Goldenrod: This native plant should be kept out of the garden

by Kathy Purdy on October 9, 2008 · 42 comments

in Garden chores, Native/Invasive, Pests, Plagues, and Varmints

Goldenrod is my enemy

There, I’ve said it. I don’t care if goldenrod is a native plant; it is no longer welcome in my gardens. I tried to be understanding, truly, I did, but it just did not want to play nice with the other plants. It did not want to play at all: total garden bed domination was its only goal. And it just about succeeded:

Give it an inch, it will take the whole bed. About the only plant left standing is phlox--itself a native. August 2006

Give it an inch, it will take the whole bed. About the only plant left standing is phlox--itself a native. August 2006


It got so bad, I started thinking of this as the goldenrod bed.

Several kinds of goldenrod

I should make clear before we go any further that there are many species of goldenrod. I’ve found three growing in my beds, and all three have a reputation for being “aggressively weedy.”

This goldenrod is most prevalent in our area. September 2008

This goldenrod is most prevalent in our area. September 2008

I used to think this was Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis). But I have seen goldenrod galls on some of it, and according to Walter Muma, only tall goldenrod (Solidago canadensis var. scabra) gets those galls. Since every source I have read says that many goldenrod species are easily confused or even hybridize, it is possible both were growing in this bed.
Arrows point to rough-stemmed goldenrod. It has the widest leaves of the common ones. September 2008 (click on image to enlarge)

Arrows point to rough-stemmed goldenrod. It has the widest leaves of the common ones. September 2008 (click on image to enlarge)

Although I have tentatively identified the above as rough-stemmed goldenrod, mine doesn’t seem to have the typical pattern to its flowers, so it might be something else.
The very thin leaves give rise to the name grass-leaved goldenrod September 2008

The very thin leaves give rise to the name grass-leaved goldenrod September 2008

This goldenrod pictured above is given the genus Euthamia in some sources, but I don’t know on what basis it got kicked out of Solidago.

Not all goldenrods are bad

Just because I am ousting some villains, I don’t want you to think all goldenrods are bad. Consider:

  • Their pollen is sticky. It does not go airborne. It does not cause hay fever or other sneezing allergies. (You would think after all these years, this myth would have been dispelled. But just in case . . .)
  • They have an “important role in native ecosystems as soil stabilizers and sources of food and shelter for wildlife.” (William Cullina)
  • Other species are well-behaved. Even Solidago rugosa has a cultivar, ‘Fireworks’ that Allan Armitage calls “an outstanding selection.” Of course, the good goldenrods will probably not just show up in your border. Only the thugs do that.

Pull goldenrod early, and pull it often

True confession: when I said in the beginning that “I tried to be understanding” and tolerate goldenrod in my borders, that was a polite way of saying that I tried to rationalize my failure to weed this bed in a timely manner. I never deliberately planted goldenrod in any of my garden beds. I may have let the first seedling or two grow because I didn’t recognize it as a weed. And once it was blooming, I probably decided it was so pretty, I would pull it later. Before you know it, it had turned into a project that had to wait until I had time.

More than once, I tried to dig it out from amongst the perennials growing here, only to have it come back in the spring from roots I had missed. Then there was the year I started digging out the good plants–the plants I wanted to save–and planting them elsewhere. I finally realized nothing less than a complete renovation of the bed would be sufficient to eradicate the goldenrod.

I finally take back the garden

If you have ever attempted to drive a spade into a thriving bed of goldenrod, you would understand the daunting task I faced. It was so daunting, I didn’t face it for a year or two. (Don’t worry, it was easy enough to find other garden work to do.) In 2005 (yes, this has been an ongoing problem) my husband helped me renovate a three-foot wide section that adjoined the Birthday Garden. I managed to keep that goldenrod-free, which gave me the courage to tackle the rest of the front bed this year.

Follow my progress as I take back my garden bed from the domination of the Solidago species. Each thumbnail can be clicked to view a medium image with text, and can then be clicked again for an even larger view. Use the back button or click on the title to get back to the gallery.

