‘Pots of Gold’ for your native garden
After the floral abundance of spring comes a steadily changing profusion of blooms. The crescendo builds as summer progresses and then, in late summer, both sun and shade gardens become punctuated by the butter yellow goldenrod flowers that blend so harmoniously with the blue asters.
Goldenrods are among the hardiest of perennials for our region. Why, then, do goldenrods get a bum rap? Most times when I discuss the garden merits of goldenrod, there will be a pause and then the all too familiar question: “But don’t they cause hay fever?”
Goldenrods (Solidago sp.) have a bloom time spanning August through October, which coincides with the blooming of ragweed. The showy yellow flowers of goldenrod are insect pollinated, attracting a wide variety of insects that are stocking up on nectar and pollen before the winter months set in.
Goldenrod pollen is heavy and therefore travels only with the insects that visit it. Ragweed, on the other hand, is wind-pollinated. By necessity its pollen is very light weight and abundant, traveling far and wide on the wind currents.
Looking for late summer color to brighten your shade garden? The gracefully arching, two-foot tall stems of the blue-stemmed goldenrod (S. caesia) or the compact broadleaf goldenrod (S. flexicaulis) topping out at 18 inches are both welcome additions. Both are good choices for average to dry shade. A mixed planting with Christmas fern and the spring blooming ground cover Senecio obovatus provides good textural contrast. Other companions for late color are the hoary skullcap (Scuttelaria incana) or garden phlox (Phlox paniculata). Many late-blooming native asters are also shade tolerant, including purple daisy (Aster patens) or aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolius).
One of my favorite goldenrods is the cliff goldenrod (S. drummondii) because of its adaptability to both sun and shade. Its arching habit keeps it from becoming too tall and is perfect for slopes, amongst stones or draping over the top of a wall. The flowers of cliff goldenrod are stunning alongside the purple berries of beautyberry (Callicarpaamericana).
Full sun gardens provide the opportunity for late summer gold with the showy goldenrod (S. speciosa) and the stiff goldenrod (S. rigida). Both stand three feet tall and are incredibly full of both flower and visiting pollinators when in bloom. Any of the sun-loving asters are exceptional compliments to goldenrods. In addition, try grouping them with eastern blazing star (Liatris scariosa), rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolopis) or palm sedge (Carex muskingumensis).
While most goldenrods are incredibly drought resistant, swamp goldenrod (S. patula) loves wet areas in the landscape. It is a great candidate for late summer color in rain gardens or other areas with drainage problems. Let it provide a tall (4′- 6′) vertical accent amongst other moisture loving plants such as copper iris (Iris fulva), blue mist flower (Eupatorium coelistinum) or purple New England aster (Aster novae-angliae) and cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis).
They are exceptionally easy to grow and do quite well with an average soil. Don’t beef up your soil with too much compost or fertilizer. An excess of compost and you will end up with giant versions that tend to flop over. While it certainly is not necessary, some gardeners like to tip prune goldenrods in late May to encourage a better branched plant with a shorter growth habit.
So, go for the gold and try some goldenrods. Come see for yourself. These and other species of goldenrod put on a spectacular show in the Whitmire Wildflower Garden at Shaw Nature Reserve in Gray Summit, Mo. You can find nurseries and garden centers that sell native goldenrods at the Resource Guide at www.grownative.org.
Grow Native! is a regular feature of Ozarks Living.
We are saddened to report that garden columnist and writer Cindy Gilberg, a Grow Native! Professional member of the Missouri Prairie Foundation, passed away on June 30, 2014. Her many contributions to native gardening and native plant education will be sorely missed. With the next issue, Scott Woodbury, horticulturalist at Shaw Nature Reserve, will write Grow Native! for Ozarks Living Magazine. – The Editor