On gar­den­ing: Don’t be fooled; Joe Pye weed is a keeper

The Progress-Index - At Home - - NEWS - BY NOR­MAN WIN­TER

Are­porter once asked me, “If you could con­vince all gar­den cen­ters to sell one peren­nial, what would it be?” The an­swer at that time was sim­ple for me: the Joe Pye weed. I’ve since fallen for a few other na­tive weeds too, es­pe­cially when I see the way they bring in bees and but­ter­flies.

Since that ques­tion was asked a lit­tle over a decade ago, I have found more of them for sale. One gar­den cen­ter I vis­ited a year ago even had three va­ri­eties. This time of year when a lot of plants are start­ing to look a lit­tle rough, the Joe Pye weed is show­ing off. Not only does it draw the at­ten­tion of passers-by, but also it at­tracts but­ter­flies and bees to the joy of plant nerds like me.

I imag­ine out there is a reader who won­ders why I am pro­mot­ing a weed. Don’t let the name throw you. This rel­a­tive of the chrysan­the­mum is loved world­wide and has made it into gar­dens ev­ery­where. Here, un­for­tu­nately, many peo­ple just ad­mire it on the road­sides where it is na­tive.

Leg­end has it that Joe Pye was a Na­tive Amer­i­can who used the plant to cure fever. While Joe Pye weed’s medic­i­nal prop­er­ties are not known, its place­ment as a land­scape peren­nial is a sure thing.

The Joe Pye is now known botan­i­cally as Eutrochium, and we find at least four species all right­fully claim­ing the name. Eutrochium fis­tu­lo­sum, or hol­low stem Joe Pye weed, is of­ten seen at the edge of wood­land road­sides pro­duc­ing rose-pink flow­ers on stalks that may reach 6 to 8 feet tall. Th­ese and most Joe Pye weeds are rec­om­mended to­ward the back of the bor­der.

At the Coastal Ge­or­gia Botan­i­cal Gar­dens, where I am direc­tor, we are grow­ing Lit­tle Red, a va­ri­ety of Eutrochium pur­pureum. It has been bring­ing in swal­low­tails of all sorts, and the hairstreak but­ter­flies in­clud­ing the Great Pur­ple hairstreak. Lit­tle Red is a more com­pact se­lec­tion at 4 to 5 feet with large rose pur­ple heads of flow­ers.

An­other fa­vorite at gar­den cen­ters is Gate­way, a va­ri­ety of Eutrochium mac­u­la­tum that reaches only 4 feet tall. Bai­ley’s Nurs­ery in Minneapolis-St. Paul in­tro­duced this va­ri­ety and it has turned out to be a win­ner across the coun­try. I’ve grown it in the land­scape and in large mixed con­tain- ers on our deck and ab­so­lutely love it.

An­other choice land­scape plant is the Coastal Plain Joe Pye weed, Eutrochium du­bium, na­tive from South Carolina to Maine. Lit­tle Joe is a se­lec­tion of this species that has re­ceived rave re­views across the coun­try. It too is dwarf, reach­ing 3 to 4 feet tall.

Re­gard­less of the one you choose, re­mem­ber that the Joe Pye does best in fer­tile, loamy soil. To look their best they will need sup­ple­men­tal wa­ter dur­ing the sum­mer, es­pe­cially since now is their peak sea­son. Plant them at least 3 feet apart.

Once they get started, you may feel like you can gather the neigh­bors to come over and watch them grow. With this rapid growth, you may find it to your lik­ing to pinch a cou­ple of times to en­cour­age branch­ing.

Use the Joe Pye with or­na­men­tal grasses, swamp hi­bis­cus and a large drift or sweep of rud­beck­ias. Add Blue For­tune or Black Ad­der agas­tache and you’ll have a but­ter­fly haven. You build it and they will come.


Joe Pye weed looks at home in the cot­tage gar­den or the back­yard wildlife habi­tat.

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