Tennessee Smart Yards Native Plants

A comprehensive database of Tennessee native plants

Frost Aster — A blessing or a scourge?


Aster take-over, just before blooming

If you don’t have Frost Aster in your garden yet, you will! It seems to be just a matter of time. It took almost 8 years for it to show up in my gardens and then it made up for lost time by becoming one of my more abundant flower species.

Frost Aster (also known as Hairy Aster, Downy Aster and White Oldfield Aster) is Aster pilosus (or if you like to keep up on the latest scientific name changes Symphyotrichum pilosum). It likes full to part sun, most any moisture level except swampy and most any soil except gravel. It grows typically about 3 to 4 feet in height, is covered with an abundance of small white flowers for an extended period in fall, and spreads aggressively by both rhizomes and self-seeding.

I first noticed it several years ago when, in fall, one whole section of my yard was suddenly covered with white flowers. I liked the effect because it was almost like a light layer of snow. Then last summer I eliminated another section of lawn. In December, I put out a lovely selection of wildflower and native grass seeds, all of which came up nicely this past spring. However when fall arrived this year, I now have nothing but a solid stand of Frost Aster, with the other species barely visible between the Frost Aster stems. Maybe some of my seed had been mislabeled by the nursery? I called to ask, and they reassured me that there was no chance of that. One of the staff suggested that I spray the whole thing with Round-Up and start over.

I really didn’t like the Round-Up solution so I started doing research, checking with any native plant specialist I could find. To my surprise, I discovered that many nurseries sell Frost Aster seed (a good sign). I also learned that Frost Aster tends to come and go in spite of the fact that it is so aggressive (another good sign). I also learned that it is a very valuable plant for bees and butterflies. As one garden reference so nicely put it—“We have lost so many flower species valuable to pollinators, we should be glad that there is Frost Aster which can help fill the gap that has been left” (another good sign). So I decided to leave everything as is and see what happens. I will either be left with a solid, perpetual stand of nothing but Frost Aster or, over time, it will gradually integrate with the other species. It is certainly a chance to learn more about how Nature operates.

This experience has been an important reminder that I am no longer in charge of my yard and its plantings—Nature is now in charge. When you first start planning to install a native plant meadow, picking out plant species and doing the layouts, you are in control. But gradually Nature takes over, and now I have slowly come to realize that I am no longer in control. Funny that it has come as a bit of a surprise, but when I look back, it makes sense. Plants now come and go at their own discretion based on weather, lighting and soil. The only role I have left is to patrol for the unwanted visitors – pokeweed, dandelions, poison ivy, etc. — and remove individual plants where I find them, and, of course, more importantly, to learn from Nature

2 responses to “Frost Aster — A blessing or a scourge?

  1. Shannon Mikus October 30, 2018 at 12:01 am

    Magnificent idea to “use” the “weeds”! If you are averse to sprays, try burning. It’s not for all occasions, but I found that good, deep burns in the early spring and late fall really give any plants you want to plant or seed (sedd after the burn, usually) a competetive edge.

    • joystewart October 30, 2018 at 1:20 am

      Very interesting idea! I have never tried to burn first before seeding. Do you think it would help to burn early next spring before anything comes up even though the area is already seeded?

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