Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Who You Callin' a Weed?

Late summer lunch
Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) created a spectacular show in my late summer garden this year.  This native perennial rises from the ground in late Spring and grows to six feet or taller by midsummer.  Starting in late July,  sizable pink blooms open on tall stalks creating a colorful wall of color behind the pool.  Although I originally planted Joe-Pye Weed for its blooms,  the privacy it provides around the pool (in and out of bloom) has become its most important attribute.

The plant's common name comes from the American Indian, Joe Pye, who used Eupatorium purpureum as an herbal remedy for typhus.

Ironically,  I learned about this native American perennial from European landscape designers Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury in their fantastic design book,  Designing with Plants.  Luckily,  I found my initial plants at a local Hamptons nursery.

I have three cultivars planted around the garden.  'Gateway' is my favorite with rich, rose-pink blossoms.   One season I added to these a lighter, but equally tall, cultivar mistakenly labeled 'Gateway'.   It now mingles well among its darker cousins by the pool.  I also have a shorter variety called 'Little Joe' planted near the car park.

Occasionally, I will find a stray Joe-Pye plant that has self-seeded in another garden bed.  If the color works, I'll leave it but prune it by nearly half in early June to reduce its height.  It will mature shorter and bloom about a week later.  I also use this pruning technique on the original groupings.  By pinching back the outer stalks, you get lower blooms in front of the taller stalks.

Joe-Pye Weed is easy to grow.  It likes moisture, especially when newly planted.  It will bloom in partial shade, but full sun ensures the tallest plants, fullest blooms and most erect stalks.  Those behind the pool are still standing tall after Hurricane Irene, providing tasty seeds for the finches.

While this perennial dies down to the ground each winter, I don't cut the stalks down until the Spring cleanup.   I read that since their stalks are hollow, cutting them too soon will allow too much water from winter rains and snow to accumulate in the stems, causing rot.

I'm thankful the Europeans saw past this plant's "weedy" American heritage.  I'm not sure what other native or imported perennial could have provided me with such a colorful show and screen.

Joe-Pye Weed makes a wonderful backdrop for tall grasses


Anonymous said...

Love the caption! Missed your updates, photos, etc. Don't stop!

Anonymous said...

Ditto the previous comment. Its a wonderful blog and being local so relevant to our garden as well.

Can you give us your thoughts on crab grass and how to keep it under control. We seem to have an abundance this year and would like to not make the same mistakes next year.

Thank you!!