Garden Design

18 Easy Woodland Companions for Astilbe

If you love woodland gardens, the Astilbe plant is worth getting to know. The frilly texture and colors can blend in the background of other plants in a woodland space.

You might be wondering what the heck is an Astilbe. It’s a perennial flower plant that may not be as widely known as other perennials. People love them because they are so versatile and very low maintenance.

Astilbe plants come in different colors ranging from pale cream to bright red. It comes in a range of pinks, peach and lavender/purple. They have frilly leaves similar to ferns. If you love how ferns look but want to add more color to an area, Astilbe might be a great fit.

They are native to Asia and North America. It’s important to note there are two different types: Chinese (Astilbe chinensis) which are fast spreading rhizomes used as ground covers and Japanese (Astilbe Japonica also called False Goat’s Beard) which grow in clumps that need to be divided every few years.

Here are just a few types of Astilbe japonica: Deutschland, Bridal Veil, Sprite, Peach Blossom and Montgomery.

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What are Astilbe’s ideal growing conditions?

It’s really important to know the best growing conditions because this will help narrow down which companion plants share similar needs so you can have an easy maintenance garden. Astilbe is hardy in zones 3-9.

They grow best in part shade where they are protected from the harsh afternoon sun. They would do well growing under a tree that provides a dappled light. Astilbe can also grow in full shade but the caveat is you won’t have as many blooms.

It loves in moist, acidic soil that has to be well drained. If your soil is on the drier side, add lots of organic compost. Astilbe plants don’t mind it to be on the slightly acidic side. If your garden isn’t located near any trees, you can use bark mulch to keep moisture in the soil. You can also use rich dark compost to seal in more moisture.

Just like many perennials spring and fall are the best times to plant new ones. Transplants from divided mature Astilbe are the easiest way to add them to your garden. I pick up rhizomes from places like Costco in the spring but you can order them online too.

If you desire a woodland feel, we’ll talk about choose plants that blend in or naturalize the space.

Delaware Valley White Azaleas are an ever green azalea.

Delaware Valley White Azaleas can be a solid structure for Astilbe

I discovered this heavenly shrub when I moved into my current house. The bees couldn’t resist the large white flowers that bloomed early spring. Sadly, the bloom time is short but the green foliage will provide a dark background that makes Astilbe flowers pop.

Zones: 5-8

Water Requirements: Likes organically rich moist soil. If you have clay soil, spend a few years working in dark compost because the roots of this shrub will struggle with the dryness of clay soil.

Azaleas are a good choice if you have pine trees in your woodland garden because they prefer acidic soil. It doesn’t have to be this variety but check to see how much sun the variety you want needs.

Sun Requirements: Mine were planted in full sun and were thriving. If you live in a hotter area, part sun with the sunniest time being in the morning may be a better option for you. Even dappled light in the afternoon is good.

White Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra) are low maintenance because you don’t need to cut them back.

Bleeding Hearts White (Dicentra) is less common to find in a garden center.

Don’t worry about Bleeding Hearts overcrowding an Astilbe plant. Bleeding Hearts literally disappear by mid-summer when the Astilbe plant is coming into bloom. Besides a healthy dose of compost, bleeding hearts also enjoy some used coffee grounds mixed into the soil.

Zones: 3-9

Water: Water once a week if it’s dry. Like moist, compost added to soil.

Sun Requirements: Prefer morning sun but some shade from a hot afternoon sun.

Brunnera’s dainty flowers add delicate beauty in a shade garden.

I love this plant because it’s so low maintenance and it complements other plants with it’s dark green color. It blooms in mid-spring. If you want to add Begonias to your garden, click here for growing instructions.

Zones: 3-8

Water Requirements: Only needs supplement waterings if it’s too dry.

Sun Requirements: A couple of hours of morning sun.

Caladium like this “Carolyn Whorton” variety brings bright color and variety to your garden.

Keep in mind that all parts of Caladium is poisonous so it isn’t a good choice if your pets have access to this plant in your garden.

It can brighten up a dark corner. If you want to stick with a minimalist, monochromatic theme, Caladium also comes in green and white like Caladium “White Christmas.” Keep in mind this is an annual in colder regions. If you want to add Caladium to your garden, click here for growing information.

Zones: 9-12 (Their ideal temperature is between 65-70 degrees.) In most zones, Caladium is an annual but if you want to keep it, dig up the tubers before the very first frost. Click here to learn more about how to save them.

