How to Plant, Grow and Care for Joe Pye Weed
Thinking of adding Joe Pye weed to your garden this season? This native plant is a popular perennial that compliments many other plants in the garden. In this article, Certified Master Gardener Laura Elsner takes you through all you need to know about Joe Pye weed, incliding its maintenance and care.
Disregard the dreaded ‘weed’ from Joe Pye weed. This beautiful late summer blooming perennial is far from a common garden weed. It is actually a quite well-behaved perennial. Well, it might grow large, but it doesn’t self-seed or pop up randomly in your garden.
It can easily be dug up if it starts to get too large. Joe Pye weed is a tall perennial (up to 8′) that blooms plumes of airy pink flowers in the late summer. They make wonderful background plants or can also serve as a focal point of your garden.
It’s also a native wildflower that bees and other pollinators love to frequent. It’s low maintenance and does not require too much care. Let’s take a deeper look at everything you need to know about adding Joe Pye weed to your garden this season.
Joe Pye Weed Overview
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial
Native area USA, Canada
Hardiness Zone 3-9
Exposure part-shade to full sun
Plant Spacing 2′
Planting Depth To the crown
Watering requirements Moist
Pests slugs, leafcutter bees
Diseases Powdery mildew
Soil Type Moist well-drained
Attracts butterflies, bees, other pollinators
Plant with hydrangea, hosta, grasses, daylily
Soil pHt Acidic, neutral, alkaline
Joe Pye weed has a fascinating history. Where did the name come from? It was thought that it was a mystery lost to garden lore. There are many differing opinions if Joe Pye was an actual person.
According to the legend (one of many legends I should say), Joe Pye weed was named after Joseph Shauquethqueat. He was a Native American who traveled around healing the sick with herbs in the late 18th century.
There is a lot of debate surrounding this story and lots of alternative stories. Whatever the case may be, species of Eutrochium has been known as Joe Pye weed since the early 19th century.
This plant is native to North America. It is found along marshy riverbanks and creek beds. It was used for its medicinal properties. Now it has become a favorite perennial flower among gardeners. IItstall height and dark stems with plumes of pink flowers make it a real stand-out plant in the garden. It is also a favorite plant for pollinators like bees and butterflies.
This native perennial plant is in the Asteraceae family. This is the daisy family, which is a very large plant family that includes asters, sunflowers, daisies, artichokes, and burdock, to name a few.
Within the Eutrochium genus, 5 species are commonly referred to as Joe Pye weed. Purpureum is the species that is most commonly thought of when referring to this plant.
You can add Joe Pye weed into your garden in several different ways. Some are easier than others, and how you propagate may depend on the ease of access you have to the plant.
I will start with the easiest way to obtain a plant. Go to your local garden center or nursery and purchase one. I find this is more of a specialty plant, and you might not find it in a store that had an attached garden center. You might have to go to a greenhouse or nursery that specializes only in the sale of plants.
You can easily divide this plant when it’s established. Since it can spread quite aggressively through the roots you will want to divide it to keep it in check. This is best done in early spring as the plant is just starting to emerge from the ground. Later on in the season, the plant will be too large and floppy, and digging it up will be hard.
I wouldn’t bother digging up the whole plant. I would take a spade and just dig out a chunk from the main plant. Lift the piece from the main plant. Fill in the hole with a mixture of existing soil and some organic matter.
Next, prepare a hole for the new plant. Make sure to check out the how to grow section to pick the perfect location for your new transplant. Dig it 2-3 times as wide and deep as the plant. This will help the plant set roots and establish itself faster. At this point, I will fill this hole with water and let it seep in.
Now fill the hole with a mixture of existing soil and some organic matter. Fill it just so you can get the new transplant in so the crown of the plant is level with the ground.
Then place the transplant in the hole, make sure the crown is at the soil line, fill in the hole, and press in the plant. Then water in very well. You will have to water more often until the plant establishes. This will take a season.
