Is it a wildflower? An herb? A perennial? Yes. Eupatorium purpureum may go by the common name 'Joe-Pye Weed', but it's 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 tall 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 and for its tall, stately grace at the end of the season.
Sweet Joe-Pye Weed
USDA Hardiness Zones 5 - 10
Partial Shade to Full Sun. Needs a moist soil, when grown in full, hot sun.
Varies with variety. Dwarf varieties grow about 2-3' (h) x 1-2' (w). Standard varieties reach about 3-7' (h) x 2-4' (w).
Period of Bloom
Late Summer / Early Fall
Eupatorium purpureum is an herbaceous perennial native to much of the U.S.
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" 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.
- 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.
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. With it's large flowers, Joe-Pye can become top heavy and flop over. Planting it behind a sturdier plant for support it is a good idea.
It's height adds an architectural element to a billowy cottage style planting. Contrast it with golden Rudbeckia and Solidago, for an instant autumn scene.
Joe-Pye Weed does best in slightly damp soil. It’s wonderful planted along side ponds and streams, but can get out of hand.
Soil: Eupatorium purpurea tolerates most soil pH. It’s more particular about having adequate moisture.
Planting: Many varieties can be sown from seed. In fact, you’ll probably get more than enough volunteers.
If you choose to start your own seed, it helps to stratify the seeds before planting indoors. You could also direct seed in the garden, in fall.
Container grown cultivated varieties can be found in most garden centers and catalogs. Plant at the same depth as in the container. Water well at planting time and keep watered until established.
Joe-Pye Weed shouldn’t need much in the way of fertilizer, if planted in a somewhat rich soil, like a woodland edge.
Keep well watered. Don’t let the soil remain dry for longer than a few days, especially during hot temperatures.
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.
Each spring, cut the plants back hard, to about 4-8".
Pests & Problems:
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.