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:
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.”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. 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. 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.