Goatsbeard for the Shade Garden

Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard) flowers
Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard) flowers

Goatsbeard makes a great hardy perennial for the shade garden. I grow the tall Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard) and the short Aruncus aethusifolius (dwarf Korean goatsbeard) in my garden. Other than having similarly shaped cream coloured flower plumes, the plants are very different looking.

Aruncus Aethusifolius (dwarf goatsbeard) red stems
Aruncus Aethusifolius (dwarf goatsbeard) red stems

The tiny Aruncus aethusifolius grows about 30 cm (a foot) around. The attractive foliage is very finely cut, like a fern. This plant has a very neat mounding shape. These dwarf goatsbeard get small cream coloured plumes over top of the lacy foliage, which makes for an appealing package for the front of the garden bed.

Aruncus Aethusifolius (dwarf goatsbeard) leaves closeup
Aruncus Aethusifolius (dwarf goatsbeard) leaves closeup

These plants are new this year, but I used to grow this plant a few years ago. Through unfortunate timing, I moved the plants in summer, and then went away on vacation for a month. That’s a good recipe for unhappy plants, and the old plants never recovered. The little blue flower is from a Brunnera.

Aruncus Aethusifolius (dwarf goatsbeard) and Brunnera
Aruncus Aethusifolius (dwarf goatsbeard) and Brunnera

Here is an Aruncus aethusifolius in front of a Brunnera macrophylla. The more delicate foliage of the dwarf goatsbeard looks great with the large, heart-shaped Brunnera leaves, and both do fine in the shade garden.

Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard) flower spikes
Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard) flower spikes

Aruncus dioicus, the tall goatsbeard, makes a great plant for the back of the shady border, or a corner. Mine are about 2 metres (6 feet) tall and about 1.5 m (5 feet across). The tall flower plumes are the most striking feature of these plants. These light colours especially catch the eye in the shade of the garden. Although the flowers only last for 3 weeks or so, they make a good spectacle when they are blooming. For the rest of the season, the goatsbeard works as a green backdrop to other plants in the garden. The foliage is much coarser than the dwarf goatsbeard. The bottom leaves cover the ground well, and I don’t get any weeds trying to grow through them.

Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard) new red spring shoots
Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard) new red spring shoots

In spring, the new shoots of goatsbeard are particularly attractive as they emerge with bright red stems. It doesn’t take long for these to grow to their full height.

Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard) fluffy plumes
Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard) fluffy plumes

The plumes on this A. dioicus are fluffier than my other one. Since the goatsbeards have separate male and female plants (dioecious), these are the male flowers. These extra fluffy flowers are very similar to the astilbes which will soon be flowering. You can see more pictures of the male goatsbeard flowers in this article.

The above plant is the Aruncus dioicus that I accidentally turned into a bonsai. Neither tall, nor dwarf, it occupies a middle layer in the garden. This poor plant originally had a deep shade location, but it never grew more than 45 cm (1.5 feet), so I moved it to a medium shade area. Goatsbeard are not keen on being moved, and it sulked for the last 3 summers, not growing over 60 cm (2 feet). Although there are crosses that are midway in height, this one is a result of nurture, not nature. I think the combination of neglected childhood plus move has stunted this plant. This year at last, it has flowers for the first time. I wouldn’t advise moving a dioicus goatsbeard, since they don’t appreciate it, and if the roots are already established, you won’t either.

Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard) off white plume
Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard) off white plume

Here is a flowers spike of a tall goatsbeard at my garden gate, with a white flowering mockorange shrub further down the walkway behind. This garden area gets a couple hours of direct sun. Which seems to be enough for the Aruncus.This photo makes me laugh, since behind the mockorange, the garden seems to disappear into a black hole. It is not really that dark back there, just a little shady.  :)

Both of these goatsbeards make great garden plants, and do well in medium shade. I appreciate the tall Aruncus dioicus for its dramatic flower sparklers, which tower at head height. I particularly like the dwarf Aruncus aethusifolius for its neat shape, beautiful leaves, and miniature flower wands.

More photos and information about goatsbeard perennials can be found in this post.