Water Requirements: It needs to be watered regularly and grow in moist soil.

Sun Exposure: It likes good shade to dappled light. It’s a good plant to plant under trees.

Some Daphnes like the Eternal Fragrance have evergreen leaves that compliment pine trees.

Eternal Fragrance variety has varying degrees of toxicity so keep this in mind if you have plants and kids.

The Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ is has variegated leaves with light pink flowers. If you want to add Daphne to your garden, click here for a growing instructions.

Zones: 4-9

Water Requirements: It needs to be watered just enough to maintain moist soil.

Sun Requirements: Full sun to part shade. Full shade stunts their growth.

Wild Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) can create structure in your Astilbe garden.

Wild Dogwood is non-toxic to dogs and pets.

For an amazing minimalist landscape, include a white flowering dogwood like Cornus florida with white Astilbe growing beneath it would be gorgeous. Light pink and dark pink flowering varieties can also look amazing against white or light grey siding of your house. If you want to add dogwoods to your garden, click here for growing instructions.

Zones: 5-6 need full sun, 7-10 can be in part sun

Water Requirements: They need an inch of water per week whether it’s from the rain or from the hose.

Sun Requirements: They like full sun and part sun.

Hay Scented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) are native to the northeastern U.S. and Appalachian Mountains.

When the Hay Scented Fern is crushed, it smells like fresh mown hay.

It’s memorizing when you see a lot of them along woodland edges that receive partial sun. As you can see in the above photo, it can take over an area when growing in ideal conditions. When considering adding Astilbe, you may need to pull out some ferns so that it doesn’t overtake them. White and/or purple Astilbe varieties would set the tone of peace in a woodland garden.

Zones: 3-7

Water Requirements: Needs consistent moisture. It’s a lot easier to plant them in spaces that already have these conditions rather than taking on the responsibility of keep it watered.

Sun Requirements: It also likes part shade.

Hellebores early blooms can set the tone for the growing season

Hybrid Hellebores flowers will often turn green as they age.

Hellebores are one of the more expensive perennials so you may want to either buy a few to start or find less expensive ways to add a lot of them in your woodland garden. I have another blog post that gives ideas on how to save money when adding in Hellebores in your garden.

Zones: 3-9

Water Requirements: Established Hellebores only need to be watered during dry spells, otherwise, they need to be watered weekly

Sun Requirements: They are versatile and can take full sun with dappled shade to shade. Their sweet spot is part shade.

Blue Angel Hosta saves money with it’s large size

Blue Angel Hosta is a nice backdrop to this garden statue.

This hosta is 3 feet high but it can grow to 5 feet wide. This is a great choice if you need a way to keep landscaping costs down and cover a large space. Astilbe isn’t the most expensive plant but Astilbe by themselves don’t take up a lot of room. The bluish hue blends in and give the space structure.

Zones: 3-8

Watering Requirements: Whether your dividing a plant and using transplants or planting the tubers, you’ll want to water frequently until it’s established. I noticed my Blue Angel hostas needed less water than my variegated hostas when I transplanted them.

Sun Requirements: This variety of hosta can grow in part sun and full shade. This variety prefers more shade but hostas with lighter leaves can take more sun. Take a look at your space to determine which type of hosta you need to fill it in.

Huchera Timeless Night Coral Bells complement the darker astilbe foliage

If you love the drama of Astilbe Dark Side of the Moon, the dark foliage complements the color of this Huchera variety. I like using dark leafed plants because they blend into the darkness of a woods edge creating a really unique look.

Zones: 4-9

Soil Requirements: Enjoys a rich composted dark soil.

Sun Requirements: Prefers part sun but can tolerate full sun. The trick is to make sure the soil doesn’t dry out.

Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata aiton) won’t muscle in on astilbe

This adorable little iris blends in a woodland landscape but if planted in front of an Astilbe plant, the light green and lavender flowers would pop. Dwarf Crested Irises bloom in the early spring so they won’t compete with Astilbe blooms. Even though they spread, their small size won’t dominate it’s neighbors.

Zones: 3-9

Watering Requirements: Prefer moist, rich soil on wooded ravines.

Sun Requirements: Prefer full to partial shaded areas.

Rhododendron is a versatile backdrop for Astilbe

Under the most ideal conditions, Rhododendrons can become a behemoth so it’s best to plant it in an area that has a lot of room. As an evergreen, it will always create a deep emerald background to show off Astilbe color. Rhododenrons bloom early spring and Astilbe plants bloom in the late summer. Plant Astilbe around the base or along a border.

