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Weekly planter: Fall gardens worth their weight in goldenrods

The Lynn Lowrey is a selection of rough goldenrod that reaches just over 4 feet tall and up to 5 feet wide.
The Lynn Lowrey is a selection of rough goldenrod that reaches just over 4 feet tall and up to 5 feet wide. TNS

Goldenrod is nothing to sneeze at. Sure many people thinks it is the cause of hay fever, but the real culprit is ragweed, which usually blooms at the same time. I have just about never met a goldenrod I didn’t like.

Over the last few years, I started to pay attention to the butterfly and pollinator activity of goldenrods and realized that this member of the aster family holds its own when it comes to butterflies. I regularly see monarchs feasting, as well as common buckeyes and gulf fritillaries. Recently for the first time, however, I noticed red-banded hairstreaks and, my favorite of all, the great purple hairstreak.

These plants are indeed worthy of a prime spot in the perennial garden or the backyard wildlife habitat, bringing the late summer and fall garden alive. They don’t require the most luxuriant of soils to perform and put on a show but do require good drainage to develop one of those picturesque stands.

Plant them in sun for best flower production, Should your drainage be suspect, plant on raised beds, While preparing the bed, incorporate a pound of a 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed space. Plant them boldly in drifts 18 to 24 inches apart, or as recommended for your particular selection. This may mean planting to the middle or the back of the border.

Goldenrod is a prolific spreader, sometimes by seed and often by the roots, which is an attribute loved by most gardeners. Pluck unwanted plants and prune to keep within its designated area. If you want to divide, do so with the onset of spring growth.

Use goldenrods with plants like sea holly, globe thistle, Russian sage, Mexican bush sage and the new Amistad salvia. They also excel with lantanas and purple gomphrena. In addition to ironweed you’ll also notice roadsides where they are partnered with the blue native mistflowers or conocliniums, which are also butterfly magnets.

A lot of varieties are showing up both in catalogues and garden centers. Leading dwarf varieties are Baby Gold, Cloth of Gold, Golden Baby and Golden Fleece. Taller varieties you’ll want to try are Fireworks and Golden Wings. The one in our garden that has me completely mesmerized is Lynn Lowrey.

Lynn Lowrey, the late famous native plant nurseryman in Texas, selected this variety of Solidago rugosa, which is much taller than the Fireworks of the same species. Our clump is pushing five feet in height and probably six feet in width and is truly magnificent. When it comes to pollinators, you are their heroes, and with goldenrod you’ll hit a home run for them and the garden, too.

Norman Winter is director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South.”