51 thoughts on “Goatsbeard for the Shade Garden”

  1. I have Aruncus dioicus ‘Knieffii’ which is a dwarf. Mine’s in its second year and is about 14 inches tall and 16 inches wide. I will have to look for the dwarf you mention – I love the foliage.

    1. Kim, Aruncus aethusifolius, the dwarf goatsbeard, has very appealing leaves, and a nice, rounded mound shape. It makes a nice contrast to more solid, large leafed plants.

    1. MNGarden. I like both of these perennials, although they have different uses in the garden. I’m looking forward to having the little dwarf goatsbeard bloom in my garden again. I gave it a very shady spot with root competition, so we’ll see how it does.

  2. Hello NS ! I have both of these plants and they are gorgeous, tall or dwarf habit .. I have 2 of each in different locations and the tall ones do make a dramatic impact .. one with Purple Leaf Sand Cherry and one with miscanthus Purple Flame .. they seem to compliment each other nicely . I can’t imagine having a garden without them now : )
    I really find that interesting how your did an almost Bonsi ? trick to one of them .. a new cultivar ? LOL .. can I have one too please ?

    1. Joy, it’s too bad that I don’t see the goatsbeard in bloom when they are for sale, as the one with the fluffier flowers is even more good looking, but I don’t think you can tell them apart until they bloom.

      My shortened one is like a krummholz, the little stunted trees you see at the snowline. Every time I see it, it gives a little glare, and sends a message, ” You should have planted me in a better site to begin with.”

      I’m making a new bed in front, and I’m thinking of adding some dwarf Korean goatsbeard to it.

  3. Hi there NS! I have both types of Aruncus as well! The dwarf is so cute, isn’t it? I just planted that last Spring and it’s beginning to fill out. I’m sorry I’ve forgotten where you are, but you seem to be a little north of me as my plants finished blooming awhile ago… Love my visits here. :-)

    1. Shady Gardener, I’m in Edmonton, Alberta, about 500 km (300 miles) north of the Montana border. My plants’ flowering times are probably behind yours, but this summer, they’re even behind my regular bloom dates. I keep track on a chart, and most are a week or 2 later than last year.

      The little dwarf goatsbeard is very appealing. I might add some to a new front bed I’m planting right now.

      Pomona, the little dwarf Aruncus aethusifolius is a good choice for a small garden, and easy to squeeze in. The tall goatsbeard does need some room to stretch its stems. I have one of mine in a corner by my gate, to one side of my house. There is a difference in the appearance of the male and female flowers, with one of them being more showy, but I’ve never seen them offered separately.

  4. Thanks for an education in goatsbeard; I’m going to tweet this so other people can find it. I’ve seen goatsbeard in catalogues but even the best catalogues aren’t great at showing and describing every aspect, never mind their cultural preferences (I do wish you’d told us which kind of opera they prefer, though ;) ).

    Thanks too for the companion-plant suggestions in both post and comments. I’m still learning to be more conscious of the foliage thing. Aruncus isn’t something I’d seriously considered before for my small garden, but it’s certainly going to get some consideration now.

  5. Thanks from me, too, for the information. I sometimes see this in catalogs and it looked interesting, but along with lots of other things, I never know what scale they are, how dense they grow, and how easy/difficult they are. That’s what garden blogs are for.

    1. Swimray, I’ve found the Aruncus dioicus to be easy to grow, but you do have to give it some room. It gives some substance to the shade border, as there is a smaller number of tall shade plants to choose from. I just got some more of the dwarf, A. aethusifolius for a new front garden area that I’m planting.

  6. Has anyone tried these plants in full shade? I just ordered eight plants and they were advertised as loving full shade. Now, when I check on the internet, it seems they prefer partial shade. I would appreciate any advise you can give me regarding this issue. It is so discouraging to plant things that just wither and die.

  7. Hi # 14, I tried one in mostly full shade, with a small a small amount of dappled light at the back under a willow, and it only grew very short, but the stress could also have been compounded by the root competition for water and nutrients. However, I grow others in only an hour or two of light, and they do fine.

  8. I have a really old plant that has a root base that is as hard as concrete, It is the tall variety but needs to be split this Autumn. I think I will have to use a chainsaw to get through the hard carapace of the roots. Will it survive the trauma of such a move? I live in the north of England.

