Euphorbia sun or shade

Euphorbia: How to Grow & Care for a Spurge Plant

Foliage plants extraordinaire, hardy euphorbias are titans of texture By Jenny Andrews

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Euphorbia spp.

Efanthia wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides hybrid). Photo by Proven Winners.

  • Common name: Spurge
  • Type: Perennial
  • Zones: Ranging 4-10; evergreen in southerly zones
  • Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • Soil: Well-draining
  • Warning: Sap is a strong irritant

Euphorbias are easy to grow perennial plants that are tough and have few problems. Popular for their richly colored leaves and unusual flowers, euphorbias are an excellent addition to borders, rock gardens, meadows and more. With over 2,000 types, you’re sure to find one that will thrive in your garden, no matter your zone.

Growing Euphorbia

Why Grow Euphorbia?

  • Deer resistant
  • Drought and heat tolerant
  • Long blooming
  • Low maintenance

Euphorbia Care:

Some are short-lived (even so, totally worth growing) and should be divided or propagated every two to three years, either in early fall or spring.

Many benefit from being cut back hard, at least by one-third, after flowering is finished. This keeps any free-seeders from gaining the upper hand and encourages a flush of new fresh foliage.

How to prune euphorbia:

  • Trim back any damaged stems in early spring to keep the plant tidy and heathy
  • Cut back euphorbia stems at the base immediately after bloom
  • Clip carefully, new shoots will likely be emerging that you want to keep in tact

Wear gloves when handling euphorbias, and quickly wash off any milky sap that gets on your skin, as it’s a strong irritant. The sap also makes spurges poisonous, so be aware if you have children and pets, though I’ve had euphorbias and garden cats coexist for years without incident — perhaps the plants’ skunky smell keeps them from seeming like a tasty treat.

Zones:

Perennial euphorbias vary in hardiness, particularly as concerns their northern edges, so check individual entries for the plants covered here. Some types are evergreen in southerly zones but are only root hardy farther north. Other types are best grown as annuals.

Exposure: Sun or Shade?

Euphorbias in general are sun lovers, though some will tolerate partial shade. Those with deep-purple or reddish foliage will have more-intense coloring if planted in full sun. A very few types actually prefer at least dappled shade, while others can thrive in bright sun in the North but need part shade in the blinding light of the South. Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae is a popular choice that grows well in shade.

Soil:

One of the main benefits of growing spurges is their drought tolerance, so good drainage is key, though a few, such as E. griffithii ‘Dixter’ and E. dulcis ‘Chameleon’, do prefer more moisture than others. Euphorbias are also not picky about soils, and most can handle sandy and average situations. For those types that tend to run and spread, fertile soils could encourage them to expand beyond their boundaries, so keeping things lean lends control. But if you want your E. amygdaloides var. robbiae to cover more ground faster, rich organic soil will kick things off.

Euphorbia Plant Varieties

Their lyrical Latin name (euphorbia) and guttural common name (spurge) are indicative of the dual nature of euphorbias — elegant yet tough. The ones discussed here are the hardy perennial types, but the genus also includes succulents like pencil cactus, tropicals like poinsettia and shrubs with wicked-sharp spines.

Swipe to view slides

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

‘BLACKBIRD’

Compact mounds of deep-purple leaves on reddish stems with bright-yellow heads of flowers — talk about a dramatic color combo! Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’ keeps to a neat 1 to 2 feet tall and wide, making it a fit for small borders and containers. The rich foliage color is darker (almost black) in full sun and stays strong all season; in warmer zones it can even be evergreen. Clusters of densely packed blooms appear in spring. Zones 6-9.

Photo by: Andrea Jones.

‘DIXTER’

We have noted British garden writer Christopher Lloyd to thank for this fiery spurge. There’s never a dull moment with Euphorbia griffithii ‘Dixter’ (named for Lloyd’s home Great Dixter). Coral shoots emerge in spring and segue into reddish-bronze stems and dark-green foliage flushed with coppery red. Burnt-orange heads of flowers sizzle all summer. This spurge likes a bit of shade and moist soil. Zones 5-9.

Photo by: Andrea Jones.

‘CHAMELEON’

Maroon-purple leaves form a mound 1 to 2 feet tall, making a snappy backdrop for the yellow-green flowers. Euphorbia dulcis ‘Chameleon’ can seed itself about the garden, so as a preventive it can be cut back hard after flowering, which also promotes a flush of new foliage. Older plants can get leggy, but division is easy in early fall or spring. Sometimes called swamp spurge, ‘Chameleon’ is partial to moist, rich soil. Zones 4-9.