Zones: 4-9

Water Requirements: Twice a week for the first year but only water during a dry season.

Sun Requirements: Full sun but it can take a good bit of shade.

Planting a Sweetbox near your door will allow you to smell the sweet scent of the flowers as you walk by.

Sarcococca Sweetbox glossy leaves give an evergreen cascade

Sweetbox does spread out but it’s in a slow pace so be sure to give it the room it needs so it doesn’t overcrowd the Astilbe plants. It grows 3′ high and 5′ wide. If you have the room, planting several of them together creates a flowing effect to the space. The Astilbe can be planted in front of it or at the corners.

Zones: 6-9

Water Requirements: Prefers well-drained soil.

Sun Requirements: This plant likes part sun and the same type of soil as the Astilbe plant.

Snow Queen Oakleaf Hydrangea tolerate humid conditions

Snow Queen Oakleaf Hydrangea can fill in a large space that is unsightly.

This hydrangea type has leaves that easily blend in a wooded edge border. Factoring it’s size, you can plant Astilbe around the base. Snow Queen can bring some drama (in a good way) into your wooded garden. Some people prefer a shrub that stops them dead in their tracks and leaves them in awe. The Snow Queen is a jaw dropper.

Zones: 5-9

Water Requirements: Needs to be watered 3x a week especially during dry spells so you may want to plant it near a hose or water source.

Sun Requirements: Part sun to full sun. It needs at least 5 hours of sun.

Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum) grows from bulbs.

Some people have mistaken the leaves of this plant to be garlic chives. Summer Snowflake only blooms very early spring and is poisonous when eaten.

The flowers/leaves die back all the way by mid-summer so you don’t have to cut them back. I love them because they bloom when most plants aren’t blooming and are so low maintenance.

Zones: 4-9

Water Requirements: Should be watered to prevent drying out but they can be left alone once established. I have mine under a tree to prevent them from drying out with too much sun.

Sun Requirements: Can grow in part sun and even under a smaller tree where they get some sun or dappled light.

Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum) is a ground cover that does a great job in filling out a space…sometimes too good.

I have mine contained behind a sidewalk so that it doesn’t spread around my property. It can be invasive in ideal growing conditions. Sweet Woodruff can be used to fill in the space if it’s too expensive to buy a bunch of Astilbe.

Zones: 4-8

Water Requirements: Sweet Woodruff likes moist soil and doesn’t mind more shady spots.

Sun Requirements: They don’t mind part sun or more shade.

Trillium is a plant that truly tests your patience but are worth the wait.

Trillium are endangered in the wild according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

If you plant a rhizome, it takes a couple of years until a plant pops up and another year to bloom. Some say that it can take 7-8 years to bloom but when it does, it’s exquisite. It blooms in white, red and light pink which is even harder to find.

Zones: 4-9

Water Requirements: They like well-drained, moist soil with lots of compost. This makes them an ideal plant for a woodland garden.

Sun Requirements: Trillium like full shade which can make it tricky. This is a short plant so planting them behind Astilbe that needs a little sun could prevent you from enjoying them. If you have a sidewalk that curves, you can plant them along the most shaded curve.

Turtlehead (Chelone) is a low maintenance plant and won’t crowd astilbe.

Turtlehead plants don’t taste good to deer and don’t have many issues with pests so it’s a great choice for a low maintenance garden.

Turtlehead plants bloom in this purple color, red and there is a white blooming variety but is a little harder to find. You can easily match and coordinate the color of the blooms with Astilbe varieties of a similar color.

Zones: 3-9

Water Requirements: Turtleheads really enjoy mucky soil and they don’t mind having wetter roots. So if you have a part of the garden where water collects a little more than other parts of the garden, this is a good place for them.

Sun Requirements: It prefers full morning sun but I have it growing in my garden by my driveway. One side is thick woods while the other side is open. My Turtlehead plants get a lot of morning light and are still blooming nicely.

Summary

With their frilly leaves similar to ferns, Astilbe plants are a natural choice to enhance the look of a woodland garden. When considering choosing companion plants, you need to choose from plants that like similar conditions to Astilbe. Many of them bloom in the early spring and summer so you can enjoy flowers throughout the season. Read about the solutions of the 18 different plants described in this post and see what resonates for you.