Wonderful weeds


Along the margins of the garden are a variety of “weeds” that flower as beautifully as any any plant in the garden, and through the years I have cultivated several so there is an indistinct transition from garden to the native wetland meadow. The back property line remains swampy through much of the year, and cattails and brambles persistently encroach on the native Joe Pye weed (popularly Eupatorium purpureum, though now classified as Eutrochium purpureum) and Blue Mist flowers (Conoclinium coelestinum, below).

Blue Mist thrives at the margin of this perpetually damp ground, and each year it has spread a bit, though it is inconspicuous until blooming. It is much shorter than the neighboring cattails, Joe Pye, and brambles, so it scrambles for an inch or a foot to poke its head into the sun, and through the late summer the marvelous blooms of Blue Mist are welcomed at the meadow’s edge.

More compact growing cultivars of Joe Pye have been planted in damp and dry spots in the garden, but the native towers over all but the cattails. The foliage and blooms of the chocolate leaved Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’, above) are distinctly different. The leaves are a dark purple-black, and much finer than the coarse, corrugated green foliage of the native. ‘Chocolate’ branches more densely and plants seldom grow to three feet or taller. The stems of the native Joe Pye, and even the more compact cultivars are almost woody, but on ‘Chocolate’ they are softer so that the plant dies to the ground in late autumn rather than leaving tall stems through the winter that must be cut to the ground.

‘Chocolate’ begins to flower in early September in my garden, a month later than the native Joe Pye (flower, above), and the white blooms are considerably smaller than the large dusky lavendar florets of the native. ‘Chocolate’ tends to seed itself about in my garden, though not uncontrollably, and the seedlings range in foliage color from mostly green with a slight purple tint, to mostly purple, though none has foliage as dark as the parent plant. The blooms are attractive, though to my taste they are not as showy as the native, and they are effective for a shorter time. In my garden ‘Chocolate’ and its seedlings grow mostly in partial shade so I hesitate to make too strong a declaration, but the flowers don’t seem to be favored by bees and butterflies, which of course the native is planted specifically to attract.

On slightly drier ground ironweed (Veronia novaborascensis, above) sends tall, wiry stems above the surrounding foliage, and beginning in August these are topped by clusters of deep purple blooms. The flower color stands out along side of the summer stressed foliage of its neighbors, and ironweed is remarkably vigorous and not bothered at all by drought and high temperatures. More compact cultivars are occasionally available in garden centers, but the native is quite a wonderful weed.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. tim says:

    You have some nice looking weeds there Dave. Mine look more like crabgrass, bermuda grass, and something that laughs at weed killers.

    1. Dave says:

      I have plenty of weeds that I’d like to be rid of, but they’re more determined to stay than I am to eliminate them. The weeds and I have made a compromise, they’re allowed in the lawn, but only a select few are allowed into the garden.

  2. Kathryn says:

    Hello Dave,

    Sorry that this post has nothing to do with weeds although I have much experience with them as everyone else! The post below is from a former post that I had sent to you and since this Lavender twist has died and has been replaced with another that is now having issues too! New twist was planted in Oct. 2010 and has been bald almost all summer yet the branches are green, but when I scratched the trunk it is brown. It had sparse leaves and then none at all and of course it was exceptionally hot this summer, so watered as needed… It is not dead or at least not yet and wondered if there was anything that I could do to help it? This is so sad I love this little tree and will not ask the nursery to replace yet again since it obviously does not do well here in SC although i haven’t a clue as to what i am doing that is wrong. I haven’t had anything like this ever happen with plants or trees especially twice… I would sure appreciate it if you could help me?

    Kathryn Says:
    June 26, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    I have planted a Lavender twist weeping red bud April 3rd 2009 in my front yard in partial sun in South Carolina. It had beautiful leaves the first year and flowered beautifully and now it is the end of July and it has seedpods still hanging from it that should be only in the winter or supposedly from what I have read October and through winter. It also has a few, very few crunchy curled up brown leaves, but mostly brown seed pods hanging from it that are 2 to 3″ long. I planted this tree outside my daughters bedroom window as an arbor tree marking her 18th Birthday, so It is sentimental… Can someone please tell me what to do? I called local nursery that I got from and she didn’t even understand the seed pods? If anyone has any help or Information can you please help me to save our tree!

    1. Dave says:

      Redbuds should work fine in South Carolina, in particular west of Rt. 95. Many trees have experienced defoliation problems with the heat this summer, and in my experience South Carolina is the hottest spot in the US east of Texas. With a newly planted tree it is often not adequate to “water as needed”. By the time that drought stress shows the damage might be irreversible. Once established, redbuds are drought tolerant, but regular watering is required through the summer for newly planted trees to survive.

      If your redbud has green in the branches this is a good sign that the tree might still survive. I wouldn’t be concerned that there’s no green in the trunk. The bark of redbud is extremely hard, and you are likely not to be able to scrape deep enough to find green tissue. if the branch tips are alive the tree is alive, though we can’t tell at this time if the damage is too severe. At this point in early autumn it is very likely that the tree will not send out new leaves. If the tree is alive I would expect that it will leaf out it the spring, but I would expect smaller than normal leaves and dead branch tips, so that you’ll have to cut the tree back. If this happens I wouldn’t be in a hurry to fertilize, but would baby the tree along until the leaves are nearly full size.

  3. Kathryn says:

    Okay Dave,
    so, I guess there is still hope and that is really good news! I guess through the winter I should also water more than is needed? We received 3.5 inches of rain last night which has helped and I believe there is more rain to come the next 2 days (yippee!)
    also, when you say that I will most likely have to cut the tree back come spring how will I know how far to cut it back? In the meantime I will water it regularly everyday that it doesn’t rain long enough and not use the Bayer tree and shrub systemic fertilizer this coming spring that I usually use throughout yard and just watch it closely… Thank you so much for this information and I really hope that this little tree makes it this time around! I will let you know how it is going :0)

    1. Dave says:

      With cooler autumn temperatures there should be no need to water any more than once a week if there’s no rain, and not at all through the winter unless there’s no rain at all. Without leaves there’s a lot less for the tree’s roots to support, so all you’re trying to do is keep the roots and stems alive.

      If the redbud leafs in the spring it will be easy to tell where to make the pruning cuts. I wouldn’t go by flowers, if there are any, but wait until leaves come out, and prune just above the last leaf on a stem.

  4. Kathryn says:

    Thank you so much Dave and I will let you know how it goes…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s