If possible, choose a cool, overcast day to do your planting. This will have less stress on the plant. If this is not possible, aim for the morning or evening to transplant. Avoid the heat of the day. If you dig up your plant, but can’t plant it right away, keep it watered well and in the shade.
Planting a new Joe Pye weed plant into your garden is fairly straightforward if you’re familiar with planting.
Start by digging a hole 2-3 times as wide and deep as the plant itself. Then water the hole and let it seep in. Throw in some transplant fertilizer at this time as well (optional).
Next, if you purchased your plant, remove it from its nursery pot. If the plant is root bound, meaning the root forms a thick mat in the shape of the pot, you will need to loosen it. When you are choosing plants from the nursery, try and purchase ones that don’t appear rootbound (if there’s an option).
Check the underside and see if the roots are coming out the bottom and forming a mat. Plants take a while to recover if they are root bound. It is very important to loosen the roots of a plant. The roots will keep growing around and around themselves if they are not loosened. This will cause the plant to struggle. Use your hands, a shovel, or a knife to slice into the roots. If it’s really thick on the bottom, slice it right off.
Now place your plant into the hole. Fill in a mixture of soil and organic material (e.g. compost) so that the crown of the plant (where the stems meet the soil) is level with the soil line. Fill in the hole with the rest of the soil mixed with organic material.
Firmly press the plant into place. Now water thoroughly. You can leave the hose on a slow drip at the base of the plant and go complete any other gardening tasks you have. This will give the plant a nice slow deep water.
Water is everything in the beginning. Keep giving your new plant extra water throughout its first season. Do not let it dry out.
How to Grow
Joe Pye weed will be a hassle-free perennial in your garden for years if you plant it in the correct conditions. Let’s examine the ideal growing conditions for this native perennial plant.
Joe Pye weed can actually take a variety of sunlight conditions as long as it receives enough water (which I’ll get into in the water requirements section). It grows best in full to part sun.
This is where it will get big and tall with huge bursts of pink flowers in the late summer. It will grow in shadier areas as well.
Part-shade areas are also suitable, especially in hotter climates. It might be a bit floppier in shady areas and require some sort of stake or cage to keep it upright. It also won’t bloom so profusely.
Joe Pye weed isn’t too fussed about the soil and will grow in a wide variety of soils. Loose, well-drained soil full of organic matter is ideal.
The main focus should be on water retention. This native plant does not like to dry out. If your soil has trouble retaining water, add some coconut coir, peat, and/or some organic matter to help hold on to some moisture. Also, consider mulching to help retain moisture.
Water is the most important aspect of keeping your Joe Pye weed growing. It grows in marshes and low-lying meadows in its native habitat. This means it likes a lot of water. Keep it evenly moist at all times, do not let it dry out.
On the flip side, it will not grow in standing water. There is a big difference between evenly moist soil and waterlogged soil.
Evenly moist soil will feel like a wrung-out sponge. Whereas waterlogged soil will be soggy and might have a sulfur, rotten egg smell. Signs of overwatering will include yellowing leaves.
This native perennial prefers to be evenly moist. If you planted in in full sun, it will need more water. Watering at the base of the plant with a drip hose will ensure a deep watering directly to the soil. Signs of underwatering include drooping plants with crispy leaves.
Climate and Temperature Requirements
The great thing about Joe Pye weed is that it is a native plant that evolved to grow in North American climate conditions. It grows in zones 3-9. It does require moisture and therefore is not a water-wise plant suitable for extremely dry climates.
While it does prefer full sun, if you live in an area with very hot summer temperatures, it will benefit from some afternoon shade.
I am not a huge advocate for fertilizing perennials. I prefer to focus on overall soil health. Applying a couple of inches of organic material to your garden in the fall (not every fall, maybe every 2-3 years) will keep your plants thriving.
I also will apply a soil conditioner. This could be compost tea, worm-casting tea, or one derived from seal kelp. I will water my garden with one of these in the spring to help boost all the beneficial microbes in the soil.
