Growing goldenrod as a garden plant is a somewhat controversial subject. Many people still view it as a weed, but gardeners with more insight recognize it as an important native plant with lots of potential.
Goldenrod blooms in late summer and welcomes in fall with gorgeous golden-yellow flowers. It will light up your garden with its presence, and several cultivars have been developed that are tamer than the wild species.
Here’s a look at all the benefits of growing this native flower and a guide on how to grow and care for the goldenrod plant in your garden.
All About the Native Goldenrod Plant
Goldenrod (Solidago) is a perennial wildflower native to North America. For many years it was viewed as a common and somewhat invasive weed by gardeners in the U.S. but became quite popular in England.
English plant breeders worked with different species of goldenrod to develop hybrids that were less aggressive and had a showier appearance. Eventually, these made their way back over to America and slowly started to gain acceptance as landscape plants.
Goldenrod belongs to the daisy family but doesn’t have the typical daisy-like appearance. It blooms from late summer to fall with long stems packed full of tiny yellow-gold flowers.
Goldenrod is a beautiful native wildflower that bursts into bloom in late summer. It can be a stunning garden plant if you know which variety to choose and how to grow it the right way.
Most goldenrod varieties are herbaceous perennials, which means they die back to the ground in the fall and reappear in the spring. A few have semi-evergreen foliage that lasts longer into the season.
In their native habitat, goldenrod plants tend to grow large, getting up to 5 or 6 feet tall. However, there are newer hybrids that grow only a foot or two and are more suitable for smaller spaces.
You can grow goldenrod in USDA hardiness zones 3-9, although you’ll want to make sure you plant a variety adapted to the weather in your region.
Benefits of Growing Goldenrod
Despite some negativity aimed at the goldenrod plant, it has much to add to your garden space.
Goldenrod is a care-free native plant, and even the newer hybrid varieties are some of the most low maintenance plants you can grow. They are drought tolerant and rarely bothered by pests, diseases, or deer.
Planting goldenrod is also a gift to local pollinators as well as to songbirds that will come for the seeds later in the fall. You’ll see happy bees and butterflies floating around the flowers once they start to bloom.
Goldenrod has a distinct presence in the garden when it starts coming into bloom. It’s one of the first signs of fall approaching and provides a much needed burst of color in late summer.
Pollinators will be happy to see goldenrod growing in your garden. You’ll also see songbirds show up later in fall to eat the seeds.
You can cut long stems of goldenrod and use them to make a stunning fall flower arrangement. They are long-lasting and add both color and structure to a bouquet.
Finally, goldenrod has a long history of use as a medicinal plant. It has been frequently used in salves and ointments for skin irritations and rashes and prepared as a tea for things like fevers and sore throats. There’s a lot to explore with this plant if you’re interested in herbal medicine!
Doesn’t Goldenrod Cause Allergies?
It’s a common misconception that goldenrod is responsible for seasonal fall allergies (also known as hay fever).
It blooms so abundantly at the same time of year that people start sneezing and sniffling that it was assumed to be the main culprit for many years. However, seasonal allergies are caused mainly by airborne pollen, and the pollen of goldenrod is too heavy to float in the air.
Ragweed pollen is the real trigger for fall allergies. It’s extremely tiny and lightweight, which makes it easily carried around by the wind- all the way to allergy sufferers’ noses.
The flowers of ragweed are so small and insignificant that it took a while for their allergic potential to be realized. They bloom at the same time as goldenrod but often go unnoticed.
Ragweed is the real culprit behind much of the pollen responsible for fall allergies. Its blooms are inconspicuous, so for many years the abundantly blooming goldenrod was accused of causing hay fever.
Goldenrod can still cause allergies but usually only when the pollen is touched, not when plants are just blooming nearby. If you cut the flowers and make an arrangement with them, for example, you’ll be at the most risk for a reaction if you’re allergic.
Picking the Right Goldenrod Plant
Even though goldenrod can make an excellent ornamental plant, that doesn’t mean you should get a plant from its native habitat and transplant it into your garden. The native varieties growing in your region will likely take over when introduced to a garden setting.
In this case, it’s better to buy a more well behaved hybrid plant unless you’re prepared for the work of keeping a native variety contained.
Goldenrod grows by two methods: clumps or rhizomes. The rhizome-spreading type is usually more aggressive and needs to be divided often to keep it from spreading out of control. Clump-forming types are easier to manage and the better choice for a low maintenance plant.
