Eutrochium maculatum, aka 'Joe Pye Weed'
Let's set the record straight: Joe Pye Weed is NOT a weed! It's an amazing native perennial with an unfortunate name. It supports an abundance of wildlife and should be a part of every home garden. (Joe Pye Weed was formerly classified as Eupatorium, in case you're confused.)
I fell in love with Joe Pye Weed in 2012 after bringing home a huge 6' tall clump of the variety 'Gateway' in my car from Philadelphia. It had been growing in a large roof deck container owned by my sister-in-law Chris Carrington of City Garden Guru fame and it really wanted to be planted in the ground. After the six hour trip home, I muscled it out of the car, and decided on a back of the border location where it could help camouflage our home's cement foundation and some mechanical pipes that protrude out of the back of the house. But first I had to remove a huge miscanthus grass that had become too large and was the poster child of the proverbial 'wrong plant, wrong place' variety.
At that time I was simply doing Chris a favor by taking this massive plant off her hands. I had no idea just how magnificent and how important my new addition would become in The Big Little Garden. Now in 2018, it's one of my most anticipated plants in the garden. I say anticipated because it takes its good old time making an appearance in the spring. If you plant JPW, do not be alarmed if you don't see any signs of life in the bare dirt the next spring. It can be mid-May before little nubs poke up through the soil, but with sun and warm soil, it will make its presence known quickly.
I have since added more 'Gateway' to my garage bed and to the gardens of clients as well as 'Baby Joe' for smaller spaces.
Plant type: perennial, native to the US
Growing Conditions: full to part sun; medium to wet soil, tolerates clay
Size: from 3-7' depending upon the variety
Spread: 4-5', non-invasive, spreads slowly, can be divided and moved
Bloom: late-July to September in Zone 5b
Maintenance: no maintenance, dried seed heads can remain into winter; recommend early staking with "grow-through" plant props to keep individual stalks evenly spaced and upright in heavy rain
Biodiversity: habitat and nectar for Swallowtails, Monarchs, Skippers and moths
Pairings: Filipendula, Thalictrum, Agastache, Shasta Daisy
Location: plant in back of border and with earlier blooming tall plants like Filipendula 'Queen of the Prairie' and Thalilctrum 'Meadow Rue'
Pests: since this is a host plant for butterflies and moths, expect some leaf damage from caterpillars in late May. By June, the damage will be hidden by new foliage and by August those caterpillars will now be gorgeous butterflies sipping the Joe Pye Weed nectar during the day and equally beautiful moths at night!
Sourcing: available through The Big Little Garden
august 3: aerial view close-up
The same 'Gateway' plant seen a bit closer up. The whorled leaves and compound inflorescences make a stunning architectural statement in this perennial garden. The purple spikes of Agastache “Black Adder” can be seen at the top right of this photo.
august 3: aerial view of joe pye weed
Looking down onto the sunny, south facing garden, Joe Pye Weed's back of the border location is evident. Flanked on the left by Filipendula which bloomed in July and on the right by Thalictrum which bloomed in June, it's now time for 'Gateway' to strut its stuff.
august 15: monarch butterfly feasts on Joe Pye weed nectar
The photo above reveals Joe Pye Weed's complex inflorescence and the abundance of food supplies for pollinators
If you look closely, you'll also see a bumblebee feeding a few inches below the Monarch
This garden bed receives late morning to afternoon sun, so the foliage is less prone to burning out as compared to the same plant on my East garage bed which is blasted with sun until 1:00 p.m.
june 5: leaf damage from moth and butterfly caterpillars
june 5: joe pye weed is host to many native caterpillars
Every May and June, my Joe Pye Weed leaves are turned to swiss cheese, but that's OK. I know that it is an important food source and host plant for Swallowtails, Spotted Skippers, Painted Ladies, Eastern Tailed Blues and many different moths that will grace its blooms in a few weeks time.
I have not yet identified the caterpillar above and do not know if it eventually became a butterfly or a moth. I long ago realized the importance of biodiversity in the home garden. Whatever it is, it will certainly become beautiful and will probably become bird food. So, just leave it be!
august 15: joe pye weed in back of garden
The stone path leads to the Joe Pye Weed towering at the back of the Kitchen Garden bed. Blooms of other tall pink plants (Thalictrum and Filipendula) are spent, so the Joe Pye Weed is perfectly timed to take center stage. Pink blooms are complemented by purple Agastache 'Black Adder'.
Click through the photos above for a closer look at Joe Pye Weed growing in two different sun/shade locations in The Big Little Garden. Observe how the leaf damage seen in June has completely disappeared beneath whorls of beautiful, damage-free foliage.
This fantastic perennial can be difficult to find at your local nurseries. I source the best specimens at select New Hampshire wholesale growers. If you are interested in learning more about Joe Pye Weed, or want to include it or other hard-to-find perennials in your garden, just click the button below!