If you are going the fertilizer route, apply a granular slow-release fertilizer in the spring.
Joe Pye weed requires little maintenance in the growing season. If you are growing in a shadier location, you might need to prop it up. It might be spindly and floppy. A half-moon hoop or some stakes and string will hold it up.
Other than that, the only maintenance your Joe Pye weed will require is cutting in the fall. You can also do this in the spring, but I find older plants will fall and look scraggly. It’s not much for winter interest.
Cut the plant 4-6 inches from the ground. It will grow new fresh growth from the bottom. If you do this in the spring, do it very early, before the new growth starts to poke through.
‘Baby Joe’ is perfect for small spaces. If you love the delicate plumes of flowers and pointed foliage of this plant but don’t have the space, then ‘Baby Joe’ is the perfect variety. This dwarf variety only grows between 3-4′ high. It has a more compact appearance, and the flowers are tighter and more compact on the plant.
‘Gateway’ is another more compact variety. It has a denser, more bushy appearance. It can be anywhere from 4-6′ in height. This is the variety I would recommend if you can find it. It is denser and really fills in space in an ornamental perennial garden.
Joe Pye weed is a fabulous design choice in a perennial garden. It is a tall plant that adds height and structure to your garden. Building a garden in layers is key to a great garden design. Sometimes finding something tall can be challenging.
You are mostly limited to trees and shrubs. It will add an architectural element with its pointed leaves and tall stalks while simultaneously adding softness with its graceful stems and fluffy bursts of flowers.
Add Joe Pye weed into the back level of your garden. Then start layering other plants around the base of it. Keep in mind its bloom time is late summer. You can plant things that will bloom earlier, like peonies and irises. Or you can plant flowers that will bloom around the same time, like coneflower and rudbeckia.
Joe Pye weed is a lovely perennial, but it becomes spectacular when you plant it with other perennials. Since it grows very tall, consider layering shorter plants in front. Unless you are using a dwarf variety like ‘Baby Joe’ or ‘Little Joe’. These can be planted amongst shorter perennials or in front of taller perennials.
Peonies look great in front of Joe Pye weed. Since peonies steal the show in the spring, Joe Pye weed will act as green leafy background when peonies are in bloom.
Then when it’s Joe Pye’s turn to bloom, the peonies will be nice bushy mounds at the foot of the plant. I recommend planting three peonies in a semi-triangle at the base of a Joe Pye.
The big pink round flower heads on pointed leaves are a perfect contrast to the loose puffs of flowers on Joe Pye Weed. Echinacea will be in bloom at the same time, so it will be a beautiful late-summer show. I like to plant echinacea just in front or beside Joe Pye weed.
Karl Foerster Grass
The tall, elegant stalks of Karl Foerster grass are the perfect complement to Joe Pye weed. It really creates that country cottage style. The tall stalks of wheat-like grass stand straight and tall. Joe Pye weed is looser and bushier and stands tall as well.
Autumn Joy Sedum
This is a really pretty combination. They are both in bloom at the same time. The fleshy leaves and dense blushing rosettes of flowers in the sedum are the perfect complement to the loose flowers on the tall Joe Pye weed.
The sedum is a low-growing perennial, so plant them at the base of Joe Pye. You will have to do a bit of planning for this combination. Joe Pye weed likes lots of water, whereas Autumn Joy Sedum prefers drier conditions. I would concentrate my sprinklers in the Joe Pye or snake a drip hose through Joe Pye, so it gets more water.
This is a great combination. It’s frilly and romantic. The balls of beautiful hydrangea blossoms and loose Joe Pye flowers make for the perfect textural contrast. They also both have similar watering requirements, so they go together in harmony.
Pests and Diseases
As a native plant, it is less susceptible to pests and disease. Deer and rabbits tend to avoid it if that is a concern for you. Although, I will say that they will munch them when they are first up and out of the ground. There are only a few things that should affect this native plant.