Top Varieties and Cultivars
Even though most people go for a hybrid goldenrod, planting native varieties isn’t out of the question. You’ll just need to be prepared for more work and keep a closer eye on your plants.
In fact, if you want to use goldenrod to make tea, dye clothing, or as part of a native wildflower garden or meadow, a native variety can be a better choice.
There are many different varieties of goldenrod out there from tall, native varieties to more compact and showy hybrids. Choosing the right one for your garden is an important step.
Here’s a look at some of the top native and hybrid varieties to plant:
- Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’– ‘Fireworks’ is one of the best overall hybrid varieties to grow as an ornamental in your garden. It blooms prolifically with bright yellow flowers on cascading stems from late summer to the first frost. Plants are slow to spread and grow about 3 feet tall.
- S. sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’– This is a more compact goldenrod that tops out at 1 ½ feet. It blooms late in summer and usually to the first frost. Plants spread slowly and have attractive semi-evergreen leaves.
- S. ‘Little Lemon’– Like the name suggests, ‘Little Lemon’ is another dwarf cultivar. It grows only about a foot tall and blooms in mid-summer (before ‘Golden Fleece’) with lemony-yellow flowers.
- S. ‘Golden Baby’– Growing about 2 feet tall, ‘Golden Baby’ is unique because it prefers moist over dry soil. It has a bushy growth habit and grows in tidy mounds.
- Bluestem Goldenrod (S. caesia)– Hardy in zones 4-8, this native grows 1-3 feet tall and blooms from August to early fall. It does well in dry shade, won’t spread aggressively, and has blue-green stems.
- Seaside Goldenrod (S. sempervirens)– This species is native to the eastern coast of the U.S. and hardy in zones 4-9. As the name suggests, it does well in salty and sandy soil conditions.
Gardening in coastal areas isn’t always easy because many plants don’t like the salty conditions. Seaside goldenrod grows happily in salty and sandy soil, since it’s native to the east coast.
- Showy Goldenrod (S. speciosa)– Hardy to zones 3-8, this truly showy variety has upright stems of flowers that can get up to a foot long. It blooms from July to September and grows well in a wide range of soils.
- Sweet Goldenrod (S. odora)– The leaves of sweet goldenrod have a lovely anise scent, and the flowers are turned up for pollinators to get at them. This is the best species if you want to make an herbal tea with the leaves. It’s hardy in zones 4-9 and grows up to 4 feet tall.
- Tall Goldenrod (S. altissima)– Growing in zones 3-8, this species lives up to its name and grows up to 6 feet tall. It does spread by rhizomes but is less aggressive than other tall varieties like S. canadensis and S. gigantea.
How to Grow Goldenrod
There are a few options for growing goldenrod in your garden. You can see if your local garden center sells seedlings or order online from a native plant nursery.
The other choices are to start goldenrod from seed or divide an established plant. It grows very easily and quickly (not to mention inexpensively) from seed. Division is another easy way to get new plants if you know someone who already has goldenrod in their garden.
Growing from Seed Outdoors
One of the easiest ways to grow goldenrod is to simply sow the seeds directly in your garden. You can do this in either spring or fall.
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For many perennial plants, sowing in fall is better because it allows the seeds to go through winter and experience all the weather they normally would in nature. This process breaks the seed coat down and tells the seeds exactly when to germinate in the spring.
To sow in the fall, you’ll need to first prepare the spot where you want your plants to go. Weed and remove any debris from the area. Then, rake the top of the soil so it’s relatively smooth.
Scatter your seeds on top of the soil where you want them to go. You can gently press or scratch them into the soil, but don’t cover them because they need light to germinate. Mark the spot where you sowed your seeds so that you don’t accidentally plant anything else there.
All you have to do now is leave them be and watch for them to come up in spring.
If you missed fall planting time, you can also sow your seeds outside in the spring after the danger of frost has passed. Keep the soil where you sowed them moist until they germinate, and then thin them to a proper spacing when they get a few inches tall.
Growing from Seed Indoors
If you like to do your seed starting indoors, you can add goldenrod to your list instead of sowing it outside. Plan to start your seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before your last average frost date.
Grow lights are the best choice for starting seeds indoors. They will give your goldenrod seeds the light they need to germinate and can be turned on for the right amount of time each day.
Fill up your trays or pots with your pre-moistened seed mix. Sow your goldenrod seeds on top of the soil and press them in gently with your fingers so that they won’t get washed away but will still be able to get light.
