False Spire Plants

Gorgeous plumes in summer and attractive seed heads in fall and winter

The Astilbe genus contains herbaceous perennials, commonly called false spirea, that offer late spring to fall interest. A highly popular plant, astilbe has long feathery plumes, growing up to 2 feet long, dense with tiny flowers in various shades of pink, peach, red, lavender, or white. Borne on slender, erect to arching stems, the long-lasting flower stalks attract butterflies and make excellent cuts for fresh and dried floral arrangements. If not deadheaded, the plumes turn into attractive seed heads and extend the season of ornamental interest through fall and winter.

Astilbe is a genus of about 25 species that typically grow 2 to 3 feet tall, but some varieties will reach about 4 feet. A. chinensis (Chinese astilbe), A. arendsii (false goat’s beard, hybrid astilbe), and A. japonica (florist spirea, japonica hybrid) are popular species in cultivation. Astilbe has a clumping, mounding habit of lacy, fern-like foliage that is medium to dark green or bronze tinted. The plants slowly spread by rhizomes and make excellent edging along streams or around ponds. Shown to best effect when grouped or massed, astilbes are naturals in butterfly, pollinator, cutting, woodland, and bog gardens.

Cold hardy and one of the easiest perennials to grow, astilbe prefers part to full shade and rich, humusy, loamy, well-drained soil. They need consistent moisture to perform at their best. Adding peat moss or compost when planting and mulching around roots in summer helps retain moisture. They may be grown in full sun in the North, with adequate water, but require afternoon shade, at the very least, in the South. Astilbes are generally quite pest free. They are also heavy shade tolerant and deer, rabbit, and black walnut resistant.