Growing Joe Pye Weed and Snakeroot in the Home Garden

If you are a native-plant lover or just need more color in the fall garden, then some of the exciting Eupatorium varieties may be just what you need. Joe Pye Weed and Snakeroot, also called Boneset, are native American plants. Eupatorium plants are late-summer- and fall-blooming plants that can brighten dull beds and provide food for butterflies and bees. They are tough native plants adaptable to many types of soil and growing conditions.

About Eupatorium Plants

Eupatorium has two species commonly used in ornamental gardens. The leaves of Joe Pye Weed are arranged in whorls around the stem. The leaves are dark green, long and toothed. The stems sometimes have a purplish-red tint. Joe Pye Weed has clusters of feathery purple-red flowers on long stems at the top of the plant beginning in late summer. The flowers resemble Ageratum flowers, which are related to Joe Pye Weed. Joe Pye Weed plants range from two to six feet in height, depending on variety.

The leaves of Snakeroot or Boneset are dark green or purple-brown, depending on the variety. They are similar to Joe Pye Weed leaves, but they are arranged opposite each other on the stem. The two opposite leaves appear to be joined at the base, with the stem running through them. Snakeroot has white flowers and the clusters are a little less dense and more airy in appearance than Joe Pye Weed. The flowers have a light, pleasant scent. Snakeroot plants average about three to four feet in height. The names Boneset and Snakeroot refer to medicinal qualities the plant is said to have. The whole plant is poisonous, however, and modern herbal guides rarely refer to it.

There are two other Eupatorium plants sometimes seen in gardens. Texas Ageratum has blue flower clusters and light-green leaves. Agrimony or Hemp Agrimony has mauve flower clusters and is a native of Siberia.

Growing Joe Pye Weed and Snakeroot

If you are ready to grow Joe Pye Weed or Snakeroot, the best method is to begin with plants. You can sometimes find seed in native-seed catalogs, but they will be from unimproved varieties. If you buy or collect seed from wild plants, it would be best to sow it where you want it to grow in the fall. The seed requires 8 to 10 weeks of cold, moist conditions before it will germinate.

Both plants will grow in Zones 5 to 8 and in parts of Zone 4 with protection. They prefer moist soil and partly shady conditions. Both will take more sun in the North if kept well-watered. They will also adjust to drier conditions if they're kept well-watered while they're becoming established. For the best blooms, however, they should be watered generously.

You may need to stake taller varieties of Joe Pye Weed when they begin to flower. If the soil is at least moderately fertile, they do not require additional fertilization. The plants are herbaceous and die to the ground each winter.

You can divide the large clumps formed by Joe Pye Weed in early spring every two to three years. It is moderately invasive if conditions suit it. Snakeroot will reseed quite freely if conditions are suitable, so you will need to deadhead plants before the seeds mature if you don't want seedlings.

Choosing Varieties

Gateway is the tallest of the Joe Pye Weeds. Little Joe is shorter, three to four feet, and compact. Little Red is slightly shorter and the stems are deeper red.

Chocolate is a variety of Snakeroot with chocolate-toned leaves and white flowers with red stems. The chocolate color is deeper when the plants are grown in partial shade.

Using Joe Pye Weed and Snakeroot

Both Joe Pye Weed and Snakeroot are excellent for naturalized gardens in semi-shady areas, the edges of bogs and rain gardens and in butterfly gardens. The compact, stocky varieties of Joe Pye Weed are also excellent in the back of perennial borders for fall color.

Both Joe Pye Weed and Snakeroot make excellent cut flowers. The foliage of chocolate Snakeroot can be an excellent color contrast in shaded beds.

Cautions

All plant parts of Joe Pye Weed and Snakeroot are considered poisonous. Avoid any herbal remedies that call for using Joe Pye Weed, Snakeroot or Boneset.

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Now I am sure you are asking, "Why would I want to know about Joe Pye Weeds" Well, it is a wild flower that is also known as a 'Trumpet weed' or 'Queen of the Meadow'. It is North American native perennial herb from southern Canada to Florida and from there west to Texas.

For long-lasting color in the garden, there are few perennial plants easier to grow than coreopsis. Coreopsis loves sunny, hot conditions and will bloom its heart out through the middle of the hottest summers. The bright gold of native species of coreopsis has been altered by plant breeders into several muted and pastel shades that make coreopsis fit into any garden color scheme.

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