Controlling Joe-Pye Weeds: How To Remove Joe-Pye Weed

Controlling Joe-Pye Weeds: How To Remove Joe-Pye Weed

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By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener

Commonly found in open meadows and marshes in eastern North America, the Joe-pye weed plant attracts butterflies with its large flower heads. While many people enjoy growing this attractive looking weed plant, some gardeners would prefer to remove Joe-pye weed. In these cases, it helps to know more about controlling Joe-pye weeds in the landscape.

Joe-Pye Weed Description

There are three species of Joe-pye weed as listed by the United States Department of Agriculture including, eastern Joe-pye weed, spotted Joe-pye weed, and sweet-scented Joe-pye weed.

At maturity, these plants can reach 3 to 12 feet (1 to 3.5 m.) tall and bear purple to pink flowers. Joe-pye weed is America’s tallest perennial herb and was named after a Native-American called Joe-pye who used the plant to cure fevers.

Plants have a tough underground rhizomatous root system. Joe-pye weeds flower from August until frost in a spectacular display that draws butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees from afar.

Controlling Joe-Pye Weeds

When combined with other tall bloomers, Joe-pye weed is striking. Joe-pye weed also makes a beautiful cut flower for an indoor display as well as an excellent screening plant or specimen when used in bunches. Grow Joe-pye weed in an area that receives full sun or part shade and has moist soil.

Despite its beauty, however, some people wish to remove Joe-pye weed from their landscape. Because flowers produce a plethora of seeds, this plant spreads easily, so getting rid of Joe-pye weed flowers often helps with control.

While it is not labeled as invasive, the best way to remove Joe-pye weed is to dig up the entire Joe-pye weed plant, including the underground rhizome system.

Whether you are getting rid of Joe-pye weed flowers altogether or just want to control re-seeding, be sure to do your cutting or digging before the flower goes to seed and has a chance to spread.

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How to Care for a Joe Pye Weed Plant

By: Laura Wallace Henderson

If you’re thinking that something called a weed couldn’t possibly look good in your landscape, you may be pleasantly surprised. Contrary to its name, Joe-Pye weed makes a beautiful addition to a flowerbed or large planter. This perennial plant produces masses of colorful blossoms on stalks that reach over 6 feet in height. Joe-Pye weed blossoms from late July through the fall season. The lavender and pink blossoms can attract numerous varieties of butterflies to your yard.

Provide a location with lots of sunshine for your Joe-Pye weed plants. Like many types of garden perennials, these flowering plants can suffer from shade cast by overhanging tree branches. If your nearby trees have grown since you first planted your Joe-Pye weed, prune them back to allow a majority of daytime sunlight to reach your plants. These plants prefer areas of your yard that contain full sunlight to partial shade.

  • If you’re thinking that something called a weed couldn’t possibly look good in your landscape, you may be pleasantly surprised.
  • If your nearby trees have grown since you first planted your Joe-Pye weed, prune them back to allow a majority of daytime sunlight to reach your plants.

Water your Joe-Pye weed plants regularly. Apply about 1 inch water every three or four days to keep the soil slightly moist around this plant’s roots. Your flowering plant can tolerate damp soils but will not survive in dry conditions for an extended period of time.

Place a few garden stakes near your Joe-Pye weeds. The tall growth of these plants can make them droop and lean. Tie leaning stalks to sturdy stakes to keep them in place. Drive your 5 to 6 feet tall stakes at least 12 inches into the nearby soil to secure them. Use a soft twine, gently attaching the tall stems to your stakes. Staking is especially helpful in windy areas of your landscape.

  • Water your Joe-Pye weed plants regularly.
  • Apply about 1 inch water every three or four days to keep the soil slightly moist around this plant’s roots.