How to succeed with a big weeding project

In the past, trying to accomplish large projects in small increments didn’t work. By the time I was ready for stage 2 of a project, stage 1 had become undone. For example, when I had worked on this bed years ago, the goldenrod had grown back before I could finish weeding the bed thoroughly. So I was really hesitant to tackle this project in stages, but I didn’t have a choice. There just isn’t a way to clear three consecutive days in my calendar, and I don’t think my body could handle that much consecutive wear and tear. I realized I didn’t have anything to lose, because if I “failed” the result wouldn’t be any worse than a goldenrod-infested bed, which I already had. What contributed to my success this time, when I had failed in the past?

  • I stopped thinking of it as a do-or-die project. I realized if I could clear another three feet, and keep it clear, that would still be progress.
  • On the other hand, I stopped approaching it as an attempt to “save” the bed that had been there, and recognized that I needed to renovate it, that is, start over.
  • The weather cooperated. Lots of sunny, dry weather, which discouraged new weeds from sprouting and made the goldenrod easy to remove.
  • I worked on it first thing in the morning, when the weather was cool and my energy level was high. This minimized procrastination.
  • My kids were older. Babies and toddlers inevitably create the kind of interruptions that can sideline a project.
  • Mercifully, no back spasms or other injuries that would sideline me.

Not all of the above are conditions which you control, which is why it is important not to get discouraged if your project isn’t successfully completed the first time you attempt it.

Identify your goldenrods online

I found Walter Muma’s Ontario Wildflowers site to be very helpful for identifying native plants. Not only are several photographs included, but the specific details that distinguish one species from another are listed with as little jargon as possible. I only wish I had discovered his site before my goldenrods had gone over; I might have been able to make a more positive identification of some of them.

Read about garden worthy native plants

The following books will help you learn about native plants. I reviewed them earlier this year.

Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening and Conservation by Donald Leopold (Timber Press, 2005).

Growing and Propagating Wildflowers of the United States and Canada by William Cullina (Houghton Mifflin, 2000).

Armitage’s Native Plants for North American Gardens by Allan Armitage (Timber Press, 2006).

How about you?

Did you ever have a garden bed where one plant took over? How did you tackle that problem? Are there any plants that are currently frustrating you with their aggressive growth? Let us know; perhaps someone else knows how to control it. Or, do you have a favorite, well-behaved native plant that more people should know and grow? Tell us about it in the comments.

About

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy's been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

I don't mean to complain about my own garden. It serves me and satisfies me quite well, except at the moments when I get into despair over it: very frequent moments, when I long to have some other sort of garden, quite different; a garden in Spain, a garden in Italy, a garden in Provence, a garden in Scotland.
Vita Sackville-West

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

weedy March 14, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Of course the name says it all—I pull it out when it spreads too far, I’m trying to keep just the rugosa, the cultivated varieties died and I plant helenium and echinacia amongst the goldenrod. No one ever accused me of neatness. I add liatris around this mess too. Doubtless the village will condemn my yard but meanwhile let the weeds grow high!—————Weedy

Reply

Clint January 19, 2014 at 12:45 pm

The Goldenrod plants also attract wasps and flies to the garden. I hate them!

Reply

Max September 27, 2013 at 10:03 am

i love this plant!!!!!!not

Reply

Marian July 30, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Wow, I love my Goldenrod! I’ve had it for nearly 20 years and it has never been invasive!

Reply

Kathy Purdy July 30, 2013 at 7:57 pm

There are an awful lot of goldenrod species and not all of them are aggressive. However, the most common ones native to my area are too vigorous for a traditional garden bed. I enjoy their beauty in the wild areas around my home, in fields and fence rows.

