If you have a rain garden or want to care for pollinators, such as bees, butterflies or other insects, plant Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum). It provides height at the back of prairie-style borders, looks wonderful in cottage gardens and can handle wet soils, making it one of the great plants for northern gardens.
Joe-Pye weed is a late-blooming Minnesota native wildflower. Its large purplish flower heads emerge in late August or September and add color to fall gardens. (There is a beautiful stand of Joe-Pye weed at the garden tended by MSHS volunteers on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. It’s a perfect plant for garden, because it’s in its glory just as the fair gets going.)
Like other wildflowers, Joe-Pye weed is tough — and in some situations it can become, well, weedy. It likes wet soils (that’s why it does well in rain gardens) but it has a large root system, so it can tolerate drought. Its deer resistant, too, making it a good choice for areas where deer are a problem. It’s also fragrant.
While not as popular with hybridizers as coneflowers, there are some cultivars of Joe-Pye weed available for specific garden situations. For instance, ‘Baby Joe’ (Eupatorium dubium ‘Baby Joe’) and ‘Little Joe’ (Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’) are more diminutive plants, growing 2 to 4 feet tall, a good choice for the middle of a border or even a container. If you like really, really big flowers, you might want to plant ‘Gateway’ (Eupatorium maculatum ‘Gateway’). This cultivar is a bit shorter than the species plant, but it has enormous flowerheads. They are bigger than your noggin — no kidding!
Joe-Pye weed is hardy to USDA Zone 3 and generally disease and pest free. It’s a great choice for cottage, butterfly and prairie gardens.