I suspect that almost everyone thinks of goldenrod as a flower of the roadside. Yet it has a place in flower beds, where its distinctive spikes of bright yellow add verve and style in late summer.
A generation or two ago, people would probably have laughed at the idea of goldenrod as a garden flower. I remember picking it along a country road while visiting my grandmother and making a bouquet that she allowed on the porch but not past the front door.
That was a long time ago. New varieties of goldenrod, especially chosen for their worth in flower beds, are in the marketplace. Instead of wild and rangy, they are short, graceful and densely packed with blooms.
For the late-summer garden – before the chrysanthemums come out – this is the best yellow perennial. It is a good, vivid yellow – nothing pale or wimpy about it – that can hold its own with the vivid blues and purples of salvias that tend to steal the show now. Not only does goldenrod hold its own, but the yellow both enhances and is enhanced by the blues and purples.
Even if your flower beds lack these colors, yellow makes a good companion for others as well. Other good companions include brown-eyed Susans and any of the fall asters.
The advantages of goldenrod as a garden flower are its durability, ability to expand without turning invasive and adaptability to full sun or light shade. A native of North America, it does not demand the world’s best soil, but will carry on in loose, plain soil and even in wet spots, but not bogs. Now that is a trouper.
The goldenrods of the roadsides tend to be 3 to 7 feet tall and rather wild-looking. Modern, named goldenrods bred for flower gardens can be as short as 18 inches, (Cloth of Gold), 2 feet tall, (Golden Baby) and 2 to 3 feet tall (Crown of Rays). Fireworks grows about 3 feet tall. All grow quite fast. I particularly like Fireworks, because it bears arching spires that bear flowers for about 18 inches. That looks good both in the flower bed and in a tall vase. Fortunately, these goldenrods don’t require staking.
While light shade is acceptable for goldenrods, they are not plants for the woodland, where few sunbeams get through the canopy. The edge of a shady garden that gets morning or afternoon sunlight should be OK.
Clumps tend to develop densely over several season. A young plant set out this summer or fall may look quite thin at first. But the robust nature of goldenrod will let it develop into a good clump that will bear many stems from late summer into fall.
After the blooms are gone in fall, cut off the stems to the crown, or base of the plant. Goldenrods are very hardy and will bear new growth once they break dormancy in spring. Leaving the old stems looks untidy and could unsettle the roots if the stems are weighed down by ice and snow or blown by winter winds.