Water your newly planted seeds and put plastic domes over the trays if you have them. Place the trays or pots under grow lights (or some other light source) to germinate.
Once your seeds start to sprout, remove the plastic covers if you have them on. Keep your seedlings under their grow lights for about 10-12 hours a day. When the soil starts to dry out, water it without getting the leaves of your plants wet.
Another good tip for growing seedlings is to run a fan on them a few times a day. This gives them good air circulation, which helps to prevent certain fungal diseases like damping off.
If you have more than one seedling per plug or pot, thin them out so that there’s only one. Harden your little plants off about a week before you plan to transplant them (after the danger of frost has passed).
Propagating by Division
Established goldenrod plants are easy to divide, and this is a great way to get free plants. Keep in mind that you only want to divide a variety of goldenrod you know works well in a garden and not an unknown wild variety.
For goldenrod, division should be done in the spring rather than the fall, since it’s a fall bloomer.
To propagate goldenrod by division, you’ll need to have access to an established plant. Avoid digging up an unknown variety from the wild, since it may not play nicely in your garden.
To divide a plant, you’ll need to dig a wide circle around the base of the plant with a sturdy shovel. Then, dig your shovel under the plant and lift up on it while you pull the plant out.
Use your shovel or another sharp tool to divide the large clump into smaller sections. Replant one of the sections where the original was and plant the others in your garden, preferably on the same day.
Tips for Planting Goldenrod
Goldenrod is a very adaptable plant and will grow well in a wide range of soil types. Most varieties do need full sun and won’t bloom very well or at all in shade. A few woodland varieties can be planted in partial shade.
The biggest soil requirement is well-drained soil. Goldenrod grows much better in dry soil than it does in soggy soil with the exception of certain types like ‘Golden Baby’.
Compost can help lighten up heavy, poorly drained soils, but avoid planting in overly rich soil because this will cause your plants to get leggy and possibly flop over when they get taller.
Another important consideration when planting goldenrod is spacing. It will depend on what variety you’re growing, but plants should be spaced from 1-3 feet apart. This gives them good air circulation and helps prevent them from crowding other plants out.
Goldenrod Plant Care
One of the best parts about goldenrod is how easy it is to take care of. Your new transplants will need watered during dry spells for the first few weeks, but established plants are drought tolerant and rarely need supplemental water.
Mulch can help to keep weeds down if they become a nuisance, but remember that goldenrod does better with dry soil, and keep your mulch layer light if you choose to use it.
Mulch isn’t necessary for goldenrod because plants are drought tolerant. However, you can put it down to help with weed control, just make sure you leave a few inches between the mulch and the stems of your plants.
You don’t need to worry about fertilizing your plants because they actually do better in poor soil. Adding fertilizer will just cause them to flop over and stop producing as many flowers.
You can deadhead spent flowers if you want to prevent reseeding, but leave them on for the birds if you can. Dig up any unwanted seedlings the following spring and get rid of them or give them away.
The biggest maintenance task for goldenrod is to divide mature plants every so often to keep them from spreading too far. The ones that grow by rhizome should be divided at least every 2-3 years. Clump-forming varieties only need to be divided when they get too large for the space they’re in.
Occasionally, the tallest varieties will need staking to prevent them from flopping over, but you can always prune them back instead or grow a more compact cultivar.
Pests and Problems
Goldenrod is rarely bothered by insects or diseases, which is great news. The two most common diseases that might affect your plants are powdery mildew and rust.
Goldenrod develops puffy seed heads after it stops flowering, which gives it winter interest. Birds will happily stop by to eat these seeds, but pests and deer usually avoid the plants.
Both of these are fungal issues that develop in damp conditions, especially if plants aren’t getting good airflow. The best way to deal with them is by spacing your plants properly and moving them out of damp areas if a problem keeps occurring.
Deer, rabbits, and other critters aren’t usually attracted to goldenrod, so there’s no need to worry about these larger pests.
Uses for the Goldenrod Plant
When designing with goldenrod, you can use it as a specimen plant, for mass plantings, or in a border. It makes a great addition to butterfly gardens, native wildflower meadows, and even woodland gardens.
Because it’s drought tolerant, goldenrod is also a good plant for a minimally watered garden (also known as a xeriscape).
If you want to explore other outside the box options, use goldenrod as a cut flower, a natural dye, to make an herbal tea, or as part of a healing skin salve.