Most species of Eupatorium can grow to large size and are best used at the back of the perennial border, or in meadows and other wildland plantings where they form an impressive backdrop for other summer and fall blooming perennials and ornamental grasses. In general, these large growing plants prefer fertile soils and sun, although some species are fine in partial shade. Our native species are herbaceous (die back to the ground in winter) and should be pruned back hard in mid-spring to give the new stems room to push out from the crown. Flowers can be deadheaded to reduce re-seeding should it become an issue, although this is usually not required.
Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’ PP# 16,122 – This cultivar of coastal Joe Pye weed was selected for its light purple flowers, stiff upright growth habit and compact size. Topping out at between 3 to 4 ft. and forming a 2 – 3 ft. wide clump, the plant is suitable for both large and small yards. Top rated in the Chicago Botanic Garden Eurpatorium trials, it is recommended for its superior flower production, non-floppy habit and overall vigor.
Not a Weed: The Beauty and Pollinator Value of Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed or Bonesets)
Eupatorium plants enjoy fertile soil and moderate to moist soil conditions; thus are referred to as “mesic” (not xeric) plants. They should be planted with other mesic garden perennials. Joe Pye weed is also a good choice for planting in rain gardens.
Eupatorium maculatum ‘Red Dwarf’ – A European introduction of this native species, ‘Red Dwarf’ is a vigorous, yet compact grower. Topping out at about 36 inches in height and 24 to 36 in. in width, it’s still a medium-large plant, but decidedly smaller than the species which can reach 6 ft. in height. The late summer flowers are mauve-pink and are held by burgundy-red flower stems which make a nice combination with the flowers. ‘Red Dwarf’ is a more tightly growing, more rounded form than ‘Little Joe’.
In more arid Western climates, be sure to give them some afternoon shade, plant them in compost-enriched soil and give them regular irrigation during dry weather. Supplement their water needs by planting in a low spot that collects extra water or near a roof downspout. Mulch generously to maintain even soil moisture.
Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) is a late-blooming wildflower that’s native to eastern and central North America. It generally grows in upright clumps that reach several feet tall. Its thick stems have lance-shaped, serrated dark green leaves that can be up to a foot long. And in the midsummer tiny mauve flowers bloom in large clusters atop the stems. These flowers have a sweet vanilla scent and are especially attractive to butterflies and other pollinators. Joe Pye weed is best planted in the spring after the threat of frost has passed. The plant has a fast growth rate.
Division is the easiest way to propagate mature Joe Pye weed plants. To divide a plant, cut straight down into the soil with a sharp shovel in between stems. Then, carefully dig up a stem and its attached roots. Replant it wherever you wish at the same soil depth as it was, and water the soil well.
Joe Pye Weed Care
These plants grow naturally in sites that have somewhat moist soil, such as near streams. So keeping them well watered will generally be the most extensive part of their care. You’ll also have to remove dead growth from the previous year before the new year’s growth begins. And you might have to apply fertilizer if your soil isn’t rich. Plus, if your Joe Pye weed becomes quite tall, it might need staking to keep it upright, especially when it’s heavy with blooms.
If you are growing Joe Pye weed in its native fertile environment, you generally won’t have to feed it. But if you have poor soil, apply a slow-release granule fertilizer for flowering plants in the spring as soon as growth picks up on your plant. Fertilize again in the midsummer when blooms begin to appear. It also can be beneficial to mix compost into the soil around your plant in the spring.
Joe Pye weed grows best in full sun to partial shade. Too much shade can impede growth and cause the plant to flop over. Shady conditions also can make the plant susceptible to disease. However, Joe Pye weed typically will appreciate some protection from hot afternoon sun, especially in the summer months. Too much strong sun can cause yellowing of the leaves.
Most gardeners opt for one of the newer hybrids when it comes to using Joe Pye weed as a landscaping plant. If you’re more interested in growing native varieties, here are the main ones found in North America:
Here’s more about why you would want to grow Joe Pye weed, plus how to plant and care for this native wildflower.
Main Native Species
Mulching around your plants is one way to keep moisture in and will help to keep weeds down as well. You can use a typical shredded bark mulch or go with something lighter like pine needles or straw.
Most cultivars have pink or purple flowers, although a few have pure white blooms. Some have the added interest of red to purple stems, and ‘Chocolate’ has dark bronze leaves.
Joe Pye weed seeds will germinate better if you put them through a process called scarification. This mimics what they would experience out in nature and weakens the seed coat for better germination.