Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Tell the Truth Tuesday (Late Edition): An Aster Takes Over

"Tell the Truth Tuesday" was promoted by Alison of Bonney Lassie as an opportunity for garden bloggers to come clean about the less-than-perfect aspects of their gardens.  Like proud parents, we want to show our gardens in the best possible light, hesitating to point out their deficiencies.  Maybe, as in my case, we even manage to ignore these until that's just impossible.

Last year, I noticed that my Pacific Aster (Symphyotrichum chilense 'Purple Haze') had spread beyond my expectations but I wasn't overly concerned.  When I planted it in 2016, I knew it spread by rhizomes but I understood that in low water gardens like mine it should be manageable, and it was, at least during our drought.  Then during our October 2018-September 2019 rain year, we got almost double our average precipitation.  And, while rain was lighter during our recent rainy season, even that was better than average.  Following the last rainstorm we had in early May, I finally confronted the fact that the aster is completely out of control.

This is the bed's eastern flank and, even here, the aster is pushing into the flagstone path

It now stretches from one side of the bed to the other.  I only have record of putting in one plant but I vaguely recall that I added a second sometime shortly after planting the first one because it seemed to do so well...


It's a pretty enough plant but it's begun choking out plants all around it.

It's supposed to flower from August through October but it's off to an early start this year

Along its western flank it's now choking out the Liriope spicata I foolishly planted on that edge years ago.  I've been planning to take out the Liriope for some time.  Now, I guess I can tackle it and the aster at the same time.


The aster is deciduous but I'm not sure I should wait until late fall to start pulling it out.  It's already trying to march across the flagstone path into the bed on the other side.  I'll probably start by pushing back its eastern offensive before tackling its western flank.

Meanwhile, other plants in the same general area have also become overly "exuberant."  The bush violets (Barleria obtusa) are also trying to squeeze out their neighbors.

The plant to the left of the Echium webii in the center of this shot is a bush violet.  A second bush violet, nearly as large, had swallowed up the space between the Echium and the Lisianthus in the foreground.  I dug it up it last Saturday to give the Echium more space, uncovering a Gazania seedling in the process.


In addition, my "dwarf" Echium handiense doubled in size this year.

It looked great in February, when these photos were taken, although it was already large for the spot

When the first flower spires died back, I pruned it and it flowered again, albeit in a bushier fashion.  In mid-May when this photo was taken, it was covering a good portion of the flagstone path. 


Echiums tolerate tip pruning well but I took things much further than that this past weekend when I cut this one back to clear the pathway and give the surrounding plants breathing space.  I'm afraid it may not recover.

It looks pretty awful at the moment.  I'm half-tempted to pull it out but I may give it a little time to see if it'll recovers from my butcher job.  I wish I'd collected seed while I had the chance.  


Are you dealing with any out-of-control plants?  Do you have any problem areas you try not to see in your garden?  Come on, fess up!  Confession is good for the soul.


All material © 2012-2020 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party



20 comments:

  1. Have always wondered why some plants are bent on world domination while others are so fleeting. It seems like this year everything is being thuggish. The worst culprit is fireweed. Much like your aster it's taking over. Wrist thick rhizomes that branch multiple times run under pathways into new areas. Am almost to the point of bringing in the toxic arsenal.

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    1. I hope you're able to contain the fireweed, Elaine. At least you didn't plant that deliberately! Any mention of "rhizomes" usually sparks apprehension on my part but the grower's reassurance and my prior difficulty in growing other asters led me to let down my guard. I'm really tempted to start digging it out now but, with a gopher already tunneling through part of my garden, I figure any impediment, even a noxious one, might be helpful in keeping that fellow contained.

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  2. "Confession is good for the soul"... hahaha. No plants bent on world domination at the moment. But the whole garden is always teetering on the edge, just the way I like it.

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    1. I've tended to encourage "exuberance" myself, Loree, but all that rain unexpectedly shifted the balance in my garden. I'm no longer teetering - I think I've fallen down a deep hole of my own making!

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  3. It's all about the conditions, isn't it? I had lily-of-the-valley that was doing just fine....until I actually started taking care of that bed and mulching, etc. How foolish of me! It's now an unstoppable beast...ugh. One of these days I'll get down to business and dig it all up.

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    1. Benign neglect is sometimes a very good strategy! I think the heavier rainfall the past 2 years made the biggest difference with this aster, although it probably would have kept creeping along supported by our irrigation system even if the drought had continued. It's progress just would've been slower. I've no illusion that the return of drought conditions - which is probably inevitable - will eliminated the problem. I'm going to have to dig it up.

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  4. I read you can take the bloomed stems of Echium down to the ground to refresh the plant. It might have been in one of the editions of the Sunset Western Garden Book, or Robert Smaus. That aster looks scary.

    Overgrown is a nice problem to have, better than drought. That April 4"+ of rain made everything explode with growth.

    Looking back at late summer and autumn photos in my garden there is a lot of overgrown-ness, so I plan a late August pruning to make the end of the year looks better. Ha, as if I can force myself outside when it is 100F...

