Butterflies & Bees in the Garden · Perennials

Joe Pye Weed: Every garden needs some!

Joe Pye weed has captured my heart. I love the whole family of Eupatorium (or at least all the members of the family I have met so far).

They add color and texture to the garden when it needs it most – in summer and fall – and grow in a wide variety of locations within the landscape. Their flowers hold magnetic powers over dozens of species of bees and butterflies, but deer ignore them. Joe Pye weed is just as pretty in the perennial border as it is a cottage garden or a meadow planting. Meet some of my friends.

Eupatorium maculatum is also commonly called spotted Joe Pye weed. It prefers to grow in moist soil – beside a stream, in a marshy field, at a pond’s edge, or in a damp spot in your garden. If it is planted in full sun, the stems will not need staking. Large, flat-topped clusters of rosy-purple flowers top plants that grow as tall as six feet.

The wine red stems are striking as they emerge from the soil in spring.

Massive, mauve-pink flowers crown the wine red stems of Eupatorium maculatum ‘Gateway’. Another Joe Pye weed for a large garden, it grows five to six feet tall and more than three feet wide.

Eupatorium purpureum, commonly called sweet Joe Pye weed, is very similar in size and flower color to Eupatorium maculatum but performs better in average to moderately moist soils and open woodland sites.

If these plants are all too tall for your garden, Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’ might be perfect. It grows just three to four feet tall and up to three feet wide. It has very sturdy stems and is very drought tolerant. Its rosy-purple flowers are a bit smaller, but every bit as colorful.

If Little Joe is still too tall, choose Eupatorium dubium ‘Baby Joe’. The baby of the Joe Pye family grows two to three feet tall and up to two feet wide. It is a compact cutie ideal for smaller gardens or the front of large perennial borders.

Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’ looks a little like the adopted member of the family. Its green leaves are washed with maroon; its stems are deep purple; and its flowers are white. White snakeroot, as it is commonly called, grows best in moist, well-drained soil in part shade and tolerates the dry shade in the garden under my weeping willow. It reaches about 3 feet tall and almost as wide.

One word of warning: if you get upset by plants that self-seed, be sure to deadhead plants before they have a chance to disperse their progeny about the garden. They can be prolific self-seeders in the right (or wrong) conditions.

The flowers of Joe Pye weed and switch grass mingle in the late summer garden.

I think eupatoriums are an awesome group of plants. They offer:

  • nectar and pollen for butterflies and bees;
  • varieties in a range of sizes so one is bound to perfect for every garden;
  • varieties suitable for conditions from average to wet soils and full sun to part shade;
  • color to the garden from mid-summer through fall;
  • ornamental qualities attractive in natural gardens and formal borders; and
  • winter interest.

Are wondering, like I was, who the heck is Joe Pye and why does he have a weed named after him? If the story is correct, Joe Pye was a Native American medicine man who used plants, including Eupatorium, to heal sickness.

Go get your favorite variety of Joe Pye weed and garden with me!

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