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Goldenrod: Weed or Wildflower?

Maria is a master gardener and master of public health. She & her husband, known online as The Gardener & The Cook, live in coastal Alabama.

goldenrod-weed-or-wildflower

Once believed to be the source of seasonal allergies, people dreaded seeing goldenrod (Solidago altissima) bloom. Now that we know it is NOT the cause of those allergies, we can appreciate its beauty so much more. The actual culprit is ragweed which blooms about the same time as goldenrod.

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Roadside Beauty

Each summer, as early as July, the goldenrod has grown tall, but still blends in with the other wildflowers and, yes, weeds, along highways throughout the South. I have come to recognize it when I see it now. Soon its brilliant flowers will be painting the sides of highways and country roads a cheerful golden-yellow.

It is now late August here in coastal Alabama (Zone 8b), and it has not yet begun to open its flowers and show off that gorgeous golden color, but I know it is probably blooming already in Zone 7 and farther north.

It grows in all but six states in the U.S.: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, and Nevada. I expect it will begin blooming here within the next few weeks.

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I Actually Trashed Some Many Years Ago

I hate to think of the time I ripped out a lot of goldenrod growing in back of a house I bought many years ago. That was before I knew it was the ragweed (that I accidentally left untouched) that caused my sneezes, runny nose, and itchy eyes. No wonder I didn’t feel any better!

Unlike plants with large, showy blossoms, wildflowers typically have clusters of tiny flowers. This is probably why they re-seed themselves so readily to provide large masses of color. In the case of Goldenrod, however, those clusters of tiny flowers are quite large. Here's a closer look at those tiny flowers.

These tiny flowers grow on stems that make up large cluster of flowers.

These tiny flowers grow on stems that make up large cluster of flowers.

New Home, New Landscaping Knowledge

We moved into our current home almost two years ago, and I soon found goldenrod growing in one of the neglected flower beds. I later moved it to a better location where it would get full sun. It is now huge, but has yet to flower.

When I planted it, it was only about 6 inches tall. Now it is taller than some of the azaleas behind it. Fortunately, it will die back to the ground this winter, so the beautiful azaleas will not be blocked from view when they bloom in the spring.

Goldenrod is aggressive, so I may have enabled a monster. If so, I’ll have to keep it in check. Here’s how it looks before flowering – rather unremarkable, huh?

When I planted this goldenrod, it was only about 6 inches tall. Now it is as tall as the azaleas behind it, and it dwarfs the mums in front of it.

When I planted this goldenrod, it was only about 6 inches tall. Now it is as tall as the azaleas behind it, and it dwarfs the mums in front of it.

Keeping It in Check

I’ve learned that one way to limit its spreading is to transplant it every two or three years. This prevents the rhizomes from becoming too well-established. Another way to prevent re-seeding is to remove the spent blooms before they have a chance to go to seed.

Goldenrod is an herbaceous perennial that re-seeds itself creating tons of new plants. It can also spread by underground rhizomes. No matter how pretty it is in the fall, if it begins to compete with my daffodils, mums, and other flowers, it will have to go. If that happens, I’ll be sure to mention it here in a few months.

Update

Well, my goldenrod finally bloomed, and it was beautiful. The problem is that it grew so tall it became top-heavy and fell over onto the mums in front of it. It damaged one of them pretty badly, and had spread underground to several places. I had to accept that it needed to go. So I cut it down, pulled up what I could, and will need to dig up the larger original rhizomes. Bummer.

I will still have a pollinator garden. I just won’t have plants that are quite so invasive.

Its Needs Are Simple, and the Bees and Butterflies Love It

If you have a butterfly garden, or are trying to create a pollinator garden, goldenrod is one of the plants you may want to consider, but be sure to choose one of the less invasive cultivars. Below are its requirements – and they are few.

Read More From Dengarden

Light

It needs full sun. It can tolerate some shade, but that could cause the flowers to be smaller and more sparse.

Water

If you decide to plant some in your garden, it should be watered every few days (without rainfall) until it is established. After it becomes established, it is self-sufficient and drought tolerant, as are all wildflowers and weeds.

Soil Conditions

Goldenrod is not choosy about its soil. It seems to tolerate even the poorest soil, as long as it has good drainage. It never needs fertilizer.

Hardiness

It is not cold hardy, and in freezing temperatures, will die back to the ground. No worries. It will emerge in spring and grow back to its full height which can be up to five feet.

Take this Poll About Pollinator Gardens

If You Decide to Plant Goldenrod

If you decide to include goldenrod in your garden, choose wisely. There are over 2,000 varieties, and some garden centers now have varieties that are less intrusive.

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Goldenrod Was Once the State Flower of Alabama

Probably because it seems to be everywhere, goldenrod was once the state flower of Alabama, but many who wanted a “real” flower, not a wildflower had it changed to the camellia which is gorgeous, but requires a lot more attention than the self-sufficient goldenrod. We'll talk about camellias another time.

Oh, before I forget, goldenrod still has the honor of being the state wildflower.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 MariaMontgomery

Your Comments Are Always Welcome

MariaMontgomery (author) from Coastal Alabama, USA on August 24, 2021:

It IS aggressive. I may have created a monster by putting it in my flower bed. I'll try to remember to let you know what happens, but it will probably be next spring or summer before additional plants pop up, if any do. Years ago, I saw an article in Southern Living that said there were new hybrid varieties that were not invasive, but I've never seen them. Maybe I should research that.

MariaMontgomery (author) from Coastal Alabama, USA on August 24, 2021:

Thank you, Leona.

Leona naveed on August 24, 2021:

Great

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 24, 2021:

What a pretty plant! I don't think I've ever seen goldenrod in person. It sounds like it would do well in my Central Florida yard, but the invasive aspect turns me off. We're trying to grow herbs and veggies It seems goldenrod would do well to attract pollinators, but could get out of control. Currently I have bouganvillea, vinca, society garlic, milkweed, lavender, hibiscus, moss rose, portaluca, and another yellow climbing flower (no idea what it's called) on my property. I enjoy watching the butterflies and bees go from bloom to bloom.

Goldenrod may be an option for the backyard, where our fruits and veggies are situated. It'd be worth looking into.

MariaMontgomery (author) from Coastal Alabama, USA on August 23, 2021:

You're welcome. Thanks for reading my article. It grows in far more states than I realized until I began researching it.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on August 23, 2021:

We have goldenrod here in California as well, mostly along the roadsides and hills. Thanks for the wildflower lesson.

Blessings,

Denise

MariaMontgomery (author) from Coastal Alabama, USA on August 23, 2021:

Hi Liza, Sorry you had seasonal allergies. Unfortunately, that is a problem for many people, especially in spring when so many things begin to bloom, and when tree & grass pollens are rampant. I'm so glad you enjoyed my article, and found it useful. I hope you enjoy your new home, and look forward to seeing photos of your garden. I'm sure it will ge beautiful.

Liza from USA on August 22, 2021:

Before I move to Utah, I have never had an allergy to any wildflowers or plants. However, I noticed I started sneezing and have a runny nose once the spring is approaching. The article taught me a lot about Goldenroad, Maria. I've seen them here in Utah. By the way, I cannot wait to move to a new house, as I wanted to have a beautiful garden. By the way, I voted to have one in my garden!

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