The leaves are bright green, lobed.
This cold-hardy perennial blooms from mid-to-late spring to early summer.

Bleeding hearts are one of the first perennials up and out of the ground in the early spring. They grow large and lush and then die back in the late summer.

Plant astilbe around the base of the bleeding heart so it will cover the hole left behind. Late blooming astilbe will bloom and cover the hole left by the bleeding heart.

Creeping Jenny

Top view, close-up of a creeping jenny groundcover in a rock garden. The plant has creeping stems covered with small oval bright green leaves and golden yellow cupped flowers.
This ground cover acts as a natural mulch and looks great paired with red astilbe varieties.

Creeping Jenny is a low-growing ground cover plant. It can be quite aggressive. Why I like this plant with astilbe is that it acts as a natural mulch. It will keep the moisture in the soil. You may have to rip out some of the Jenny as if it starts to grow into the astilbe.

The golden variety of creeping Jenny looks great paired with a red variety such as ‘Red Sentinel’. The dark burgundy stems really pop against the chartreuse foliage of the golden creeping Jenny.

Pests and Diseases

One of the best things about astilbes is that they remain relatively disease and pest free. Especially if they are grown in their ideal conditions as outlined above. There are a few issues that can affect astilbes, but it isn’t too common.

Powdery Mildew

Close-up of oval, oblong leaves, dark green in color, infected with powdery mildew, in a spring garden. The leaves are covered with a powdery white film.
Powdery mildew is a common Astilbe disease as they both like shady and damp conditions.

I think if anything is going to affect your astilbe, it will be powdery mildew. Unfortunately, what powdery mildew and astilbe have in common is that they both like shady and wet conditions. Powdery mildew appears as a powdery white, dust-like film that can be wiped off.

It is best to try and prevent powdery mildew from forming in the first place. Keep your astilbe growing in its ideal conditions (check out the how to grow section above). Make sure to plant your astilbe 18-24″ apart. Allowing adequate airflow between your plants will prevent powdery mildew.

Also, avoid overhead watering. Constantly wet foliage is a breeding ground for mildew. I like to use a drip hose snaked through the garden. This provides water right at the soil level.

If you do have an overhead watering system, water in the morning. This way, the foliage will dry in the sun. Watering at night, the plant will sit wet through the night. This promotes powdery mildew growth.

If you already have powdery mildew in your plants, tips about prevention aren’t going to help. You will need to purchase a fungicide and spray the affected plants.

Use one specifically formulated to combat powdery mildew (it will say in the bottle). In the fall, clean up all the leaf litter and dispose of it. This is to help prevent recontamination the following season.

Black Vine Weevil

Close-up of a Black Vine Weevil beetle on a green leaf, against a blurry background. The beetle is large, has an oval black body with white speckles, a head, legs and antennae.
These black beetles are terrible pests as they feed on astilbe roots.

Weevils are a terrible pest to deal with, unfortunately. Black vine weevils are small bugs with round bodies that have a pebbled texture.

These bugs feed on the roots of your astilbe and will eventually cause your astilbe to fall and die. The problem is these little bugs are hard to see and usually only come out at night.

If you any symptoms of weevil, or see the bugs themselves, try introducing beneficial nematodes to combat them. If this doesn’t work, you will have to apply a pesticide.

It will take a few applications to be effective. Black vine weevil will over winter in the soil, so make sure to deal with it so you aren’t plagued with them season after season.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you prepare astilbes for winter?

You don’t have to do anything really special for astilbe to prepare them for the winter. You can cut them back in the fall if you like. Or you can leave the dry flower stalks on through the winter. Whatever you decide, make sure you are watering your plants in well until they go dormant. Do not let your astilbes dry out.

What are the best growing conditions for astilbes?

Astilbes grow best in evenly moist soil conditions. They are mostly thought of as shade plants. But if they are receiving more water, they can take more sun. In warmer climates make sure they are protected from the hot afternoon sun.

How do you keep astilbes growing all summer?

Water. Make sure they have lots of water, without being left in standing water. The best way to achieve this is by having well-drained soil. Amending your soil with its of organic material will help make it drain. If your soil is very heavy (clay), you may need to dig in some peat moss or coconut coir to loosen it.

Can astilbes be overwatered?

Yes! While astilbes are often touted as water loving perennials, they actually do not tolerate being left in standing water. Make sure to keep your astilbes evenly moist, but never waterlogged. Achieve this by amending your soil with lots of organic material. For very heavy clay soil, dig in coconut coir or peat moss to loosen it and help with drainage.

How much sun do astilbes need?

Astilbes do need some sunlight in order to bloom. Morning sun is great with some protection from the hot afternoon sun. The more sun your astilbes get, the more water they will require.

Final Thoughts

Astilbes are a garden mainstay. They are a low-maintenance tidy perennial that blooms year after year. As long as you keep them watered, but not waterlogged, they will give you very few problems. So, pick up a few astilbes and add them to the shady areas of your garden. Their big plumes of feathery flowers will add drama and color into your garden.

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