Photo by: Andrea Jones.

MEDITERRANEAN SPURGE

A shrubby species found in the Mediterranean region on rocky hillsides, open woods and along roadsides, Euphorbia characias comes by its drought and heat tolerance naturally. Blue-green leaves spiral up reddish, downy stems. The foliage is denser toward the tops of the stems, leaving the bases bare, giving the plant an architectural vibe. Big clusters of chartreuse flower heads last from spring to summer. This is a short-lived perennial, but it reseeds. Zones 7-10.

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

‘BONFIRE’

Aptly named, Euphorbia polychroma ‘Bonfire’ bursts onto the scene in spring with foliage that mixes green, yellow and orange, changing to crimson, burgundy and mahogany for the summer-through-fall show — a great contrast for the chartreuse-gold blooms. Its neat, mounded form lends itself to the front of the border or a container. Takes full sun in the North, part shade in the South. Cushion spurge benefits from a late-summer cutback and from division every few years. Zones 5-9.

Photo by: Proven Winners.

EFANTHIA

A cultivar of wood spurge, Efanthia (Euphorbia amygdaloides) sports yellow-green flowers in spring with burgundy foliage in cold weather. This improved variety has a bushy, compact habit with a mature height of 14 to 20 inches. Zones 6-9.

Learn more and find a local Proven Winners retailer

Photo by: Rob Cardillo.

ROBB’S SPURGE

Ask any gardener to name the toughest site, and the answer will be dry shade. But Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae can solve the problem. Slow to spread, it forms an evergreen groundcover 1 to 2 feet tall of deep green, lustrous leaves. Chartreuse flower heads appear in late spring and last for months. In moist, rich soil it spreads faster. Zones 5-7.

Photo by: Chelsea Stickel.

‘TINY TIM’

With the tongue-twisting official name of Euphorbia martini ‘Waleutiny’, it’s no wonder this cushion spurge has acquired a much cuter appellation. Looking like a Koosh Ball, ‘Tiny Tim’ forms a perfect 1-foot dome of narrow blue-green leaves and a cloud of greenish-yellow bracts cupped under little red flowers. Unlike many spurges, this one continues to bloom throughout the season. Zones 6-8.

Photo by: Chelsea Stickel.

‘TASMANIAN TIGER’

Discovered as a seedling of Euphorbia characias in a garden in Tasmania, this phenomenal spurge has both variegated leaves and flowers, combining blue-green with creamy white. Upright stems are a forest of linear leaves, forming a dense shrubby mound. In spring through early summer, large heads of flowers hover on 2- to 3-foot stems, pale yellow and cream, with small green bow-tie centers. Evergreen where winters are mild. Zones 6-9.

Hardy spurges have become hugely popular in perennial borders across the continent and in Europe, their stout mounds of leafy stems, like so many oversize bottlebrushes, filling a shrubby role, though with predictable sizes and tidy forms. Newer varieties have richly colored leaves and flower heads, in burgundy, copper, creamy-white striped, eggplant purple and icy blue-green.

The flowers are an unusual arrangement and one of the commonalities of the euphorbia family. Most obvious in the flashy display of poinsettias, the showy parts are actually not flowers but modified leaves called bracts. The real blooms are tiny and distinctly non-flowery looking. One benefit of having bracts is that the floral heads continue to be showy long after the flowers themselves have done their thing. Another common factor among euphorbias is the milky sap that runs through their veins, which is poisonous and a skin irritant. But what makes them toxic also makes them deer resistant—a big bonus. Add to that drought and heat tolerant, long blooming and low maintenance, and you’ve got a nonpareil perennial.

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Spurge

Spurge, (genus Euphorbia), one of the largest flowering-plant genera, with 2,420 species, many of which are important to man as ornamentals, sources of drugs, or as weeds. The genus takes its common name from a group of annual herbs used as purgatives, or spurges, mainly the 1-metre- (3.3-foot-) tall European E. lathyris, seeds of which were once used for their laxative effect. The diverse, worldwide genus includes many species in arid parts of Africa and India that resemble cactus plants. Unlike cacti, euphorbias have a milky sap. Euphorbia plants vary from flat, creeping herbs—such as the weedy North American prostrate spurge (E. supine), which grows out of sidewalk cracks—to shrubs and trees. They have one female flower consisting of a single female reproductive structure, the pistil, surrounded by numerous male flowers of one stamen each. All these reduced flowers are enclosed in a cup-shaped, leaflike structure with five lobes and a gland on each, called a cyathium. Fruits are explosive, three-seeded capsules.

