Often mistaken for its lookalike astilbe, goatsbeard is a shade plant from an entirely different plant family. Its fernlike foliage and wispy white blooms lend airiness to gardens and look especially stunning en masse.
Because they aren't particularly colorful themselves, goatsbeard makes a good foil for other colorful plants in a shade garden. Turn to these plants when you need some height in a shade garden because some varieties grow up to 8 feet tall. The lack of pests and problems is also part of their appeal. Fun fact: Each goatsbeard plant is either male or female, with the wispy cream blooms of the male plants being showier. Most are not sold as male or female, so if you're looking for one or the other, shop for goatsbeard when it's in bloom. The spent bloom stalks contribute an ornamental aspect but can flop over and look messy on some of the taller varieties.
Goatsbeard Care Must-Knows
These perennials are fairly easy to grow without much attention. Goatsbeard prefers woodland conditions, so the soil needs to be kept moist. If the soil dries out too much or too often, the leaves will burn, becoming dry and crisp on the edges. Having plenty of organic matter in the soil helps them thrive, so if your soil is lacking, amend it with peat moss and compost before planting. This also helps the soil retain water and ultimately keep your goatsbeard happy.
Goatsbeard plants like part shade and need shelter from the hot afternoon sun. In the northern range of their hardiness, they can take full sun; however, they will require consistently moist soil and will likely burn during any sort of drought.
Spent flower stalks can be left on the plants through the winter for visual interest, but should be cut back before new foliage emerges. Spring is also the best season to divide plants, but it is not necessary for plant growth.
More Varieties of Goatsbeard
Aruncus aethusifolius is a diminutive Japanese form that grows just 8-12 inches tall and blooms two weeks earlier than goatsbeard. Its ivory flowers are perfect for edging a path in a shady border. Zones 4-8
Aruncus dioicus bears tall plumes of feathery white blooms on plants that can reach 6 feet tall. Plants sometimes self-sow, but not enough to become weedy. Leave seed heads on plants for winter interest. Zones 3-7
Goatsbeard Companion Plants
This plant hardly grown 40 years ago is now one of the most commonly grown garden plants. But hosta has earned its spot in the hearts of gardeners—it's among the easiest plants to grow, as long as you have some shade and ample rainfall. Hostas vary from tiny plants suitable for troughs or rock gardens to massive 4-foot clumps with heart-shape leaves almost 2 feet long that can be puckered, wavy-edged, white, or green variegated, blue-gray, chartreuse, emerald-edged—the variations are virtually endless. Hostas in new sizes and touting new foliage features seem to appear each year. This tough, shade-loving perennial, also known as plaintain lily, blooms with white or purplish lavender funnel-shape or flared flowers in summer. Some are intensely fragrant. Hostas are a favorite of slug and deer.
One of the longest bloomers in the garden, hardy geranium bears little flowers for months at a time. It produces jewel-tone, saucer-shape flowers, and mounds of handsome, lobed foliage. It needs full sun, but otherwise, it is a tough and reliable plant, thriving in a wide assortment of soils. Many of the best are hybrids. Perennial geraniums may form large colonies.
Tall and elegant, these ferns look great during the spring and summer months thanks to their green fronds, but also in fall and winter when their upright reproductive fronds stand in the snow. They are excellent in damp soils and look especially at home beside ponds and streams. They may colonize large areas.