Goldenrod, a genus of more than 100 species (mostly from North America), brightens the landscape with its vibrant yellow or gold flowers. It also bursts into bloom when many other perennials are winding down in preparation for winter’s colder weather. Along with its visual star power, this tough perennial attracts bees, butterflies, and other pollinators with its tasty pollen.
About that pollen: For years goldenrod has been falsely accused of causing misery for allergy sufferers. The true culprit is ragweed, Ambrosia sp., which blooms about the same time as goldenrod. Ragweed produces copious amounts of airborne pollen, while goldenrod’s heavy, sticky pollen relies upon insects—not wind—for pollination.
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Goldenrod begins displaying its yellow blossoms beginning in late summer and continuing into fall. Some varieties feature large flower clusters held at the tops of tall stems; others boast gracefully arching stems holding single rows of blossoms. Look closely and you'll see each large spiky, fleecy, or flat-topped flowerhead features hundreds of tiny daisylike flowers that resemble those of aster, a close relative of goldenrod.
Goldenrod Care Must-Knows
Most types of goldenrod prefer to grow in full sun and well-drained soil. Full sun ensures the biggest, showiest blossoms possible, and helps the taller species and varieties stay vertical without staking. Keeping the soil evenly moist—but not soggy—boosts the beauty of the plant's floral display. Once established, goldenrod is drought-tolerant. Forget about fertilizing; goldenrod doesn't need it to thrive, and feeding this perennial encourages floppy growth. Beware: Some goldenrod varieties spread aggressively. If your garden is neat and tidy, you may want to choose a clump-forming variety. Divide clumps annually to keep this plant under control. If your garden sports a more naturalistic look, simply leave plenty of room between goldenrod and other plants to keep it from choking them out.
Goldenrod rarely suffers from serious problems with insects or diseases. Watch for powdery mildew, though, especially when it's grown in shade. Prevention is best, so plant this perennial in full sun with ample space between plants to foster good air circulation.
Worth noting: Different species of goldenrod come from environments with widely differing soil conditions. These native habitats range from sunny meadows to salty seaside spaces and soggy bogs. You may want to do additional research on your specimen(s) before siting and planting.
More Varieties of Goldenrod
Solidago rugosa 'Fireworks' is a wonderful variety that can form impressive clumps of delicate airy cascading stems of gold in late summer. 3-4 feet tall. Zones 4-9.
This variety of Solidago bears plenty of foot-long sprays of golden yellow flowers atop leafy stems. This hybrid grows 30 inches tall and is hardy in Zones 4-9.
Goldenrod Companion Plants
Asters get their name from the Latin word for "star," and their flowers are indeed the superstars of the fall garden. Some types of this native plant can reach up to 6 feet with flowers in white and pinks but also, perhaps most strikingly, in rich purples and showy lavenders. Not all asters are fall bloomers. Extend the season by growing some of the summer bloomers, as well. Some are naturally compact; tall types that grow more than 2 feet tall benefit from staking or an early-season pinching or cutting back by about one-third in July or so to keep the plant more compact.
With its tall wispy wands of lavender or blue flowers and silvery foliage, Russian sage is an important player in summer and fall gardens. It shows off well against most flowers and provides an elegant look to flower borders. The aromatic leaves are oblong, deeply cut along the edges. Foot-long panicles of flowers bloom for many weeks. Excellent drainage and full sun are ideal, although very light shade is tolerated. Plant close to avoid staking since the tall plants tend to flop.
Long-blooming helenium lights up the late-season garden with showy daisy flowers in brilliant yellows, browns, and mahogany, centered with prominent yellow or brown discs. Many of the best cultivars are hybrids. All are excellent for cutting. Deadhead to extend bloom time, and divide the clumps every couple of years to ensure vigor.