Spurge (Euphorbia venata)Valerie Finnis

The cactus-like kinds include spined, succulent (fleshy), and angled 15-metre-tall trees such as E. candelabrum and E. nyikae from East Africa; spined and angled succulent shrubs, 6 metres tall, such as E. grandicornis from southern Africa and E. lactea from the East Indies, both of which are grown as hedges in areas with a mild climate.

euphorbiaEuphorbia nyikae.Luiz Claudio Marigo/Bruce Coleman Ltd.

Succulent but unthorned and with upright, 6-metre, fingerlike, much-branched stems is milkbush (E. tirucalli) from India, used in Africa and many tropical places as a hedge for huts or cattle enclosures. Wax plant (E. antisyphilitica), from Mexico, has similar but unbranched, rodlike, gray-green, mostly naked, 1-metre stems from the surface of which comes an important wax used for polishes, candles, lubricants, and paper waterproofing.

The somewhat climbing, thorned, leafy, woody-stemmed crown of thorns (E. milii or E. splendens) from Madagascar is a popular houseplant in temperate areas and a good source of colour in tropical gardens.

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What is probably the most appreciated of the tropical euphorbias is the poinsettia from southern Mexico and Guatemala, which has scarlet bracts (leaflike structures attached just below flowers) and is associated with Christmas. Another species associated with Christmas in southern Mexico and Central America, where it is native, is the shrub pascuita (E. leucocephala), 1.5 to 4 metres tall, which is covered much of the winter with a mist of small, white bracts. In some varieties the leaves are dark red. The scarlet plume (E. fulgens), from Mexico, a 90-centimetre- (3-foot-) tall shrub with slender stems and scarlet bract clusters, is sometimes grown as a pot plant and in mild-winter areas as a garden shrub.

Perennial ornamentals of temperate climes include: cypress spurge (E. cyparissias), from Europe, a globe-shaped plant with needlelike foliage that is covered with golden bracts in spring; E. venata or E. wulfenii, from Europe, a plant, 0.9 to 1.2 metres tall, with greenish yellow heads on bluish foliage; cushion spurge (E. epithymoides), from Europe, a 30.5-cm globe of gold to chartreuse that blooms in spring; E. characias, a 0.9- to 1.2-metre-tall European plant with sulfur-yellow bracts in summer; and E. griffithii, from the Himalayas, the fireglow variety of which has fire-orange heads in early summer.

Important as weeds are flowering spurge (E. corollata), of the middle and eastern United States; the leafy spurge (E. escula), naturalized from Europe in the northern United States and adjacent Canada; spotted spurge (E. maculata); prostrate spurge and the related European petty spurge (E. peplus); and sun spurge (E. helioscopia).

Some botanists have divided the euphorbias into various genera, including Chamaesyce, Poinsettia, Tithymalus, Tithymalopsis, and Dichrophyllum.

Franklin County (PA) Gardeners

Here’s Master Gardener Jill Hudock on ‘Ascot Rainbow’ Spurge.


Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’
in Jill’s Shippensburg Landscape

 
If you’re looking for an all-seasons perennial with pizzazz, check out Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’. The name certainly has flair. The common name for the genus Euphorbia is spurge. Still, it’s quite a moniker. However, this plant does deserve something special.
Discovered in 2005 growing in an Ascot, Victoria Australia nursery and receiving its US Patent in 2010, it’s been propagated, marketed and distributed widely enough to reach south central PA in two years. With that kind of push, you know it has to be good.
I bought 4 of them two years ago. And while they haven’t all fared the same, they are all still alive. The happiest one received a dollop of compost last year and is a whopping 30” tall by 4’ round mound of variegated foliage. Plus, nothing seems to bother this plant. Not the bunnies, insects or weather. ‘Ascot Rainbow’ is just as stunning in the depths of winter as in the freshness of spring.

Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’
in Spring Bloom

Narrow, 3 inch-long variegated leaves cover stalks with cream, lime and grey-green. In spring the flowers (technically they are bracts) emerge bright lime then change to vibrant yellow, tinged with red. The bracts color-echo the leaves nicely, blooming on both old and new wood. They hover above the stalk much like an airy ‘Autumn Joy’ Sedum and are suitable for cut flowers.
Just make sure you wear gloves, as the sap can be a skin and eye irritant. All parts are poisonous if ingested. Maybe that’s why the bunnies and groundhogs seem to steer clear. ‘Ascot Rainbow’ could be used as protective border, keeping those critters from munching on something they do find appetizing.


Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’

In summer the leaves always look fresh and full…healthy. The bracts maintain their appeal. Honestly, it’s almost as if this plant is artificial!
In fall the colors become muted shades of red, pink and orange. It looks great with mums, ornamental grasses and pumpkins.
In winter the leaves may droop with a frost or an ice coating but will recover very quickly to look as if nothing ever happened. I constantly marvel at its vitality. Most euphorbias hold up well throughout our area but none that I’ve seen even come close to the lasting beauty of this one. And while it’s not an all-over green shade, it is considered an evergreen perennial due to its consistent appearance.
‘Ascot Rainbow’ spurge can be found in zones 5-9, growing happily in full sun to part shade, well-drained soil with moderate watering. Once established, it will handle drought conditions easily, like most euphorbias. Last year’s flower stalks can be cut back in early spring to encourage new, long-lasting blooms.
This plant deserves to be seen in full color. It’s an easy partner in the garden. The variegated leaves play nicely with most plants and are especially attractive when viewed in front of a dark green evergreen. Try it in a container with annuals for non-stop drama. I really can’t think of a bad combination, other than placing it beside another variegated plant with the same color proportions.
Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’ will lighten up your garden all year round. So if you’re looking to bring a bit of excitement, go ahead, splurge on this spurge!
More pictures can be found at Plant Delights Nursery. It was chosen as“Plant of the Week”by the University of Maryland’s Ginny Rosencrantz in April, 2012.

PLANT OF THE WEEK

Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’

WHY YOU SHOULD PLANT IT

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E. ‘Ascot Rainbow’ is one of the most dramatic introductions of the last few years. In bloom, it looks as though it has a million eyes, giving it an animation quite unlike anything around it. Those “eyes” are acid-yellow bracts, which appear in early summer. In winter, it’s a striking mound of pale green– and yellow-striped leaves infused with a pale pink glow. In my garden, it wintered over in a raised bed in superb condition last year and has bloomed for months now in spite of drought and heat.

WHERE TO PLANT IT

Although it contains a lactic acid that can cause dermatitis in humans, this same toxic quality makes E. ‘Ascot Rainbow’ repellent to animals (and therefore deer-and-rabbit-proof). Put it in a place that’s in the path of these critters and maybe they’ll leave other plants alone. It will take sandy or clay soil and is drought-tolerant in full sun to part shade. This is a boon to anyone who has soil problems,but remember that every euphorbia needs good drainage.

It’s a Zone 5 plant in the ground,but can be used in containers if you live in colder areas. It makes a lovely mound about 45 to 60 centimetres tall.

WHAT IT OFFERS

I fell in love with this plant at first sight: The striped green/gold leaves are handsome enough,but the stalks that sprong over them with yellow/green bracts or blooms are thrilling. I have it in containers, in the ground and as a central focus in combination with black or bright blue grasses. You can’t too have many of them. In autumn, the leaves take on a tinge of pink that lasts all winter. It is an amazing four-season perennial and, if you can winter it over, will be a tough cookie for many years. Otherwise, think of it as one of the best annuals you could buy.

SOURCE AND COST

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Visit www.marjorieharris.com for more gardening and plant information.

Know your: Euphorbia

The members of this plant family are loved for as much for their madly attention-seeking forms, textures and colours, as for their ability to thrive in tough spots.

One warning – that milky sap is an irritant, so wear gloves when pruning.

Poinsettia

Euphorbia pulcherrima

Identify: The most familiar euphorbia (especially at Christmas!) hails from Mexico, thrives in Australia and flowers mid-winter with a striking tiara of red bracts. Less familiar is the quieter white form.

Grow: Will grow to 3m so cut back to the ground after flowering to control size and avoid the ugly summer phase.