Prune your dormant plants all the way to the ground. These perennials tend to grow back from the living portions beneath the soil, instead of existing stems and branches. After the first few frosts that cause your plants to wither and wilt, use a sharp pair of pruning shears to cut the dead stalks out of your flowerbeds. Remove the dead vegetation from the area that contains your Joe-Pye weeds. You will notice healthy, new growth in the spring.

Apply a time-release fertilizer to the soil over the roots of your Joe-Pye weed plants. Use a fertilizer formulated for blossoming plants and apply this in the spring, once the soil warms up and this perennial plant begins showing signs of new growth. Follow with another application during the middle of summer when the blossoms begin to appear in earnest.

  • Prune your dormant plants all the way to the ground.
  • After the first few frosts that cause your plants to wither and wilt, use a sharp pair of pruning shears to cut the dead stalks out of your flowerbeds.

Add sphagnum moss to your soil when first planting Joe-Pye weed. This substance will help your soil retain moisture and create a loose, well-drained medium for emerging roots.

Best Joe Pye Weed Growing Tips

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links from which I earn a commission.

Native to the Midwest, Joe-Pye Weed is an easy plant to grow and can make a powerful statement in the wildflower garden. Joe-pye weed is rumored to be named after a Native American herbalist who used the plant as a medicinal herb to help cure fever-centered illnesses in early American history. This herbaceous perennial is often called “queen of the prairie” because of its 10-foot stature and regal crowning flowers that are a rose-purple shade and attract butterflies and bees by the hundreds. Plants have a lovely vanilla scent, and the flowers make extraordinary cut flowers. If you have a bird garden, do not deadhead the flowers as the seedheads attract all types of feathered friends. While Joe-pye weed has been considered medicinal, it is rarely used in modern times [for this purpose] because it is considered highly toxic to pets and humans when it’s not consumed as directed. Below is an excerpt from the Indiana Getting Started Gardening Guide teaching you more about this beautiful flowering plant.

  • Botanical name — Eupatorium purpureum (also – Purple boneset)
  • Bloom Period and Seasonal Color — Summer rose-purple flowers
  • Mature Height × Spread — 3 to 10 feet × 3 feet
  • Added Benefits – Low maintenance, attracts pollinators and beneficial insects, birds love the plant
  • Sun Requirements – Sun, Part-Sun – hardiness zones 3 to 8

When, Where, and How to Plant – Although Joe-pye weed prefers full sun, it will do well in part sun but might sprawl if its spot is too shady. Joe-pye weed prefers rich, humusy, moist soils. Improve soil where needed with rotted manure and compost. Plant either from seed or potted plants. If it’s planted early enough, Joe-pye weed should flower by the end of its first season of growth.

Growing Tips – Encourage shorter plants by pinching back early in the spring growing season. Consider planting in wet soils near rivers, streams, ponds, and as a plant for wetland mitigation.

Advice and Care – Maintenance includes cutting down the plant completely in early winter. Typically Joe-pye weed has very little insect or disease problems, although overcrowded, shady, and consistently wet conditions can lead to fungal problems. Give the plants lots of space in the planting beds in order to help prevent these issues. Treat fungal spot and powdery mildew with an organic fungicide.

Companion Planting and Design – Joe-pye weed naturalizes very well both in prairies and along the borders of woodlands. It makes an outstanding rain garden plant and looks good combined with grasses and water-loving iris. Because it is such an exceptionally tall prairie plant, it is best used at the very back of borders, as a natural fencelike border plant, and mixed in with other natives in prairies and meadows. Joe-pye weed is a must-have choice for a butterfly garden and works well planted in the center of an island of mixed butterfly shrubs and perennial plants. In a more drought-tolerant border, consider placing Joe-pye weed at the back with ornamental grasses, Russian sage, goldenrod, and butterfly weed, mulching the garden well to help hold moisture.

My book the Indiana Getting Started Garden Guide has some delightful ideas on how to grow joe pye weed and many more perennials, annuals, and shrubs, particularly if you live in the midwest.

Table 1. Mature sizing and flower interest for Eutrochium spp.

