A different kind of aster

January 11, 2013 

The climbing aster is capable of stretching beyond 10 feet, meaning it is ideal as a complement to other vines on a trellis, or it can be used to help spruce up an unsightly fence.

COURTESY OF L.A. JACKSON

A friend of mine showed me a vine the other day that she said was an aster. I didn’t know aster could be vines, and with it being the middle of December, I didn’t know asters bloomed so late. The flowers were light purple. What can you tell me about it?

Sue Greer

Raleigh

It is, indeed, an aster. Properly called Carolina climbing aster (Aster carolinianus), this pretty flower has many interesting attributes.

First, as opposed to typical asters, this plant is a woody vine capable of stretching beyond 10 feet, meaning it is ideal as a complement to other vines on a trellis, or it can be used to help spruce up an unsightly fence.

In addition, this is a very patient aster – it waits until fall-blooming asters have finished their turn in the spotlight, then, as the year grows late, splashes the landscape with its own grand show of inch-wide, pinkish-purple blossoms along its stretched-out stems. My climbing aster started blooming in late October and continued until the end of the year. Granted, we did have a fairly mild November and December, but it still shows what this aster is capable of adding visually to the late fall-early winter garden.

And finally, as odd and contrary as this plant is compared to other asters, don’t think that it is a weird introduction from some faraway place. As its proper and botanical names suggest, it is actually a Southeast native that calls North Carolina as well as woodlands south to Florida home.

Ordering pepper seeds

I read with interest your December response concerning whether ornamental peppers were edible or not, and since I want to start an edible pepper garden this spring, I was wondering if you could suggest some good pepper seed companies.

Gerry Sanderson

Durham

I have tried many sources, but I always seem to turn to Pepper Gal ( peppergal.com) in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., when my mischievous springtime planting mojo demands a strange, exotic pepper. Not only does Pepper Gal have very large selections of both hot and bell peppers, but her low prices on seed packs are hard to beat. I also occasionally order seeds from The Chile Pepper Institute ( chilepepperinstitute.org) at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, N.M. At $6 a pack, these aren’t the cheapest seeds around, but I get first crack at new NMSU introductions, and the money helps to support chile pepper research. And if you are a real pepper head, an annual membership with the Chile Pepper Institute will get you the newsletter, free seeds, personalized expert advice and other goodies.

Camellia petal blight

Last year, my camellia flowers started turning brown when they emerged in February. I thought the cold was the problem, but a friend of mine told me it could be a disease. Does that sound right to you?

Bobbi

Raleigh

Not only does it sound like a disease, but it sounds like Sclerotinia camelliae. This is a fungus that is responsible for a malady on camellias known as petal blight. It slaps blossoms with a serious case of brown ugliness just as they begin to put on their late winter-early spring flower show.This fungus resides in the soil around camellia bushes – a good fact to know in order to deal with the disease. A soil drench around the bush containing the fungicide Captan can work, but usually only with repeat applications starting in the late fall and continuing through the early spring. A non-chemical control involves simply raking up the petals from underneath the camellia right after they fall. Do not compost the petals – toss them away. Whether you use a fungicide or a rake, keep in mind that it might take a few years of treatment to be rid of this persistent, pesky fungus.

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. Send your questions, including the city where you garden and your full name, to askthegardener@newsobserver.com.

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