Euphorbia pulcherrima. Photo – Kwanbenz / .com

Rainbow spurge

Euphorbia characias

Identify: There are so many new spurges on the market: ‘Silver Swan’, ‘Redwing’, ‘Blackbird’, ‘Ascot Rainbow’ that I confess I made up the common name of rainbow spurge. All are colourful, hardy evergreen small shrubs for warm temperate to cool climates.

Grow: Drought-tolerant once established and frost hardy to -1 degrees C. Pruning is generally not required.

Euphorbia characias .

Crown of thorns

Euphorbia millii

Identify: Crown of Thorns offers pretty flowers with no pest and disease problems. The scalloped petals in fiery reds, pinks and oranges are clustered atop thorny thickets.

Grow: Best in a container with free-draining succulent/cactus mix. Perfect in sunny spots that are too hot for other flowers. Wear thick gloves when repotting!

Euphorbia millii . Photo – WasanSpring / .com

Mediterranean spurge

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii hybrids

Identify: The lime leaves made a brilliant contrast to pride of Madeira (Echium fatuosum) and both love the same dry, hot Mediterranean conditions.

Grow: This is a shrubby filler to 1m+. Prune after flowering to refresh growth from the base. Propagate by division in early spring or take basal cuttings in spring/summer. Dip cut surfaces in charcoal or lukewarm water to prevent bleeding.

Euphorbia wulfenii . Photo – Robin Powell

Firesticks

Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Rosea’

Identify: Also called red pencil tree, this is a striking succulent shrub of pencil-thin stems that will form a dense thicket. The red-gold colour is best in winter and fades to yellow in the summer. Colours best in full sun.

Grow: The species is native to a wide range from Madagascar to and India, so is drought and cold hardy. Great in pots.

Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Rosea’

African milk tree

Euphorbia trigona

Identify: The fringed pillars of this beauty are a stunning low-maintenance living sculpture.

Grow: Water through the growing season when the soil surface feels dry to the touch, allowing the mix to dry out completely between waterings. Repot in summer, wearing heavy gloves. Won’t tolerate freezing.

Euphorbia trigona . Photo – Fruzsi-Gergo / .com

Diamond Frost

Euphorbia leucocephala ‘Diamond Frost’

Identify: Delicate clouds of tiny white flowers just keep on coming, gently mixing with other floaty companions, including butterfly bush (Gaura), salvias and penstemons. It grows to a 50cm round cushion.

Grow: It’s hard to go wrong with this one as it thrives in heat, handles drought, and in unbothered by pests and diseases. Prune to shape if necessary in the warmer months.

Euphorbia leucocephala ‘Diamond Frost’. Photo – somyot pattana / .com

Creeping spurge

Euphorbia myrsinites

Identify: A blue-leafed evergreen groundcover with trailing stems of spiralling leaves and clusters of chartreuse-yellow flowers through the spring months.

Grow: This will grow in most any sunny area, but does particularly well in hot, dry sites with poor soil. Looks terrific in a rock garden or rock wall. Also worth trying in tubs or mixed containers.

Euphorbia myrsinites. Photo – Elenarts / .com

Euphorbias are wonderful but there’s something you should be aware of when pruning Euphorbias.

Oh, the wonderful world of Euphorbias! There are over 2000 species of them and most share this 1 thing in common.

I wanted to do this post for those of you who are new to this genus which includes poinsettias, the crown of thorns, Mediterranean spurge and flowering spurge because most of them emit, ooze or bleed a milky sap when pruned. This sap is toxic and some euphorbias, like my pencil cactus (shown above), contain much more of it than others.

Now don’t go into full out worry mode because many common plants are toxic like wisteria, hydrangeas, mums, English ivy, oleander, and azaleas, but we don’t eat them. I just want to emphasize that you should keep this sap away from your eyes, lips, and mouth. So, don’t prune a euphorbia and then inadvertently decide to rub your eyes or scratch your lip.

Also, some people are very sensitive to this sap when it gets on their skin. It can irritate and cause a rash and even blistering and pain. I’ve gotten it on my skin a few times and it hasn’t been a problem but it’s something for you to be aware of.

I’m in my back yard with my pencil cactus so you can see this sap oozes out when the plant is cut:

I don’t prune my pencil cactus (aka Euphorbia tirucalli in botanic circles) very often, but when I do, I always have a rag in hand to catch and eventually to help stop the flow of the sap. That usually takes around 5 minutes and that it can really spill out so I’d recommend having a rag or paper towel in hand when pruning euphorbias. Another thing: the sap can stain your clothing so it’s best to not to wear your gucci jeans when doing the clip clip.

