Winterberry Farm Primitives

This blog is now devoted to gardening with native plants with a focus on those species native to the east coast of the United States. With an MS in Agricultural Science from the University of Delaware and my love of native plants, I hope to help folks see the beauty and necessity of using native plants in your garden instead of exotic plants. Did you know that our native song birds and native insects are disappearing as our local environments continue to change?
For those who come to this page to see my 'Winterberry Farm Primitives' blog can now be found at where I will post new additions to my online antiques shop at and discuss various subjects about primitive antiques.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Goldenrod: A Much Maligned Beauty for Fall!

Have you ever gone for a walk in the fall through an area with lots of open space filled with wonderful yellow flowers and started to sneeze? Or, have you ever taken a nice drive in the countryside during a great fall weekend and felt like your eyes were filled with sand? For most people, the response to these questions would be a resounding Yes! and then what will follow are comments concerning that darn goldenrod!, like: 'I love the mustard-colored flowers but that 'weed' is killing my sinuses'! Well, that darn weed is a wonderful native perennial that flowers from late August to early November depending on the species and is not the culprit that causes your nose to water and your eyes to sting. Giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) is the enemy when it comes to your runny nose and scratchy eyes. Giant ragweed is also a native plant in the lower 48 of the United States but it is considered a noxious weed in many states, including here in Delaware. A noxious weed is defined by Wikipedia as 'a plant species that has been designated by state or national agricultural authorities as a plant that is injurious to agricultural and/or horticultural crops and/or humans and livestock. Most have been introduced into a foreign ecosystem either by accident or mismanagement, but some are also native species'. It is not allowed to be grown on your property nor is it allowed to go to seed and disseminate said seed. If a noxious weed is found on your property and it is over a certain height (24" in Delaware) or if it is allowed to flower, you can be fined! So, instead of blaming the blameless goldenrod, let's talk about this wonderful fall perennial that will add great color, texture, and in some cases, scent to your garden! AND - get rid of giant ragweed when you see it!
Goldenrod (Solidago species) comes in many shapes and sizes. It is a cultivated plant that can be found in your local nursery and being native, can survive in your landscape without the use of soil additives or pesticides. Some articles I have read call the fall perennial border 'boring' and stress the need for annuals to 'perk up the shades of green' found at the end of the flowering season. So, instead of annuals, how about some fireworks? or blue stems? or a wonderful golden color peeping out of the shady areas of your landscape? How about a wonderfully scented plant whose scent will peak at dusk? What height do you need? Back of the border? or how about down front in tiny little mounds of golden color? The answer to all of these questions is Goldenrod! There is a Solidago species or cultivar that will perk up that 'boring' native garden with the added bonus of feeding insects and birds! For example, there are two families of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths)who feed exclusively on goldenrod : Bucculatricidae and Colephora. The larvae of these families form galls around themselves while they are feeding on the plant and predatory wasps will open these galls to feed on the larvae. Woodpeckers have also been observed breaking open the galls and feeding on the larvae that they find inside. Just a simple thing like planting a goldenrod in your yard will continue the cycle of life that we are losing as we continue to plant exotics over native plants in our suburban landscape!
Fireworks for your garden can be provided by Solidago rugosa 'Fireworks', a great plant native from Newfoundland to Michigan down to Texas and across the deep south to Florida. 'Fireworks' is a wonderful cultivar of the rugosa species and only gets to about 3'-4' in height. It is great in the middle of a large border or at the back of a smaller border, but give it lots of room to "explode" into wonderful arching "fireworks" of stunning golden color! It has a light scent to the flowers that peaks at about dusk. The scent is amazing and gives your end of day cup of tea a wonderful relaxed feeling. It is a favorite food of several birds, including finches and juncos. Southern migrating butterflies like monarchs and mourning cloaks; and bees of all kinds love to fill up on the plant's nector and it is deer resistant! It is clump forming and will thrive in almost any garden condition including wet conditions. In fact, I have a huge clump that has been very happy for a very long time in a swale at the side of our property where it even survives standing water after a long spell of rain.
Do you want a wonderful spicy scent in your fall garden? Try Solidago odora (the state flower of Delaware!), native from New Hampshire to Missouri down to Texas and across to Florida. It is called sweet goldenrod and can grow to 5 feet. The leaves smell like licorice when crushed and it is covered in tightly bunched golden flowers in mid-fall. It can grow in either sun or partial shade and will grow well in your wildflower oriented garden border. It is wild and wispy and looks wonderful covered with birds or insects!
Now - how about blue stems? Solidago caesia is the goldenrod for you. It's common name is blue-stemmed goldenrod and it does not flower as much or in the same way as the 'normal' goldenrod. The flowers are found in the leaf axils of the blue-green stems and are small and more yellow than the 'normal' goldenrod flower. It does not branch as much as other goldenrods, so its stems arch gracefully with the flowers held above the green leaves. It can definitely tolerate shade and cannot survive in full sun. A wonderful addition to a shady fall garden where a bit of golden color will enliven the area around it.
Solidago flexicaulis, the zigzag goldenrod, so called because of the way the flowers 'zig zag' up the stem is a full shade plant. It loves the dappled shade of a woodland garden but can survive in a deeper shade environment! It is also native to the same areas as the other goldenrods mentioned here and loves a rich woodland soil.

As for a little goldenrod that will look wonderful at the front of a garden border, there is the new cultivar called Solidago 'Little Lemon' that flowers in mid-summer and, if cut back, will flower again in the fall. It has a lemon yellow flower on heavily massed heads. This is a new plant so you might want to buy it from Parks as it is only available on the internet this year. There is also Solidago 'Cloth of Gold" and Solidago 'Goldkind' available, both cultivars rarely reach over 1 ft in height and would be wonderful at the front of the garden.
All of the goldenrods that I have mentioned in this blog are available at your local nurseries NOW! They are best when planted in the fall and will give you many years of beauty with little or no work on your part!
So...head out to your local nursery this weekend and find yourselves some wonderful, but maligned, goldenrods for your fall garden!!!

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