Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) - Growing a Tall, Late Season Bloomer

Joe Pye Weed Plants
Mark Turner / Getty Images

Eupatorium purpureum, or Joy-Pye Weed, is an herbaceous perennial native to much of the U.S. Is it a wildflower? An herb? A perennial? Yes. Eupatorium purpureum may go by the common name "Joe-Pye Weed", but it is a prized, late-blooming perennial plant. You may see the species Joe-Pye Weed growing along the roadside, which can be an enthusiastic spreader. Newer varieties are better behaved. There are taller versions, dwarfs, some with darker foliage and some with white flower heads instead of the familiar mauve.

Named after a Native American herbalist, Joe-Pye Weed was used to lower fevers. Most gardeners now use it to attract birds and butterflies to the garden and for its tall, stately grace at the end of the season.

  • Leaves: The lance-shaped leaves grow in whorls around the stem. The otherwise green stem is purple where the leaves attach. Leaves reach about 6 inches in length and are usually serrated along the edges. In some areas, crushed leaves give off a slight vanilla scent.
  • Flowers: The compound flowers are composed of 5 - 8 florets and bracts in dusty rose to mauve, giving the appearance of large clusters. The corolla of each floret is tubular, making them popular with hummingbirds.

Botanical Name

Eupatorium purpureum

Common Names

Joe=Pye Weed, Sweet Joe-Pye Weed

Hardiness Zones

Joe-Pye Weed is extremely adaptable, growing well in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 - 10

Sun Exposure

Joe-Pye Weed grows best in partial shade.  If grown in moist conditions, it can handle full sun, but it does not do well in hot, dry conditions.

Mature Size

The height will vary with variety. Dwarf Joe-Pye varieties grow about 2 - 3 ft. (h) x 1 - 2 ft. (w). Standard varieties reach about 3 - 7 ft. (h) x 2 - 4 ft. (w).

Bloom Time

Joe-Pye Weed is a late season bloomer, coming into its own in late summer to early fall.

The Best Joe-Pye Weed Varieties to Grow

  • Eupatorium purpureum "Gateway" - Shorter variety (4-5') with deep maroon stems.
  • Eupatorium purpureum "Little Joe" - A dwarf version (3-4') that looks very similar to the species.
  • Eupatorium rugosum "Chocolate" - A close relative with dark leaves, maroon stems, and white flowers.

Garden Design with Joe-Pye Weed

Joe-Pye Weed is usually reserved for the back of a border, partly because it can get so tall, but also because it blooms late in the season. It can hide out behind earlier bloomers until ready for its moment to shine.

With its large flowers, Joe-Pye can become top heavy and flop over. Planting it behind a sturdier plant for the support it is a good idea.

Joe-Pye Weeds height adds an architectural element to a billowy cottage style planting. Contrast it with golden Rudbeckia and goldenrod, for an instant autumn scene.

Since Joe-Pye Weed does best in slightly damp soil, it is wonderful planted alongside ponds and streams, but keep an eye on it, because if the conditions are ideal, it can get out of hand.

Tips for Growing Joe-Pye Weed

Soil: Eupatorium purpureum tolerates most soil pH. It is more particular about having adequate moisture.

Planting: Many varieties can be sown from seed. In fact, you will probably get more than enough volunteers from self-seeding. If you choose to start your own seed, it helps to stratify the seeds before planting indoors. You could also direct sow in the garden, in fall.

Container grown cultivated varieties can be found in most garden centers and catalogs. Plant at the same depth as it is in the container. Water well at planting time and keep watered until you see new growth and know the plant is established.

Caring for Your Joe-Pye Weed Plants

If planted in a somewhat rich soil, like a woodland edge, Joe-Pye Weed should not need much in the way of fertilizer.

Keep your plants well watered, particularly when first planted and during dry spells. Don’t let the soil remain dry for longer than a few days, especially during hot temperatures.

Joe Pye Weed blooms on the new season's growth, so cut the plants back hard, to about 4 - 8 inches, in the spring.

You can keep your Joe-Pye plants shorter by cutting the stems back by half, in June. Cut back to just above a whorl of leaves. The plant will send out more stems and you should get more flowers on a shorter plant.

Pests and Problems of Joe-Pye Weed

Joe-Pye Weed is not usually bothered by pests or diseases. The biggest problem growing Joe-Pye Weed is keeping it from getting dry. The leaf edges will scorch if the soil is allowed to remain dry for too long. Too much strong sun will tend to yellow the whole leaf.

If grown in a damp area, snails and slugs can be a problem. In rainy seasons, fungus diseases like rust and leaf spot may affect the foliage.