Make sure your pruners are clean & sharp before pruning euphorbias, or any plants for that matter. You’ll definitely need to clean them after because the sap leaves a sticky residue.

The sap drips out like crazy at 1st so I always try to catch it & wrap a rag around the stem to help stop it.

The trunk will bleed where it’s been pruned so I usually wipe that off.

The pencil cactus is the only euphorbia I have in my garden. But in my many years as a professional gardener, I’ve pruned boatloads of euphorbias. I’m still alive, have both my eyes as well as my tongue and relatively unscarred skin.

This post is not written to scare you off from euphorbias but to give you a head’s up to be careful when pruning them. After all, the wildly popular sticks of fire (this is the colorful version of my pencil cactus) is a euphorbia and it captivates most plant lovers I know!

Happy (Sap Safe) Gardening,

Poinsettias are the most popular and common euphorbias. They’re grown and sold the world over. Despite the sap, they make it into our homes every holiday season!

How to grow: Euphorbia x martinii

E. characias has one annoying habit. It becomes leggy and bare at the base once it reaches four or five years old. Hard pruning in early summer will keep a more compact shape, but even then it will begin to lose vigour and die. Taking softwood cuttings in early summer is a necessity, as is leaving some seedlings to grow close by. Unfortunately E. x martinii has inherited this short-lived tendency. It will thrive and flower happily for three or four years, then die – but its beauty makes it well worth the effort.

The true flowers on herbaceous euphorbias are tiny, but the greenish-yellow bracts endure for weeks. They may flower as early as February and continue until autumn.

When the stems are damaged or pruned, euphorbias leak a milky, toxic sap, which irritates the skin, causes a rash and can damage the eyes. Dipping the stems in a bucket of water halts the flow of milky fluid. It’s a good idea to wear goggles, long sleeves, gloves and trousers when cutting back the plants.

Victorian gardeners knew and grew euphorbias as ornamental tropical plants and lamented the fact that few forms were hardy. Most of the 1,600 species of euphorbia grow in tropical or subtropical areas and the family includes trees, shrubs and spiny, succulent plants.

Modern gardeners have many good, hardy forms that have been collected or raised from herbaceous species usually found in temperate, Mediterranean or mountainous regions. There are two deciduous forms that produce vibrant shoots in spring: E. sikkimensis, which has glassy, red stems bearing light green leaves, and E. griffithii ‘Dixter’, which sends up dark-orange spears that unfurl to produce orange-red leaves and flowers. I grow at least 20 different euphorbias, but in late spring it is E. x martinii that stops visitors in their tracks.

Growing tips

  • Euphorbias are easy to grow, but prefer sheltered positions away from strong winds. They do best in fertile soil. E. amygdaloides var. robbiae will grow in dry shade. E. x martinii needs well-drained, fertile soil in full sun or partial shade.
  • Deciduous euphorbias are best left intact during summer and cut down to the base of the plant in autumn. The new shoots then emerge very cleanly the following spring. The lower growing glaucous euphorbias (up to a foot in height) are best cut hard back after flowering to keep them compact.
  • Don’t cut back the taller evergreen euphorbias without careful thought. Left until autumn, the seedheads give a strong presence in the border. If they are cut back after flowering, they will produce new shoots at the base but may leave a gap in a border.
  • Whatever you decide, propagate every year from the new growth at the base of these evergreen euphorbias. Carefully cut some of the new growth (avoiding contact with the harmful sap) and trim back to 4in in length – removing the bottom 2in of leaves. Fill a 3in pot with a mixture of 50 per cent sand and 50 per cent compost and immerse one cutting in each pot. Leave in a cold frame or a shady place until the following spring, then plant the well-rooted cutting outside. If the cutting hasn’t rooted, leave it until autumn.
  • The glaucous-leaved euphorbias thrive in well-drained soil and prefer full sun. The green-leaved deciduous forms will thrive in sun or partial shade – but all euphorbias need good drainage.

Good companions

E. x martinii can be grown with other plants that flower in late spring. It enhances May tulips in warm yellows and oranges and mixes well with the leafy cream and green Smilacina racemosa and Polygonatum x hybridum. The evergreen euphorbias make useful plants for strategic positions – against steps, close to a house wall or as a feature in a border.