Reply

Kim April 30, 2013 at 9:15 pm

I am trying to grow goldenrod. It is an awesome herb. Would someone be so kind as to send me some seeds? I can pay for the postage

Reply

Anita Sanchez November 15, 2012 at 10:28 pm

Well, it isn’t an enemy, really…it’s just a highly successful native plant in the wrong place…

Reply

Dan Andrews August 4, 2010 at 2:10 pm

I need help identifying a plant that looks like goldenrod. It has a center point where multiple stems grow out and flower heads that look just like goldenrod appear. If you have facebook have a look at it.
http://sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc4/hs260.snc4/40362_413872841657_580951657_4875673_1662233_n.jpg

Reply

elaine September 12, 2009 at 1:18 pm

i happen to like them/

Reply

Rebecca October 20, 2008 at 10:11 pm

I can relate to the Goldenrod issue, it must grow EVERYWHERE in the Eastern U.S. I just moved here after living in Florida for over 50 years, and it grew everywhere in North FL, at least. Now I live in southeastern TN, and sure enough, it’s everywhere here too (along with the non-native and VERY invasive Kudzu).

3 interesting things I have discovered about Goldenrod: 1) my dogs love to eat its leaves like a salad. I take them for a walk, and discovering goldenrod is for them like a prospector finding gold. They get one whiff, and I can’t hold them back. It seems to agree well with them, since they never throw it up afterwards, unlike some grasses that they like to munch on 2) Whatever the reason, if the goldenrod is blooming near my house (and the windows are open), I start sniffling, sneezing and get stuffed up WITHOUT FAIL. Some years back I brought a wildflower arrangement into the house, with lots of goldenrod in it, and sure enough, I became quite ill for a few days, until I threw the arrangement out. I truly think it contains an allergen for certain people. My dad also got hay fever when the goldenrod was blooming. He had a joke about it… 3) I agree it is invasive. You let one stalk start growing, if it blooms, then you have 20 stalks the next year, etc, etc.

I wonder if kudzu is a problem in NY state? Goats are the best thing for it from what I hear.

Reply

calli August 24, 2009 at 10:52 pm

I too have goldenrod and my two labs LOVE it. They eat it like an addiction. Mostly they look for the tender little ones, but late in august they will eat the bigger green leaves of the plant too. They have not gotten ill from it either, but I am curious about what attacts them to it.

Reply

Cori Province November 4, 2013 at 1:33 pm

I’m just now doing some research on Goldenrod, and have found that the dogs seek it out for their taste, but it also has a lot of benefits. I’m a pet care service provider and almost every dog I walk that comes across this herb chows down on its leaves. Here’s some links I found that I hope will help:
http://wildhomestead.org/…/why-do-my-dogs-love-goldenrod/

and

http://www.healthypetzone.com/herbalglossaryview.php?HID=55

Reply

Sue Dawson October 16, 2008 at 9:02 pm

There had been some wild flowers on a hill at our church, and I stupidly moved a clump of goldenrod into one of my beds. When I figured out it wasn’t going to let me keep it within its own area, I pulled it out. Of course, it took several years for it to give up, but since I was as aggressive as it was at yanking it whenever I saw it, it didn’t win the latest battles. I’m not sure if the war is over, though.

Now, I do love my Fireworks and Wichita Mountain Goldenrods, and they do not appear to be aggressive. I have a couple smaller ones, too, that I can’t remember the names of.

Sue

Reply

Kathy Purdy October 16, 2008 at 12:43 pm

MMD & Ted, thanks for weighing in on ‘Fireworks.’ I don’t feel a great need for goldenrod in my borders when I can see it in bloom anywhere I turn. But I wouldn’t turn a well-behaved goldenrod down if someone gave me one, so it’s good to know how they do.

Reply

tedb October 15, 2008 at 2:28 pm

I finds Zig-Zag goldenrod to be indispensible for dry shade. (S. flexicaulis, if I remember correctly). It does spread, but slowly, maybe about the same as wild ginger. I use it as a filler/ground-cover in the woodland.

BTW I believe Pinella is mouse tail, an Aisan Jack in the Pulpit cousin. In my garden it seeds around some but gets knocked back alot by my Z4 winter.