    1. AnnA, the one I dug out, which wasn’t that large yet, didn’t recover well from the move. It’s stunted, but I’m hoping it grows a little larger this year. I like it because it has the fluffier flowers, which not all of them do.

  9. I found this plant in a little pot marked shade loving about 7 years ago. Not having a clue to what I was planting except for the pretty pictures of the flowering plant on the label. I planted it near a sump pump spout again not realizing that the plant needed a lot of water. I watched my little Goatsbeard plant grow into the most beautiful humongus plant. It is very regal and one of my favorite plants in my garden.

    1. Judipatooti, your goatsbeard lucked out that you found a great site for it. When people see it at full size, they are surprised that it is a perennial, since it looks like a shrub. It makes a terrific tall plant in the shade.

  10. Hi all: we want to grow native species in our Kamloops, BC garden. We really like the tall goatsbeard, but where on earth do you find it? And if it’s so hard to transplant or move, how do you get it started in the first place? Do you have to mail order it from somewhere?

    1. Snick, I bought mine at a local greenhouse. They didn’t mind being transplanted from container to ground, but they develop a strong root system quickly, and it’s work to transplant them when they are established. If they don’t have any locally, perhaps you can find it online. I checked the site that I’ve ordered other plants from, but they don’t have the tall Aruncus.

  11. Hi, I have a beautiful big goats beard as well, its in full shade, but my problem now is i have to move it, i am getting some work done on my house and it along with all the flowers and bushes have to be moved, the goats beard is the only one i am worried about,i hear i can’t move it or it will die, is this true?

    1. Shelley, they have a stubborn root system, so they are hard to dig and move, plus they will sulk after being moved. However, I did move one that had been in the ground for a few years, and it survived, but it hasn’t grown tall either.

  12. What i did this spring before it started to get growing, i dug it up and put it in a big pot and kept it in the shade, this evening when i looked at it it has grown quite a bit, more than i thought it would, so even it stayed that i size it will be good enough. I also had to move my bridal wreath, that has also been in the ground for years, last fall i moved one and it still has no leaves on it, compared to the two i didn’t move, (which are all leafy), do you have any suggestions on how i would do by moving this bush? Also i had to move my burning bush which i did last spring and it done really good last summer but this summer so far it has no leaves on it, so i don’t know whats going on with that bush as well. Thanks for helping.

    1. Shelley, It sounds like we have similar growing conditions. Moving the goatsbeard early was a good idea.

      I’ve precut around a rootball of a shrub with a spade before, and then come back to dig it out later, too. Was your winter extra harsh this year, stressing out the plants that were moved? I usually try to take a good sized rootball, and then give it a good soaking. Keeping it well watered for a while helps too, and if it’s in the open, a temporary screen from the sun can help it adjust. Some mulch around it can help conserve moisture until it puts out new roots, as well.

      Good luck with moving the garden for the renovations.

  13. I would also like to add that i looked at your flowers and they are beautiful, i am in labrador and we are the same zone as you, same winter coldness and we are told around here not to start planting until mid june or after, according to your pics of the goatsbeard, i have the male fluffy one, and it must have been 3-4 feet high and quite wide.

  14. I have 6 of these in my garden at various points around my house and yard – love all of them but two of them in different locations do not ever truly bloom. They bud and get the long stem but don’t flower. Any thoughts?

    1. #28, the female and male flowers are on separate plants, and the female flowers are not as fluffy. The male flowers are more like astilbe. It’s possible that the ones that don’t appear to open are the female ones. Do they look more like the top photo? Those are the smaller female flowers.

  15. I want to plant the large Aruncus in a shaded corner–it gets direct morning sun early and just for a few hours. The rest of the day is shaded. The corner is bounded by my exterior basement door and a block foundation. I think I have enough room for it to grow. When is the best time to plant? You mentioned that the roots establish quickly, what is the growth rate? Do you ever prune your plant; if so when? Thanks for the help.

    1. Cathy, your Aruncus should do fine in that light. I have mine in a corner, too, and it grows about 1.2 metres square (4 feet by 4 feet), but there is some room for expansion. Mine grew to about 2 metres (6 feet) tall in about 3 years. They are a perennial, and die back to the ground every fall, growing quickly again the next spring. You could remove a few branches if they were in the way, and it wouldn’t effect next year’s shape, but you probably want to make sure you have enough room to plant one, so it doesn’t block your door.

