Growing Astilbe in Iowa

While hostas are terrific plants for shady locations, a number of other perennials are wonderful additions to the shade garden. One of the best perennials for shade is astilbe, or false spirea. 

Astilbe with Hosta By mashiki AdobeStock
Astilbe pairs nicely with hosta in the shade garden because its fine textured leaves and flowers contrasts nicely with coarse bold texture of hosta. (1)

Astilbes have beautiful spike-like clusters of flowers that sway gracefully in the wind. Flower colors include white, pink, red, and reddish purple. The flowers are borne on stiff, upright or arching stems. Astilbe foliage varies from dark green to bronze. The astilbe's combination of colorful flowers and attractive foliage make it a perfect complement to the bold coarseness of hostas. Astilbes also make wonderful cut or dried flowers. Allow a few spent flower blossoms to remain on the plants in fall and you will be rewarded with elegant brown spikes through much of the winter.

Astilbes shine when many other shade loving perennials are waning. They bloom for 2 to 3 weeks. Depending on the variety, astilbes flower from early to late summer. Early blooming varieties begin to flower in late May or June while late bloomers begin in late July or early August. By selecting several varieties with different bloom times, the floral display can be extended over 2 or 3 months.

Astilbes also vary greatly in height. Some varieties like 'Sprite' or 'Perkeo' grow only 6 to 12 inches tall (bloom included), while 'Purple Lance' or 'Purple Candles' can reach 4 feet in height. This diversity in height makes astilbes versatile perennials well suited to many areas of the perennial border.

astilbe plant in part shade
Astilbe growing in part shade (3)
Astilbe flower
Astilbe in bloom (2)

Growing Conditions

Plants grow best in part shade locations, and can do well in full shade, but may have fewer flowers.  Astible can also tolerate full sun if provided abundant moisture.

Fertile, moist, humus-rich soil is a must for these shade lovers. Astilbes are unforgiving in dry soils, as the leaves will brown quickly. Annual additions of compost or organic matter around the base of the plant will be rewarded with loads of blooms and healthy foliage. While astilbes require consistent moisture, they do not tolerate waterlogged or heavy clay soils well. Clay and poorly drained soils can be improved by incorporating peat moss, compost, or other types of organic matter into the soil before planting.


Astilbes are easily propagated by dividing large clumps when the foliage emerges in early spring. Vigorously growing astilbes can be divided every 4 to 6 years After division, water and mulch well to aid establishment.

Varity of Astible By Tatiana AdobeStock
Astilbe comes in a wide range of colors (4)

Species and Cultivars

Astibles are native to China, Japan, and Korea. There are 25 different species. Hundreds of hybrids or selections have been made from approximately a dozen species. 'Peach Blossom', the first cultivar introduced in 1903, is still available on the market today.

See the following chart for a listing of a few of the cultivars that are available.  Cultivars are listed by bloom time.

CultivarSpeciesHeight (in.)Flower ColorBloom TimeComments
DeutschlandA. × japonica20-28WhiteEarlyFragrant flowers
Peach BlossomA. × rosea20-30Peachy pinkEarlyFragrant flowers
BumaldaA. × arendsii24Pinkish whiteEarly - Mid 
FanalA. × arendsii24RedEarly - MidBronze foliage
RheinlandA. × arendsii24Carmine roseEarly - Mid 
SnowdriftA. × arendsii24WhiteEarly - Mid 
AmericaA. × arendsii28Lilac roseEarly - Mid 
GranatA. × arendsii24-28Carmine redEarly - MidBronze foliage
EricaA. × arendsii30-36PinkEarly - MidCompact trusses
Bridal VeilA. × arendsii18-24WhiteMid 
White GloriaA. × arendsii20-24WhiteMidBlocky plumes
ElisabethA. × japonica24-28Raspberry lilacMidPurplish foliage
EtnaA. × arendsii24-28Dark redMidDark foliage
Catherine DeneuveA. × arendsii24-30Rose-pinkMid 
MontgomeryA. × japonica24-36Dark redMidDark foliage
Bressingham BeautyA. × arendsii36-40PinkMidArching plumes
Ostrich PlumeA. × thunbergii36-40Salmon pinkMidArching plumes
Prof. van der WielenA. × thunbergii36-40WhiteMidArching plumes
Cotton CandyA. × japonica12-16PinkMid - LateCompact foliage
Red SentinelA. × japonica24-36Scarlet redMid - LateDark foliage
CattleyaA. × arendsii36-40Orchid-pinkMid - LateLong blooming
PerkeoA. crispa 6-10RoseLateCrisp foliage; zone 5 hardy
SpriteA. simplicifolia 6-12Shell pinkLateDark bronze foliage
PumilaA. chinensis10-12Lavender pinkLateGroundcover type
VisionsA. chinensis12-18Lilac purpleLateCompact trusses; bronze foliage
AphroditeA. simplicifolia 15-20Salmon redLateBronze foliage
Hennie GraaflandA. simplicifolia 16-18Light pinkLateShiny dark green foliage; arching plumes
Veronica KloseA. chinensis20-24Purple roseLate 
SuperbaA. × taquetii 36-40Rose purpleLate 
Purple CandlesA. chinensis36-42Reddish purpleLateCompact trusses
Purple LanceA. × taquetii 42-46Pinkish purpleLate 

Looking for a Native Alternative?

Goats Beard Aruncus By Michail AdobeStock
Goat's beard has a similar appearance to astilbe but grows much larger. (5)

Goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus) is a similar looking plant to astilbe that grows in similar conditions.  A native of woodlands in eastern Iowa, goat’s beard
may grow 4 to 6 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Its pinnately compound leaves are 2 to 3 feet long. Dense spikes of creamy white flowers are produced in late spring/early summer (usually a little earlier than most astilbes). It prefers moist soils and partial shade. Because of its large size, goat’s beard is best used as a background plant or in the center of large beds.

More Information

Photo credits: 1: mashiki/AdobeStock; 2: Aaron Steil; 3: Aaron Steil; 4: Tatiana/AdobeStock; 5: Michail/AdobeStock

Last reviewed:
June 2024