Figure 2. Joe-Pye weed sizes in the garden. (A) Eutrochium dubium ‘Little Joe’ compact habit reaching 2.5 to 3 feet in height. (B) Eutrochium maculatum habit reaches 7 to 9 feet in height at Clemson’s Sustainable Landscape Demonstration Garden
Photo by Sarah White, Associate Professor of Horticulture Nursery Extension Specialist

Joe-Pye weed are excellent middle (i.e. dwarf cultivars – see recommended cultivar list below) to back of the border plants, that tolerate the dry conditions of rain gardens, growing to an average height of 3 to 5 (occasionally 6) feet under dried soil conditions. Joe-Pye weed planted in a garden with soil that remains moist throughout the growing season really thrive, becoming the garden show-stoppers in late summer, reaching 7 to 10 (sometimes 12)’ in height and topped by large panicles of showy pink flowers for nearly 3 months (Figure 2).

The leaves of Joe-Pye weed (E. purpureum) have a faint vanilla scent when crushed. During spring and early summer, the foliage ranges from a mid-tone green to dark green and is rugged, yet lush in appearance. The flowers are the true feature of this plant and emerge in several layers of densely packed rounded panicles that range from 5 inches (dwarf cultivars) to 18 inches (species) in height and width. These flowers are invariably covered with pollinators and nectar sippers from July through September (Figure 3). The flowers of Joe-Pye weed attract nectar feeders including zebra swallowtail (Protographium marcellus), variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia), tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucas), black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes), skippers (family Hesperiidae), hummingbirds, honeybees (Apis mellifera), native bees, long-tongued bees, and wasps. Various parts of the plant attract caterpillars (e.g., three-lined flower moth (Schinia trifascia), Eupatorium borer moth (Papaipema eupatorii), and Clymene moth (Haploa clymene). 5,6 The mature seeds from the flower panicles are eaten by the swamp sparrow (Melospiza georgiana). 6 Joe-Pye weed is relatively rabbit and deer-resistant.

Best Ways to Plant

leoleobobeo / Pixabay

Joe Pye Weed is a large plant that grows up to 2-3 feet wide and 7-8 feet tall, so it requires plenty of growing room. This makes it perfect to use in a privacy hedge along your property or border for your deck area. Plant it in a spring or summertime garden, use it as a backdrop for smaller annuals, or place a few to take over where your early booms leave off for a gorgeous garden all year long.

This plant will also thrive when planted in a damp location. As such, it’s perfect if your yard contains a low spot or struggles with rainwater runoff from your gutters. Because moist soil is ideal, you won’t need to worry about constant watering.

Its sweet-smelling leaves and flowers will attract plenty of hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees as well, which makes this plant perfect in a pollinator-attracting garden. You can attract monarch butterflies in particular, along with tiger swallowtails and black swallowtails.

Finally, you can grow cultivated varieties in containers by simply transplanting a store-bought plant at the same depth, and watering well until you see new growth.


Joe Pye Weed 'Little Joe' Characteristics

Joe Pye Weed are tall woodland plants of the American midwest. Long green leaves spiral away from the base. A tall flower stem rises high above the foliage. The tiny pink or purple flowers grow in massive cloud-like clusters. The fragrant, vanilla scented flowers bloom in summer and fall. Joe Pye Weed are very attractive to butterflies and other beneficial pollinating insects. Spent flowers turn to clusters of attractive seed heads that persist well into winter. The seed heads can be cut and displayed in dry or fresh flower arrangements.

There are few serious disease or insect issues that threaten Joe Pye Weed. Leaf scorch may occur in dry soils. Powdery mildew and rust may appear.

Joe Pye Weed Companion Plants

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

*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.

12-18" w. x 12-18" tall. Coreopsis verticillata Moonbeam (Tickseed) has beautiful lemon-yellow flowers, with delicate lacy foliage. This compact plant blooms all summer long.



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