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growing joe pye weed from seed

Joe Pye Weed Seeds 6935 (Eupatorium maculatum). This is one of our showiest native plants. Joe Pye Weed is another Carolinian Canada species that’s a bee, butterfly and hummingbird favourite. Tall single stemmed plants average 120 cm (4′) height and are loaded with fluffy, vanilla scented, showy purplish-white blooms for several weeks in July and August. Flowers form in terminal domed clusters up to 30 cm (12″) wide. A good wetland meadow plant as it tolerates constantly moist soils – also found along stream banks and marsh edges. Best in full sun but it will tolerate part shade. Perennial hardy to Zone 3.

4,400 seed/gram. Start seed indoors in a soil-less medium any time in late winter. Barely cover seed, moisten the growing medium and then place the container in a fridge or freezer for 3-4 weeks before bringing it back into the warmth. Keep at 15 C (60 F) for the 20 to 30 day (sometimes longer) germination period. After germination, grow on under lights at the same temperature then harden off and transplant outside to a sunny site with moist soil. Better yet, sow directly outdoors in mid-October in the site where it is to grow. This will allow dormant seed to be naturally stratified during the winter. This plant is slow growing and requires two years to flower when grown from seed.

How to Grow

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.

Use other late summer/fall bloomers, especially larger growing ones to match Eupatorium in size. Recommended companion plants for Joe Pye Weed include:

Gardeners value growing Joe Pye Weed for their big, mounding flower heads that are typically white, shades of pink and occasionally violet-purple. The flowers are loaded with nectar and pollen that attract native bees, honeybees and butterflies. In the fall, many species set copious seeds that are both ornamental as well as useful for attracting and feeding small seed-eating songbirds. The plants are highly resistant to browsing deer and rabbits.

Planting Joe Pye Weed

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.

The genus Eupatorium*, commonly known as Bonesets or Joe Pye Weed, are a large group of wildflowers valued in the garden for their large size, robust growth, attractive foliage and large, showy displays of summer through fall flowers. Widely distributed across the northern hemisphere, they can be found in Europe, Asia and North America. However, the Bonesets most commonly in cultivation in the US are native species.

*Note on botanic nomenclature: Recently botanists have broken up the genus Eupatorium into three new genera. Many of our most familiar Joe Pye weeds are now in the genus Eutrochium. But for the sake of familiarity and to avoid confusion, I have used Eupatorium in this blog. Most commercial growers are continuing to use the old genus as well.

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’.

If you would love to grow the Spotted Joe Pye Weed, but don’t have a sunny enough spot for it, then you have the option of switching to the Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) which grows in partial to full shade. Both varieties are related to Boneset and they have very similar characteristics. Sweet Joe does not have the purple spotted stems, but it does have deep purple hue at the leaf and flower stem nodules. Also, this one might grow taller and its flower heads are more flat (instead of domed) and vanilla scented.

Joe Pye Weed can be divided in early spring or fall.

This is a impressive plant that could be used to add focal interest to many different gardens. Even though it carries “weed” in its name, it is far from being unwanted! It produces beautiful flowers attracting butterflies such as: Monarchs, Swallowtails, Varigated and Gulf Fritillaries, Skippers, Little Glasswings, Red Admirals, Red Spotted Purples, American Ladies and more. Joe Pye Weed (also known as Spotted Joe Pye Weed) is found naturally in thickets, woodlands, marshy areas and pond edges throughout Eastern North America, from Maine to Michigan, south to central Florida and Texas. This variety is hardy in USDA zone 3-9.

Which Eutrochium to Plant?

This plant is extravagant with its bundles of mauve/pink, showy, lightly fragrant blooms. In general, they are large (3-6″ across), domed of flat-topped clusters of little tubular disks of flowers. Smaller bunches of flowerheads may develop below on different stems. Typical blooming time is from July to September. The florets are replaced by achenes with tiny tufts of bristly hair that assists them to get scattered by the wind. Plants usually grow from 4-7′ tall or even taller if favorable growing conditions are present. They could be trimmed in spring if it’s desired for them to be to be shorter and bushier, but it might be at the expense of lesser, smaller blooms. Their stems are branched, purple-speckled with notched, lance-shaped, medium green leaves (8-10″ long) that are present in swirls of 3-6. The roots systems are fibrous and rhizomatous.

Eutrochium maculatum Native Plant Range
USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov)

It might be harder to start them from seeds, but it can be done outdoors in fall or in a greenhouse in early spring. The seeds require 30 days of cold stratification (keep in moist medium in the refrigerator). Do not cover them when planting, as they need light to germinate (may take 2-3 weeks for them to sprout) and keep them moist.

It should be planted in full sun to part shade, in somewhat moist, average to rich soil. If in areas of hot, dry summers, it should be planted in partial shade. Also, it is recommended to add a layer of mulch around the plant to help it maintain moisture. It enjoys regular, deep watering and it will withstand heat and drought fairly well when the soil is kept moist or some shade is provided. Joe Pye Weed dies down in late fall. It can be cut back or left over winter and cut in spring.When the center of mature specimens die out, they should be divided (during early spring or fall). The whole root ball should be dug up, then cut and discard the dead center and replant the divided clumps.