Reply

kate October 14, 2008 at 12:58 am

It sounds as if this is one of those plants that can be admired in other peoples’ gardens and avoided in one’s own. I grew it in my Ottawa garden and it behaved itself (unlike several other plants I came to dread).

Your tips on how to approach a project such as this are great!

Reply

Mr. McGregor's Daughter October 12, 2008 at 10:42 pm

I have a mixed review for ‘Fireworks.’ In the front garden it has been very well behaved, growing in a clump that has grown wider over the years & been divided. In the back border, I neglected & ignored it, so it spread into an area occupied only by Lamium & an Aster. Fortunately, it doesn’t have long runners like some of the wild ones & was easy to restrain. It’s staying. I have learned to yank out any wild ones & simply admire them at the Forest Preserve, along the side of the road, & in abandoned lots.
The shot myself in the foot plants are Vinca minor (once I finally get rid of it I will never, ever plant it again) & Eupatorium rugosum.

Reply

Dee/reddirtramblings October 11, 2008 at 6:22 pm

Well, Kathy, I have two kinds of it in my garden. I’d have to look up the cultivars, but I’m too tired after being in the garden. Neither has tried to take over, yet . . . but with the new watering system, they just might. I’ll keep you tuned.~~Dee

Reply

Kathy Purdy October 11, 2008 at 9:57 pm

Yes, Dee, keep an eye on that goldenrod. Plants can behave differently when in a new set of conditions.

Reply

Anna October 11, 2008 at 5:43 pm

I feel for you and admire your determination to get it done. I don’t know of any gardener who hasn’t let it go and lived to tell about it.

I had some horse manure delivered to my new home while I wasn’t there. They spread it and tilled the beds. Soon as we moved in, I planted seed and other ornamentals.

A month later, I had weeds of every kind. The manure had been too new and the weeds ripe for all the good soil I mixed in. It has taken me all summer to get over it. I have dug and pulled until I’m looney. I’m sticking with Black Cow. No more manure delivered to my house.

Reply

Kim October 11, 2008 at 9:51 am

I’ve had so/so luck with solidago – I planted Solidago canadensis ‘Crown of Rays’ which was a beautiful plant, while it lasted. It didn’t make it through a mid-Atlantic winter. I have another solidago I don’t know the name of – it has rounder leaves. It’s a small clump that has slowly increased, but it’s well behaved. I love it and will gladly keep it, I just wish I knew what it was. We have native solidago all over the place in my area, but luckily none have landed in my garden. Thank you for the warning – I’ll make sure to evict them as soon as any show up.

Reply

eliz October 10, 2008 at 11:13 pm

I long for goldenrod! I have just the spot for it. We have tons of the weedy type around here but it has never found its way into my garden.

Reply

Kathy Purdy October 11, 2008 at 9:55 pm

Hi, eliz. I’m glad you haven’t been troubled by any solidago thugs. The books at the end of the post will point you to some good choices. Looking forward to seeing goldenrod in its perfect spot.

Reply

Gail October 10, 2008 at 6:03 pm

kathy, Thank you for the great resource! Ontario Wildflowers was very informative. Ahh goldenrod…when it takes over it is bad, when it is in the right place it is very good! I am thoroughly enjoying Zigzag Goldenrod…Solidago flexicaulis but the winds do blow the bad guy into my garden.

Gail

Reply

Kathy Purdy October 11, 2008 at 9:51 pm

Hi, Gail, I’m glad you enjoyed the Ontario Wildflowers website as much as I did. Thanks for stopping by.

Reply

Susy October 10, 2008 at 2:43 pm

I just pulled a bunch of goldenrod yesterday. I think it’s kind of pretty. But I don’t want it in my beds!

Reply

Jenny October 10, 2008 at 10:39 am

I had no idea that goldenrod was going to pique my interest today. So, Texas goldenrod is Solidago altissima and everyone does give it a bad rap, even those folks in Kentucky who have it as their state flower.