Powdery mildew is a fungus that can affect any of your perennials and this native plant is no exception. This fungus appears on the foliage of your plants as a powdery white substance. It will inhibit the plant’s ability to photosynthesize, which will stunt the plant’s growth.
This North American native plant is susceptible to powdery mildew because it needs lots of water. Powdery mildew thrives in wet conditions.
The best way to deal with powdery mildew is prevention. Start by making sure you are growing your plant in ideal conditions. A weakened plant is more susceptible to disease. Make sure it is getting enough sun and has proper drainage.
If it is in its ideal condition, the next thing is to make sure you leave 2′ of space between all perennial plants. This will allow for adequate airflow.
Next, try not to use overhead watering systems. I like to use a drip hose snaked through the garden. This will provide water directly at the soil line as opposed to getting the foliage wet. If you do overhead water, do it in the morning. If you water at night, the leaves will sit wet through the night. This is a breeding ground for powdery mildew. If you water in the morning, the sun will quickly dry out the foliage.
If you are reading this and already have powdery mildew on your Joe Pye weed, prevention doesn’t really help. The best way to combat powdery mildew is with a fungicide spray. I will say, if you find that it’s only on the bottom foliage, just remove those bits. In the fall make sure to cut down and dispose of any perennials affected by mildew.
Don’t leave the leaf litter on the grown so the fungus can overwinter and reinforce your plant. If you are dealing with a constant cycle of powdery mildew, spray the new growth as it emerges in the spring with a fungicide.
I hesitate to call the leafcutter bee a pest. But if you are finding lots of holes in the leaves of your plant, this solitary need might be the culprit. Leafcutter bees are native bees that are very important pollinators.
They aren’t eating holes in the leaves. They actually use the bits of leaves for their nests. So, pesticides aren’t really effective. I think sometimes we have to accept that our gardens are part of an ecosystem.
Because Joe Pye weed likes growing in damp conditions, it can be vulnerable to slugs. This is especially true when it is first emerging from the ground in the spring. These are tender new shoots that slugs can devour.
If you find yourself with an early-season slug problem, you can do a few things to prevent them from completely decimating the plant before it has the chance to grow into a tall, majestic plant. Hand-picking is always an option.
While not glamorous, it does work. You will find them in the late evening or early morning hours. Sprinkling a perimeter of diatomaceous earth (available at garden centers) or crushed eggshells around your plants will deter slugs.
They will not cross the border because it will cut up their fleshy bodies. This will have to be reapplied after heavy rain. Finally, you can use slug bait. Be careful with this stuff if you have pets, as it is toxic if consumed in large quantities. But sprinkle it in your garden beds, and the slugs will disappear.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you cut the plant back in the fall?
Cut it back to a few inches above the ground after the first hard first when it does off. This may seem like a lot to cut. But this old growth is finished. The new plant will emerge from the ground in the spring.
Does it spread aggressively?
Yes, but only underground through the roots. This means the plant itself will grow larger. But it does not spread through seeds and it will not pop up everywhere in your garden. It can easily be kept in check by digging out unwanted portions in the early spring or fall.
Does it transplant easily?
Yes, this is best done in the early spring. Dig up chunks of it and move it to your desired location. It can also be done in the fall.
When should I cut it back?
It is best to cut back in the fall after a hard frost. Cut back to a few inches above the ground. It can also be cut in early spring. You will want to do this before the new growth gets too high.
Do they need to be deadheaded?
No, you don’t need to deadheadh. The flowers add interest and texture to the garden even after they’ve finished blooming. They won’t rebloom after being deadheaded so it’s also not beneficial to do so.
Joe Pye weed adds a structural element to the garden with its height and large plumes of late summer flowers. It is a native perennial that pollinators love. While it may seem a bit aggressive with its spreading habit, it is not considered invasive. It can be easily kept in check through division. This is a spectacular native perennial plant that will add beauty and interest to your landscape.