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Goldenrods – October Plant of the Month

Goldenrods are the October Plant of the Month for 2022. One of the most recognized fall flowers, goldenrods are native across the entire United States. Despite its wide distribution, it is often blamed for the allergies associated with hay fever, which is caused by ragweed, not goldenrod. However, that blame is starting to disappear as people learn about this amazing native plant.

A member of the large Aster Family, there are 86 species of goldenrods (Solidago) in the Continental U.S. Here in the Central Great Plains Region, there are 16 species to be found. Of those, and others from around the country, only a handful of cultivars exist for the gardener. Among the different native species, a few can be grown in the garden without the risk of aggression.

Goldenrods actually begin blooming in August, but are at their peak in late September and October, pushing aside most other fall bloomers, except for maybe asters (Symphyotrichum species). And because they are in the Aster Family, they have a wide range of pollinators. There is a goldenrod for every situation, from sun to shade, and wet to dry.

Best Species of Goldenrods for the Garden

Once you find that goldenrod that works best in the garden, you tend to hope for newer cultivars. But they rarely come. In my own gardens, I keep only 1 cultivar, and 3 species of goldenrods. Let us look at some of the best ones for the garden.

Wrinkle-leaf Goldenrod – Solidago rugosa

One of the more adaptable species for gardens, this plant is native to the eastern US, primarily east of the Mississippi River. Plants are clump-forming, and long-lived, growing 2 to 5 feet tall and around 5 feet wide. Out of this species comes the widely promoted cultivar ‘Fireworks’, which grows 3 feet tall. This cultivar grows in Zones 4 to 9, and prefers full sun to dappled shade. I have 2 clumps, one in full sun, and one in part shade, and they do equally well.

Fireworks goldenrod
‘Fireworks’ Goldenrod paired with ‘Autumn Fire’ Sedum

Autumn Goldenrod – Solidago sphacelata

Native to the lower Midwest Region, this lower growing goldenrod has become a popular addition to garden, especially in the Midwest and Northeast, thanks to introduction of a ‘Golden Fleece’ by the Mt. Cuba Center. ‘Golden Fleece’ grows best in Zones 4 to 9, and grows 15 inches tall by 2 feet wide. It prefers full sun.

Rigid Goldenrod – Solidago rigida

An interesting variety that changes from east to west, as rainfall amount change the overall look of the plant. Possibly, there are subspecies between the two areas. Rigid goldenrod is best planted in meadow gardens where competition from grasses and other plants can keep it in check. I have had it in my garden, but was overwhelmed by its ability to reseed and aggressively take over areas.

Zigzag Goldenrod – Solidago flexicaulis

If you are looking for shade loving goldenrods, then this is one of two species which will work well in low light areas. A friend of mine grows this in her garden, and I was quite impressed by it. Before flowering, the leaves look almost like nettles, but without the stinging hairs. Flowers are held upright above the leaves, in narrow clusters. Hardy in Zones 3 to 8, zigzag goldenrod grows 2 to 4 feet tall by 1 to 3 feet wide, forming a slow-growing clump.

Elm-Leaf Goldenrod – Solidago ulmifolia

My favorite goldenrod species for shade, this one is a most delicate plant, with flower power. It is singularly clumping, meaning it does not spread into a small thicket. Despite that, it fills in spots in the shade garden, pairing well with fall blooming hostas and toad lilies. Elm-leaf goldenrods grows 1 to 3 feet tall by 1 to 2 feet wide.

elmleaf goldenrod
Elmleaf Goldenrod mixed in a natural woodland edge with White Snakeroot, Jerusalem Artichoke, and Tall Thistle

Giant Goldenrod – Solidago gigantea

One for the wetland or rain garden, giant goldenrod is native from the Rocky Mountains eastward to the Atlantic Ocean. A truly wide-spreading species which not only grows in wet soils, but is adaptable to dry spots as well. In my own garden, I have some in the ditch by the driveway, and more in the Monarch Waystation which has dry soil. It grows 3 to 6 feet tall and up to 3 feet wide.

giant goldenrod
Giant goldenrod

Insects on Goldenrods

Goldenrods are not only great plants for many late summer and fall pollinators, they are also hosts for several butterflies, moths, and other leaf and stem feeding insects.

Pollinators

When it comes to fall pollinators, it is hard to keep up with all the insects that may visit the showy flowers. I try to keep running tabs on all the different kinds. And, some spiders hide on the flowers, waiting for a tasty meal. According to Heather Holm in Pollinators of Native Plants, a number of bees, including bumblebees, sweat bees, long-horned bees, leafcutter bees, and other bees visit the flowers regularly.

Other pollinators include yellowjackets and paper wasps, potter wasps, beetles, syrphid flies, butterflies, tachinid flies, and more. The following photos are of pollinators visiting goldenrods in my gardens and nearby.

pollinators on goldenrods
Pollinators of Goldenrod

Insects Which Feed on Goldenrods

There are a number of different insects which feed on goldenrod. Among those include plant bugs, leaf bugs, grasshoppers, leaf and tree hoppers, lace bugs, aphids, and 43 species of moths.

Some of the moths include:

  • Brown hooded owlet
  • Asteroid moth
  • Dart moth
  • Goldenrod gall moth
  • Confused Euscara
  • Wavy-lined Emerald moth
  • False-crocus geometer
  • Goldenrod leaf-folder moth

Companion Plants of Goldenrods

In the garden, goldenrods pair well with a number of plants, including grasses, late blooming perennials, and summer perennials and annuals. The best way to mix them into the garden is to plant them in meadows, Monarch Waystations, and cottage style gardens. If you are wanting them more for pollinators or attracting bees, then plant them in the middle to back of borders.

Some of the plants which make the best companions for sun loving goldenrods include:

For goldenrods that prefer shady or part shade locations, pair them with the following:

  • Hostas
  • Ligularia
  • Epimedium
  • Toad lilies
  • Woodland aster
  • Rodgersia

Conclusion

Goldenrods are not only native, but adapted to every spot in the Continental United States, and there is a type for sun, shade, wet, or dry. There those which can be treated almost as groundcovers, and others which need pairing with other plants. In short, they deserve to be the October Plant of the Month.

Happy planting!

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