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Goldenrods make good choice for late-summer flower beds

By Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.
    Yellow goldenrod makes a lovely companion for blue asters in late summer and early fall.
    Goldenrod attracts beautiful butterflies, adding life to your late-summer flower beds.

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    Ask Nancy

    Q. Something strange is going on with my cannas. They were very pretty, then started to develop holes in the leaves near the top of the stems. What is this?

    A. This is the leafroller, an insect that lives inside the rolled leaves of a canna and chews away. Eventually it may even stitch up the leaves, which is very noticeable in late summer. Bacillus thuringiensis works well, especially on young caterpillars. It has to be sprayed inside the rolled foliage where the insect lives, but it is probably too late to accomplish much with BT this summer.

    The best thing to do is clear away every bit of canna debris that is above ground late this fall, once the season is ended. That should eliminate some leafrollers and you can spray next spring and early summer to kill any young leafrollers that found your cannas.

It seems ages since flower beds have looked so good at this time of year. Over many years, we’ve come to expect not much from the dog days of August. The welcome surprise has been warm summer days and showers that kept gardens lovely and productive, as well as trees and shrubs, looking green and lush.

It is almost too much.

But not quite.

Many of us have the yen to add to our collections of good perennials that bring seasonal beauty. This is always welcome, even if such flowering is not as long and steady as we get from annuals such as begonias and impatiens.

Late summer often seems bereft of bright perennials that add zing and flair. But modern goldenrods will do this. No longer just wildflowers of the roadside, the newest goldenrods are suited for flower beds. This is true especially when they bloom in August and September. Instead of wild looking and rangy in style, these new ones are short, graceful and packed with blooms.

The color is, as you expect, golden yellow, a wonderful hue that enhances the more typical late summer colors of blue and purple. Yellow goldenrod and blue or purple asters are spectacular in combination. And not just for the colors, but their shape too. Goldenrod blooms are vertical, with the blooms packed tightly to resemble yellow spears. Asters produce daisies, round in shape with a dark center and colorful petals. This is good contrast and makes for a more interesting sight.

The advantages of goldenrod as a garden flower are important. It is durable, expands without becoming invasive is adaptable to sun or light shade. It does not demand the world’s best soil; typical garden soil that has been improved for flower beds will be fine. It will take damp soil, but not boggy conditions.

Roadside goldenrods tend to be 3 to 7 feet tall and sort of wild and crazy looking. The new ones bred for flower gardens may be short as 18 inches (Cloth of Gold), 2 feet tall (Golden Baby), and 2 to 3 feet tall (Crown of Rays), just to name a few examples. Fireworks, whose arching stems are well packed with blooms for a foot or more, grows about 3 feet tall. These are short enough or sturdy enough not to require staking.

Clumps tend to develop densely over several seasons. 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. When the flowers appear in late summer, it will be a wonderful surprise.

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.

Nancy Brachey:
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