3 Goldenrods for the Shade Garden

Too many people still think of Goldenrods (Solidago sp.) as a weed instead of a garden plant. Resistance to Goldenrods in the garden is built around three misconceptions: 1) Goldenrods cause hay fever; 2) they spread like crazy; and 3) they tend to be too tall and ungainly. (Actually, 2 and 3 are only partial misconceptions.)

Bluestem Goldenrod in the Lamppost Bed.

First of all, Ragweed (Ambrosia sp.), not Goldenrod, causes hay fever. Admittedly, there are Goldenrod species that are big and rangy, not to mention overly aggressive. However, other species can be incorporated into a garden setting.

Goldenrod species can give your garden a sunny autumnal aura. They’re also an important late season source of nectar for bees and butterflies. Here are 3 species worth considering, all of them shade tolerant to varying degrees.

A clump of Bluestem Goldenrod

First of all, there’s Bluestem Goldenrod (Solidago caesia, also called Wreath Goldenrod). This species has 2-3 foot arching stems lined with tiny bright yellow flowers. It likes sunny to partially shaded conditions. It can self-sow aggressively, so if that bothers you cut it back before it goes to seed. On the other hand, birds like to eat the seeds, so I personally just resign myself to pulling up seedlings.


anise scented goldenrod
Anise-Scented Goldenrod

Then there’s Anise Scented or Sweet Goldenrod (Solidago odora). This plant is practically demure, by Goldenrod standards. In my garden it hardly spreads at all. It’s about two feet tall and the flowers are concentrad on a plume at the top of the stem.

2012-09-15 aromatic aster anise goldenrod
Anise Scented Goldenrod and Aromatic Aster

The leaves are fragrant when crushed, and can be brewed into a tea. It prefers medium to dry soils.

dsc_0811 zigzag goldenrod
Zigzag Goldenrod glowing in the Thicket Corner.

Finally, there’s Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis). This is, admittedly, a pretty aggressive species that spreads by rhizomes. I would only plant it in naturalized settings, like our back garden’s Thicket Corner.

2012-09-15 zigzag goldenrod
Zigzag Goldenrod

The other side of the coin is that it will make itself at home in difficult spots, including dry shade.

There are the three species we have in our garden. There are sun-loving Goldenrods that are also worth looking at. Do you grow Goldenrod in your garden, and are you happy with it?


58 Comments on “3 Goldenrods for the Shade Garden”

  1. I love Goldenrod. I have two growing in my garden. The one I planted is ‘Fireworks’. It grows in a clump. The clump will get bigger and bigger. I just pull out the part of the clump that I don’t want. The other Goldenrod that grows here is one that just arrived and made itself at home in the front garden by the driveway. I have no idea what kind it is but it romps through the front garden. I pull and pull it out. I sometimes think I have it all pulled out, then it gets hot and I don’t look out there much and it has suddenly regrown. It is pretty when it blooms. I think the bees and bugs like the ‘Fireworks’ best though. There is always a multitude of bugs on it.

  2. I’ve killed a couple of goldenrods because when a plant tag says that it’s tolerant of dry shade it gets translated in my mind to grow this where there is absolutely no light or water. Ever. They’re lovely, though so perhaps one or two should get another chance in my garden.

  3. I like a late autumn garden with goldenrod, especially with asters. Somehow, I had the native species, which almost took over an entire bed. I’m still chasing down a few sprouts. “Fireworks” has done well for me as well as the modest anise-scented.

  4. I had several that welcomed themselves to my garden and added a lovely golden foreground to the woods behind the house. I tried to remove a few for visual sake, but, alas, the little devils persisted and I just accepted reality.

  5. Thank you for clearing up the misconception that goldenrod causes hay fever. I have (or had) some volunteer goldenrod. Invariably, I mistake it for a weed in spring and yank it out before realizing what I have done. And yet it keeps popping up. I have been trying to establish Ohio goldenrod.

  6. I battled weedy aggressive goldenrod in my garden when we lived on the east coast and I’m afraid it has really poisoned me against them. I just can’t. To me they all look so much like that one I despised that I can’t see any beauty in it. I have the same problem with sumac.

  7. I love, love, love goldenrods, of various species! But they don’t seem to last long in my garden. Either the rabbits eat the plants or the chipmunks dig them up, or whatever. I’ll probably try again, but with seeds, since it seems like I’m throwing away money when I keep trying plants.

  8. I decided to try Stiff Goldenrod and Showy Goldenrod with four new varieties of asters last year. The pollinators have been going crazy over the Showy Goldenrod. Then I think I still have a couple other varieties of goldenrod that tend to take over wherever they decide to germinate… But I love the color. The Anise Scented is interesting!

  9. I love golden rod. Having said that, I recently cut mine all down in an attempt to stop it spreading! I think it is Solidago canadensis, which is what grows wild around us mostly and some found its own way into a very dry and hot spot in my garden, where nothing else grows. The insects love it, so it will stay. Not that I could eradicate it completely even if I wanted to! LOL!

  10. I absolutely love goldenrod! I am lucky enough to have lots of goldenrod and aster, which I’ve been trying to identify. So far I’m pretty sure we have the no-longer-solidago threadleaf, early, blue-stem, silverrod, Gray, zigzag, and showy, plus we have a few tall varieties. The only variety I’ve decided I don’t like is the threadleaf – the foliage is beautiful but the flowers are a dull unimpressive yellow, nothing like the glowing gold of the others.

    I have a hard time choosing a favorite, but I love the graceful arching flowered stems of blue-stem, the early flowers of early goldenrod, and the rocky sandy dry soil and shade loving gray goldenrod. I also just planted a Fireworks this spring and it is spectacular.

    Thanks for the post!

  11. I have been looking for some goldenrod to put in my new pollinator garden. So far I have found a dwarf called “sweet” that grows only to about a foot. I would love to find Solidago door. Maybe more goldenrod will become available now that we are getting into our fall season. Yours are lovely!

  12. I adore goldenrod, although I can only identify about three or four of our native species, which number over a dozen. My favorite probably wouldn’t do for your shade garden — Solidago sempervirens, or seaside goldenrod is native in the counties surrounding Lake Michigan, but I’ve only seen it in prairies, marshes, and such down here. Some woodland edges can be golden-rod thick, but I think the most common species is S. altissima.

    It certainly is a fall staple here. It’s just beginning to come on; I noticed some faint yellow in ditches last weekend, and if we can get a week of sunshine, it’s going to explode into color.

  13. Goldenrod ‘Fireworks’ (Solidago rugosa) is in full bloom here in W. Pa. – this is a graceful open plant with delicate plumes of flowers that is highly recommended for pollinators. Another favorite is a cute dwarf goldenrod, Solidago sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’ which grows about 1′ high and is a polite garden resident. Love, love, love goldenrods!

  14. Goldenrods of varying varieties grow wild all around (and sometimes in) my yard, so I am never lacking! They can be rather aggressive and I have so many around that I pull them out of the garden areas. The bees definitely love them, though! My detention pond out back is a meadow of yellow this time of year between the goldenrod and perennial sunflowers.

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