Nancy Brachey

Don’t think Joe-Pye weed is bad

The botanical name is a mouthful. The common name isn’t appealing. But when this perennial blooms in late summer, names don’t matter.

For the record, it is Joe-Pye weed. The common name is applied to three species of the genus Eupatorium, all similar in appearance. This is a delightful native perennial that throws up clouds of smoky pink to purple blooms on tall stems.

It is not a widely sought perennial. The word “weed” in its name isn’t very appealing. But the plant does have merit.

Its chief claim for a spot in your sunny flower bed is the blooms that are different from just about any other thing you might plant there. The flowers form as dense, dome-shaped clusters atop stems that may be as short as 4 feet or tall as 7 feet, depending on the species and variety. The effect is almost like a medium-sized shrub.

Their soft, smoky look seems to suit this time of year. In spring, Joe-Pye weed would be outdone by the bright pinks, purples and yellows.

But now, with the look of the landscape becoming mellow, it seems to fit in just right.

Because these are tall plants, they require a spot in the back of flower beds or against a deep green screen. Autumn’s chrysanthemums, especially the golden yellow ones, make good companions. They will keep the bloom season going when Joe-Pye weed begins to wind down. I wouldn’t be afraid to mix in some deep purple mums as well. That could look quite dramatic. For bloom in tandem, Russian sage, which bears purple blooms and has a spikier shape, looks good.

As natives of the eastern United States, Joe-Pye weed grows well in gardens here. In the wild, it tends to be seen in slightly damp soil. That is not necessary in your garden, but a nice layer of organic mulch such as compost will help the plants settle down in a flower bed and get off to a good start.

Most gardeners will start with young plants, but seeds can be sown in fall, covered slightly. They may not germinate for a while, so be patient. They grow untended in the wild. Once established, their performance is lovely. It is enough to forget the word “weed” in the name.

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