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    1. I checked the current edition of Sunset's guide and couldn't find any discussion in that vein and the only book I have by Robert Smaus is his '52 Weeks', which unfortunately has no index. I flipped through it but couldn't come up with a reference to Echiums during my admittedly cursory check. Of course, Smaus wrote years of weekly columns for the LA Times, which I don't have ready access to anymore. Lots of Echiums self-seed. I haven't seen any sign of this one doing so but a friend claimed she had so I'll ask her to pot one up for me if she has an extra on hand. I'm tempted to go ahead and cut this one to the ground just on the chance it'll come back as it looks terrible at present. Alternatively, I may cut the plant down to half its former self (like my mimosa tree!) in the hope that might work. I've only seen this particular species at my local botanic garden and it may be some time yet before the garden offers a public plant sale again. The spring sale was cancelled and I expect the fall one will be cancelled as well, especially as all the volunteers, which includes the garden's propagators, have been furloughed since March.

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  5. I do have a bed full of Rudbeckia triloba taking over one flower bed. In another wild violets have just about run out everything in the middle of the bed. Last but not least I have Lily of the Valley marching through another bed. It is now hotter than I care to be out in to work. So it isn't going to get much better for awhile.

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    1. I started tugging out some of the Aster stems today but it was hot here too and that chore quickly became taxing so I can empathize, Lisa. Pulling out the stems probably isn't an effective strategy in the long-run either as I really need to get rid of what's spreading underground. But it did give me an illusory sense of control, at least for the moment.

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  6. Plants that "over perform" must go, at least they do in my garden. It is one thing when the garden is young and I'm a beginner and in a hurry to fill it up. 20 years on, the garden is mature: I don't need the extra work. If I pull out a plant that has gotten too big, I don't always find a need to replace it. I made my peace with visible earth and mulch, negative space if you will. It's calming for the eyes and easier on my knees :-D

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    1. I agree with you about the value of negative space. I look at some of the older photos of my garden and I'm able to appreciate individual specimens more because they stand out. This aster would be great if I had a wild meadow area but I don't have the luxury of that much space.

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  7. Sometimes if I want a stoloniferous plant in my garden (like Achillea 'The Pearl'), I sink a pot in the ground and plant it with the offender, dividing it every year or so and refreshing the soil. One of my clients wanted a mint plant and I handled it the same way. Thugs are not welcome in the garden!
    My unsightly confession of the week is a combination of plantings (some mine, some the previous owner) that clash for a week or so a year– a stoplight-red azalea, near a burgundy-leaved Japanese maple and a candy-pink azalea. God awful, but I can't bring myself to remove any as they are really big now. This year, I actually found myself thinking, "Hey, it really isn't all THAT bad." Haha! The flowers are nearly all passed by now and the 'problem' has disappeared... at least until next year! ;)

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    1. It does seem easy to give certain problems a temporary pass - until the problem compounds. That's not going to be an issue with your short-term color clash. On the other hand, if I ignore this problem another year, I expect that aster will be everywhere.

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  8. I have out of control verbena bonariensis, another of my favorite plants. Not hardy to our winters, I had a nice crop last summer from reseeding. But this year, I have millions of baby starts. Some I will repot for the deck and other places in the garden. But millions will be pulled. I have so many baby starts they look like a lawn of green.
    The deer did me a favor last summer when they ate one halfway down. Instead of going straight up to 5 feet, it turned into a nice low growing version. Going to try this more this year. Amidst those millions of babies, are also thistles. That is my messy area that needs lots of work to reclaim it.
    Glad to see we all have those areas.

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    1. In situations like this I rather wish we had winter weather that killed at least some plants, Cindy. The fact that the aster is deciduous means I probably should deal with the problem while the stems are still visible. However, I coumt myself lucky that at least the aster stems don't bite back like your thistles. I hope you have good gloves!

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  9. Yeah I have that damn Aster too, and have been digging it out for a decade or more. Maybe someday I will be rid of it, but the thing is tenacious.

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    1. I suspect we probably got the aster from the same place, Kathy. It's somewhat tempting to transplant it somewhere like my back slope, which is normally starved for water but, as the boundaries between our property and those of two neighbors are porous, that might not be very neighborly in the long run.

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  10. I have not been doing well at keeping up with reading blogs so I am late to this garden party but ready and willing to bemoan the thugs in my garden - some of which I planted myself. I spent the morning cutting two nandina to the ground, which I usually do twice a year while I swear to myself that I WILL take a pickaxe to the stumps but I get distracted by other thugs. I moved on to others that were taking over - a native azalea, camellia, liriope, sweetshrub and what I think might be spiderwort, but I'm not sure. I was feeling pretty pleased, even though I have yet to haul the debris away, but this evening I took a stroll around other areas and I deflated pretty quickly. Oh well, one day at a time is the only way to go.

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    1. I sympathize Barbara! We call them "thugs" for good reason. I have a Liriope problem as well. I started pulling up stems of the aster, which really accomplishes nothing other then allowing me to see some of the plants that were almost completely hidden. Effective eradication will require me to dig up a good two-thirds of the bed. But to complicate matters, my resident gopher recently moved into the tail end of this bed and I don't want to make tunneling any easier for him. I'm still trying deterrents (sonic pules and granules) to send him packing but I think I may be forced to seek professional help there - ugh!

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