      Another tall perennial for the shade, that doesn’t get quite as large is Actaea, but it blooms in late fall.

  16. These plants will do well also under pine trees with some sun and are a native plant to the United States
    I encourage everyone to plant a native plant in their gardens…

  17. Do the goatsbeard plants stay green year round or lose their leaves in the winter. I just got 4 plants and have the perfect spot for them but it does not say whether they are evergreen or not.

    1. Connie, goatsbeard lose their leaves in the fall. These perennials make quick growth in the spring, and it doesn’t take long for them to reach their full height.

  18. deer are eating all the flower bud spikes. Will they try to flower again? Does the plant completely die away in winter?

    1. #37, I don’t think that your goatsbeard will send up new flower spikes this year. The plants die back to the ground in late fall, and then start growing back in spring. They usually grow fairly quickly in spring, to reach up to 2 m (6 ft) as they mature. Although they die back for winter, they will actually keep the decorative flower spikes, like dried flowers, which can add interest and height over the winter, assuming they don’t get munched by hungry deer.

  19. Hi
    Edmonton… We are in Sherwood Park. Can you tell me how long does it take for the goats beard to grow to it’s fullest?

  20. Thank you for a very informative article with excellent photos. I planted a tall Aruncus dioicus maybe seven or eight years ago in my front garden near the walkway to my front door. It started out full shade but due to loss on the tree belt, it is now full sun and loving it (I live in northern MA). I feel like mine blooms for a lot longer than three weeks? I do warn any future planters to allot PLENTY OF SPACE. Do not fall into the trap of squeezing this into a small garden. My plant is now immense – maybe 6 ft tall by 4 ft wide, and I will be attempting to transplant it this spring to give to a friend with a lovely woodland yard. My husband is very strong, so I hope he can wrestle with the roots, as I hear they are quite stubborn. Wish me luck!

    1. CityDweller, you’re right about them needing some elbow room. Your friend should appreciate it for her woodland garden. The flowers on mine fade to a darker tan after 3 weeks, similar to Astilbe, but the older blooms are still decorative, and I leave them on the plants.

  21. I have a tall goatsbeard plant which has to be moved. Will it be okay to move it now before it flowers open? It’s about 3 ft tall.

  22. This plant attracts many beneficial insects! Beautiful on top of that. Burds need insects….natives are mixed in with exotics in my gardens. My favorite Asian or European plants are the ones that attract bees. Read Douglas Tallamy’s books/articles for inspiration. It will change your mind abt gardening.

  23. Hi All,
    Goats Beard are very beautiful and I was happy to plant a few at the back of my semi-shade perennial bed. I was excited and looking forward to them blooming away for years. However, this year I saw some planted and mature in the Alberta Legislature grounds. They were quite huge (and lovely); obviously too large for my beds. Is there any way of keeping the size down? Like splitting some off in the spring, or …?
    Any ideas or thoughts on this would be appreciated.
    My other option will be to transplant them (yes, them) into selected spots along the bush-line of our property, and try to find something else next spring. Should this be done in the fall or the spring.

    Thanks for any ideas!

  24. My aruncus had a baby! When I planted my aruncus diocus 15 years or so ago, it was shaded by a huge ornamental crabapple. We lost the tree a couple of years back, so now the remaining garden gets a lot more sun, but the aruncus has continued to thrive. It is about 5 ft tall and 5 ft wide, growing against a east-facing fence. This year, I noticed a plant growing in the bed about 6 ft away and I recognized the leaves, so I left it. July 31/16, and the new one is now 4 ft tall with 4 or 5 healthy looking stalks and I think I want to move it to the north-facing front yard. Any suggestions regarding timing would be appreciated.

  25. Am I the only one that have a hard time getting these to grow? I planted 4 last year, and they didn’t do anything. I planted six more this spring in various locations, and again they are about the same size as when I planted them. They don’t die but they don’t get bigger either. They have water and shade with some dappled light. Any ideas what I am doing wrong? I love the look of these plants in pictures but they won’t perform for me. I live in Maryland.

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