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Fields of Gold Plant Goldenrod for Specialist Bees and Migrating Monarchs

By Elizabeth Craig, Wilton, CT Pollinator Pathway

Goldenrods (Solidago spp.) and asters (Symphyotrichum spp.) are the two most important late-season sources of pollen and nectar for bees that are provisioning their nests for winter and for monarch butterflies fueling up along the fall migration. Goldenrod supports specialist bees and attracts butterflies, moths, beetles, and solitary (non-stinging) wasps. Solidago seeds are a good winter food source for birds. Every pollinator garden should have a major section planted in goldenrod.

There are some 26 species of goldenrod in the Northeast, and it can be difficult to distinguish between them. Different species have adapted to a wide variety of sites, from sunny fields and meadows to shady woodland edges, to bogs and salty coastal areas.

When choosing goldenrods for your garden, choose those adapted to conditions at your site. Easy to grow, goldenrod is deer resistant, tolerant of drought and poor soils, has few diseases and ‘insect problems,’ and is widely used for cut flower arrangements. Goldenrods do not cause hay fever, common ragweed Ambrosia artemisiifolia, which often grows in the wild near goldenrod, is the source of fall hay fever.

Goldenrods have sometimes been considered too wild, aggressive, and unruly to use in the garden due to their effective spreading by root and seed. Consider the clump-forming types of solidago, which will not spread as readily, for more managed garden beds and borders.

Full-sun to part shade, clump-forming species: Showy goldenrod, Solidago speciosa Seaside goldenrod, Solidago sempervirens Anise-scented goldenrod, Solidago odora

Gray goldenrod, Solidago nemoralis

In wilder areas and large fields use Canada goldenrod Solidago canadensis or tall goldenrod S. altissimo. Larger, taller plants that spread readily can provide more floral resources, more pollen, and nectar for pollinators.

Full-sun, rhizomatous (spreads by roots) species:

Rough-stem goldenrod, Solidago rugosa Tall goldenrod, Solidago altissima Canada goldenrod Solidago canadensis

Goldenrods are the perfect plant to use in a lawn-to-meadow conversion, they flourish in areas that are occasionally mowed. For the best pollinator show in your late-summer-to-fall garden, with a great abundance and diversity of pollinators and brilliant color, plant the glorious perennial wildflower, goldenrod.

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