Reply

Darla October 10, 2008 at 9:25 am

I agree with you, glad you came out and said it! So many people love goldenrod, here where I live I just enjoy seeing it in the woods.

Reply

Kathy Purdy October 11, 2008 at 5:46 pm

Yes, Darla, it is wonderful in natural surroundings.

Reply

Annie in Austin October 10, 2008 at 9:23 am

Wow, you are one determined woman!

About 2 miles from here are sloping banks formed when a road was cut through a hillside.
Goldenrod weaving up the banks looks spectacular right now but I promise not to let it into my little garden, Kathy!

At least it’s a native and useful to wildlife – my nemesis was here when we moved in – horrid, horrid Asiatic jasmine, not just in my yard but in neighboring yards so no matter how much I dig up, there are many square yards in reserve on the other side of the fence.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Reply

Kathy Purdy October 11, 2008 at 5:46 pm

Annie, goldenrod growing on a cut hillside sounds like a perfect use for it.

Reply

Leslie October 10, 2008 at 9:23 am

I certainly agree that the native goldenrods are thugs but I would encourage you to try some of the named cultivars, They have been selected for a bunch of characteristic including non-agressiveness. I have several including some of the very small ones like ‘little lemon’ that are well behaved and just great in the border.
As for my greatest regret, Pinella both seeds prolifically and spreads by roots. Will eventually take over the bed as fiercely as goldenrod.

Reply

Kathy Purdy October 11, 2008 at 5:45 pm

Leslie, I am not familiar with pinella. Where is it native to? Does it have a common name? I hear you about the goldenrods. If I come across a cultivar I won’t hesitate to try it.

Reply

Kathy Purdy October 10, 2008 at 9:17 am

MA and Cindy, you have to know your goldenrod. Not all of them are stoloniferous. Jenny, do you know what kind you have? I imagine the species that far south are different than the ones growing here.

Reply

Kathy Purdy October 10, 2008 at 9:13 am

Carol, I didn’t mean to scare you away from the goldenrod cultivars, quite the opposite. All three of the books I mentioned say that ‘Fireworks’ is quite well-behaved, and list other species that work well in gardens, too. Hopefully Jessica’s experience will encourage you.

Reply

Jenny October 10, 2008 at 8:13 am

There is no doubt that goldenrod is tough because I have a good stand of it on the edge of my septic( It gets no septic spray there) This year it has withstood a record number of 100 degree days with no rain and is just starting to flower. Last year my husband mowed it down just before it was about to flower ( screaming and shouting from me) That didn’t faze it. I have to say I love it but after what I have read I won’t be letting it into my inside gardens.

Reply

Cindy October 9, 2008 at 11:03 pm

I yanked some Goldenrod from the corner bed just this morning. Like you, I’d let it bloom and grow there because it was a native, it fit with the color scheme and it was pretty in its weedy way. You don’t realize that under the topsoil, it creeps sure-rootedly, stealing its way across the bed, until you find 6 or 8 or more plants where there was formerly one. I try to be mindful that I get all the roots when I pull it.

Reply

MA October 9, 2008 at 10:02 pm

But it looks so purdy! I know, yank it out!

Reply

Carol, May Dreams Gardens October 9, 2008 at 9:32 pm

I have no goldenrod in my garden, naturalized or introduced by me. I guess that’s a good thing! I’ve been tempted by some of those goldenrod cultivars, but after reading this, I don’t think I’ll try any.

Where does one start with the lists of plants a gardener has introduced (or allowed to grow) in a his/her garden, that they regret? It happens to every gardener at some point! Don’t ask me, for example, about tansy.

Reply

Jessica October 9, 2008 at 8:30 pm

Goldenrod is beautiful, but it certainly does naturalize. We have ‘Fireworks’ and it’s beautiful in our garden … So far, it hasn’t misbehaved.

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }

Subscribe without commenting

Previous post:

Next post: