Heidi’s August Plant Pick: Joe Pye Weed

If This is a Weed, I’ll Take it

I first noticed Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) several years ago when we visited our friends’ summer house.

A tall, graceful perennial was blooming in their front garden and I had to know what it was.  Who knows why anything so beautiful would have the word “weed” in its name, but weed or not, I had to have one.

And of course, after I discovered the plant, I started noticing it everywhere.

Joe Pye weed

So that fall, I bought a starter Joe Pye weed from my neighborhood nursery.  It was in a gallon pot and only about 18 inches tall.  Was this really the same plant?  I had my doubts.

The information at the nursery stated that Joe Pye weed likes sun and consistent water.  And in fact, this Missouri native is often found growing in moist areas.  So I planted it near a sprinkler head.

Being a herbaceous perennial, the plant died back in winter and I cut off the few spent flower stocks it had.  The next spring, it took a while for the plant to emerge.  It grew to about two feet tall.  Again, I had my doubts.

But it has grown bigger, better, and stronger every year, and now it looks like this.

Joe Pye Weed

It reaches about eight feet tall.  The roots spread slowly, and I have divided it several times.  It is in a circular planting bed and I have gladly removed other plants to make more room for this big beauty.

A Late Season Beauty

Mid-summer, when many perennials are starting to look a little worn, Joe Pye weed is just hitting its stride.  The large clusters of tiny mauve flowers start blooming from about mid-July well into fall.  The blossoms attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.

Joe Pye Weed

The stems are also a gorgeous deep mauve and the leaves are a deep, fresh shade of green.

Joe Pye Weed

The flowers slowly fade and dry into attractive seed heads that add fall and winter interest to the garden and provide a natural food source for birds.

When to Prune and Divide

Once the seed heads start to look black and mushy, usually by mid-winter, I cut the entire plant down to the ground.  As long as there is no frost present, it is also a good time to divide the roots if the plant has spread too far.

It’s amazing to me to think that next spring – not early, when the time is right – this plant will emerge again and shoot up to its eight-foot height in a matter of months.

Pruning the plant back early in the season will keep it shorter and encourage more blossoms, but I have never done that because I love its dramatic height.

Water, Sun, Frost, and Pest Considerations

This plant is so hardy that I believe it would do well even if it didn’t receive as much water.  It just might not grow as tall or be as full.

And if you are looking for a plant for a rain garden or other boggy area, this could be the star of your show.

Although it likes full sun, it would probably be okay in part shade – but again growing shorter and sparser than if it received full sun.

Frost is not much of a concern.  Joe Pye is very hardy in zones 4 to 9.  After I trim my Joe Pye down for the winter, I usually give it a thin cover of leaf mulch to protect it a bit from frost, but this might not even be necessary.

Joe Pye doesn’t have many pests.  It is deer and slug resistant.  Occasionally something does gnaw little holes in a few leaves on mine, but not to the point where it becomes an issue.

Other Considerations

Some species of Joe Pye have blue or white flowers instead of mauve, and some species, like the tiny Baby Joe, do not grow as tall as mine.  So if you are considering buying one, be sure to read the full plant description.

My only grumble about this plant is that it doesn’t last long as a cut flower.  Such a shame.


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