A great way to embrace autumn is to use forbs and grasses that pop with life in the later months of the year. One genus of plant that really encapsulates the body of September and October is Solidago. Its common name is Goldenrod and it is everywhere this time of year. It loves full sun to full shade, wet to dry soil. You have likely seen it in bloom but didn’t realize it. It grows in open fields along the road as well as deep within forests. This past weekend, I found it painting a meadow yellow in Allentown, NJ as well as dotting the woodlands of South Mountain Reservation.
In designing your yard to capture the autumn beauty, it’s important to think how you want to use the flower. Do you need it to be a dynamic filler or more of a seasonal interest plant? Are you trying to use it functionally with a rain garden, or is to for privacy?
Goldenrod does have a wild side. It doesn’t grow straight up like a grass, though it does enjoy standing tall. It’s often top-heavy so it will lean toward the sunlight when it can. If planted in mass, you can define a border with its color, and it can make for naturalized privacy for the late season. You can also think about combining Goldenrod with other natives such as Lindera benzoin (spicebush). As the spicebush’s leaves change into their fall colors, the Goldenrod can magnify its spectacular presence. It can also be planted near or intermingled with Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flowers) to highlight the contrast of the L. cardinalis red flowers to the yellow blooms of the Solidago.
Solidago is good for rain gardens to help manage rainwater. It, along with species mentioned above (L. benzoin and L. cardinalis) tolerates inundated conditions of up to six inches of water. These types of plants are critical for the functionality of the wet zone of your rain garden. If you have the room in your rain garden, you can add black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) and/or elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) with the Solidago and spicebush. All of these plants are edible and you will literally have a wild edible oasis that doubles as a stormwater management device. Your rain garden won’t just be food for you. It is a hugely important late-season food source for beneficial insects. Bees depend on Solidago heavily as other plants go dormant and nectar is in short supply. Its nectar attracts butterflies as they get set to migrate south for the winter. Other regular visitors include pirate bugs, solider beetles, and hoverflies - all of which are natural pest controls for slugs, snails and aphids.