I began to search for some Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium spp.) to incorporate into my own garden when I saw it growing in the garden of one of my plumber husband’s customers. The stately Joe-Pye weed was hard to miss; yet it turned out to be difficult to find. At local greenhouses, I received blank stares. (Fortunately a fellow vendor at my local farmers market brought me a pot full from his own garden.) Although a native of North America, Joe-Pye weed is more popular in England than in the United States and Canada. Hopefully more North American gardeners will begin to incorporate this statuesque plant into their landscapes.
The weed is a hardy perennial that can grow to be 4-7-feet-tall, depending upon the species. Most are hardy in Zones 3-8; although, this also varies depending upon the species. All species of Joe-Pye weed, however, prefer moist conditions, so apply a generous layer of organic mulch when you plant yours. However, you will also notice that it can adapt quite well to average soil conditions. Plant in full sun to partial shade. Use at the back of the borders, as a specimen plant, or even as a hedge. Good companions include purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and garden phlox (Phlox paniculata).
Joe-Pye weed has dark-green, coarse, serrated, foot-long leaves arranged in whorls on stout hollow stems that are a mottled purple or burgundy. It blooms late summer to fall, producing 10-12-inch clusters of flowers that really attract butterflies. (Yes, this is a good addition to the butterfly garden.) The blooms are pink, purple, or white.
Few problems occur with Joe-Pye weed. Occasionally aphids or caterpillars may decide to have dinner on the foliage, but these can be knocked off with a good spraying from the water hose. If the soil is too dry, powdery mildew may develop. If this happens, just cut the plants back to the ground.
At the end of the season, cut the plants back to the ground and mulch. Joe-Pye weed generally does not require frequent division; however, if you wish to increase your stock, divide in the spring or fall. Joe-Pye weed can be started from seed, but the cultivars do not grow true. Also, seeds can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to germinate.