A Gardening Journal

Giant Joe Pye

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Summer's the stepladder season—the only way to get eye-level with the super-sized perennials.  This monarch butterfly is feasting eight feet in the air, on nectar of Giant Joe Pye Weed.

 

Eupatorium fistulosum—literally "hollow" eupatorium—has stems that are, indeed, open as little pipes.  Which is one reason the plant stands so tall without flopping:  At any diameter, a pipe is much more rigid than a solid rod.    

 

The stems are soft purple with a characteristic white "bloom" to the surface, so they're visual as well as structural.  Even before the dusty-pink blossoms emerge in August, then, this is a plant that begs to be included in your garden's Pink Party.  You've got plenty of choices among roses, rose-of-sharon, pink clethra, coneflowers, azaleas and rhodies, clematis, morning glories, filipendula, sanguisorba, obedient plant, tulips, buddleias, and dahlias.   A season-long Pinkapalooza.  

 

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Giant Joe Pye is particularly sociable in that it depends on you to partner it with shorter ornamentals that will hide its bare shins.  Here's the view from the side of my southmost Pink Border.  See what I mean? 

 

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In a few years, a young yew hedge just out of view at the front of the frame will provide the necessary screening on this side.  To the front—the right in this view—the eupatorium is fronted by roses, purple-leaved ninebark, and silver buddleia; when they fill in only Joe's top four feet will be visible.

 

 

Here's how to grow this majestic native:

 

Latin Name

Eupatorium fistulosum

Common Name

Giant Joe Pye Weed

Family

Asteraceae, the Aster family.

What kind of plant is it?

Hardy perennial.

Hardiness

Zones 3 - 9, although the plant is so widely distributed—Newfoundland to Florida—that plants from one end of the range may well not thrive at the other end.

Habit

Clumping and strongly upright.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

A clump to ten feet high and six feet wide.

Texture

Bold and architectural.

Grown for

its self-supporting size:  Few perennials this tall don't need any staking.  

 

its massive and quickly-developing presence:  Although it dies to the ground each Winter, by July Giant Joe Pye is as big as a lilac.  

 

its large billowing heads of dusty-pink flowers, which are aswarm with grateful pollinators: butterflies, bees, wasps, beetles, and more.

 

its tolerance of habitat, from drier hillsides to swampy ditches.

Flowering season

High Summer: August here in Rhode Island.

Culture

Full sun and any decent soil.  Great in good soil with average water.  Awesome with great soil and tons of water. 

How to handle it

Giant Joe Pye needs little from you besides the wisdom to welcome it to your garden—and the prudence to plant it where it has the room it needs, both in height and width.  You can pinch the stem tips in May for shorter bloom, but if you don't want all that height just plant one of the shorter Joe Pyes to begin with.  

 

Giant Joe Pye is as comfortable in naturalistic settings—in meadows, by ponds or ditches, along fence lines—as it is in gardens of the highest intensity and purpose, where it's an easy and colorful backdrop for even the largest beds.

 

To my eye, the dusty pink of the flowers doesn't mix with the school-bus yellow of all the large Summer daisy species—Silphium, Helianthus, Inula, Rudbeckia—let alone the ever-prevalent goldenrods.  All the more reason, then, to have one part of your garden be pink-friendly.  Joe Pyes come in white, too, so you can include those in your yellow- and red-friendly beds.

 

Unless you plant Giant Joe Pye waterside or in a ditch, have "smaller" plants—three to five feet tall—in front of it to hide the lower third of its stems, whose leaves tend to brown and drop.  Plants are shorter in leaner soil, but still bloom well.  My colony is in rich soil that gets no irrigation at all, but is still happily ten feet tall.

 

Clumps can be divided or transplanted in Spring. 

Downsides

There's a bit of self-seeding, but only a bit.  Young plants come true from seed, so you can pot them up for plant sales.

Variants

It's hard to imagine a garden that can't welcome at least one of the Joe Pyes, which range from two or three feet tall to ten, with flowers of pure white to dusty white to dusty pink.  E. rugosum 'Chocolate' has dark purple foliage and bright white flowers.  E. fortunei 'Elegance' has white-variegated leaves with smaller heads of pink flowers.  'Joe White' rivals E. fistulosum in height, but with white flowers.  'Bartered Bride' has very large heads of dusty-white flowers.  E. altissimum is "only" three to six feet tall, and with very narrow leaves and profuse white flowers looking more like baby's breath.  And there are others!

 

The Eupatorium family is gradually being renamed, so look out for Joe Pyes that are now Ageratina, Coniclinium, or Eupatoriadelphus

Availability

On-line and at destination retailers

Propagation

By division in Spring, or by seed.

Native habitat

Eupatorium fistulosum is native to the entire Eastern Seaboard of the United States and Canada, from Florida to Newfoundland.

 
 
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