As mentioned many times before, it is preferable to have a wildflower meadow than a large expanse of lawn; however, some areas need to be mowed to allow walking on them or to enhance the garden. Grass companions, plants that are good to pollinators and to wildlife in general are welcome in such areas. They are healthy for the lawn, can be quite pleasant to look at and can provide food for many types of wildlife including bees, butterflies and birds.
One grass companion that is good in the fall is the aster, or several species of asters. Their pretty, daisy like flowers add a sparkle to the uninterrupted greenness. The genus Aster is rich in species; some of them are so similar that even botanists have trouble telling them apart. Many are used in wildflower gardens and wildflower meadows; they can be too tall to become part of a lawn; a few manage to escape the meadow and survive repeated mowings, growing very low and close to the ground. Thus they become grass companions.
Here is a field where asters are interspersed with the grass; if mowing isn’t too frequent they manage to grow several inches tall and to produce many flowers in September and October. If the lawn receives more frequent mowings the plants hug the ground and still produce a pleasant array of little flowers. Finally if the lawn is mowed closer to the ground and with higher frequency the asters may fail to bloom, but they still provide a nice ground cover, green, thick and supple.
Such flowers don’t fail to attract a considerable number of pollinators; I see them in abundance when I walk through a field where asters are accepted as part of the lawn. Skippers are very common visitors; other flashier butterflies, such as fritillaries and buckeyes, also show up.
A variety of Syrphid flies or hover flies come to visit the aster blooms. They may not be very efficient pollinators but they perform another very important function: their babies devour aphids; so they are welcome visitors in any garden.
Finally, some of the most important pollinators come to the asters: many sorts of bees, among them the beleaguered honey bees, several types of bumble bees and a few other native bees of the solitary type.
Update, 2013: Many species of native asters are now in the genus Symphyotrichum.
Lawn for pollinators. Part I
Lawn for pollinators. II
List of articles
© Beatriz Moisset. 2012