RELATED PRODUCT

Buy Euphorbia x martinii for £6.99 + p&p from gardenshop.telegraph.co.uk

Growing Euphorbias: How To Cultivate A Euphorbia Plant

Euphorbia plants (Euphorbia spp.) also go by the easier to say, but less elegant, name of Spurge. They are a family of plants that may be grown as houseplants or occasionally outdoors. There are many varieties of Euphorbia plants, with fascinating forms that range from shrubs, herbs, or cactus-like specimens. Growing Euphorbias is easy and some are hardy in temperate climates. These are easy to start from seed and propagate from cuttings. Learn how to cultivate a Euphorbia plant that will start conversations and cause second looks.

About Euphorbia Plants

Euphorbias occur naturally in many parts of the world, but most notably Africa, Asia, Europe and North and South America. The variation of form and size provide a spectacle of plant life. Some are as large as trees and others range as small ground covers. There are over 2,000 species, many of which you will find familiar from interior commercial plantings.

Crown of thorns is recognizable by its spiky stems, and donkey spurge is aptly named with thick rope-like stems sprawling away from the plant. Poinsettias are a form of Euphorbia that is

recognizable to almost everyone.

Most varieties of Euphorbia plants produce weird and unusual flowers. Gardeners should be cautious when handling Spurge, as all varieties have a milky latex sap that can be irritating or even poisonous.

How to Cultivate a Euphorbia Plant

As a general rule, Spurge requires well-drained soil in full sun. A few tolerate shadier conditions, but none of the family is fussy about soil condition. They even thrive in very poor soils and can tolerate periods of drought.

Euphorbia plant care is simple. Provide them light, moderate moisture and watch for annoying pests, like whitefly. Provide water under the plant’s leaves to prevent powdery mildew.

You will not need to fertilize Spurge often. Wait until the bottom leaves become yellow before feeding with a water-soluble plant food.

Prune when the plant gets out of hand. These plants are almost impossible to kill and are a perfect choice for the novice gardener. Growing Euphorbia to share with a friend is also a great beginner propagation project.

Additional Growing Tips for Euphorbia

Spurge grows quite well from seeds sown indoors in pots. You can propagate Euphorbia more quickly and easily by gathering up the “volunteers” around an established plant. You may also root stem cuttings in a soilless medium, such as peat. Keep them lightly misted and enclose the pot in a bag to keep moisture in. Let the pot breathe once a day for an hour, so the soil does not mold.

Once the cutting has rooted, you can pot it in regular soil or plant outdoors in moderate climates. One of the more important growing tips for Euphorbia is to let the stem cutting dry for a few days before planting. This allows the sap to form a callus on the cut end and prevents rotting.

Whether you want a giant thornless cactus specimen 6 feet tall or a creeping, sweetly flowering ground cover, you should try growing Euphorbias. They reward the gardener with more than just good looks, but remind us all of the variety and beauty found in nature.

Euphorbia — Spurges

Euphorbia is a very large genus with over 2,000 species, part of the Euphorbiaceae family whose members include surprising shapes and sizes. They can be annuals, perennials, evergreen or deciduous, even shrubs or trees. Most originated in Africa, Madagascar, and the Americas and do quite well in temperate zones worldwide including the Mediterranean climate in Sonoma County.

The common holiday plant, poinsettia, is Euphorbia pulcherrima. With showy, bright red bracts, it looks a bit different than most of its fellow species—often called spurges—grown in local gardens. Almost all are relatively easy-care perennials that are either evergreen or die down to the ground in winter and come back in the spring. Their leafy-stemmed foliage comes in many colors, sizes and textures. The genus includes many different shapes: mounds, upright stem sets or low ground crawlers, to name a few. Euphorbias tend to flower from early spring thru early summer and then continue to provide beautiful foliage throughout the growing season or even year round. Many are drought tolerant and deer and gopher resistant.

One of the more unusual aspects of Euphorbia is its blossoms. What is mistakenly called a flower is technically a cyathium, consisting of fused bracts that form a cup around a very small true flower. The bunches of leaf-like bracts grow on the end of the leafy stems and are frequently brightly colored, chartreuse in many species that reflects light and makes for a stunning display. The leafy stems are also attractive—varying from blue, blue-green, reddish-green, reddish-orange and green tinged with purple.

Planting requirements for euphorbias vary depending on the species. Many require full sun, but some can tolerate partial shade and a few can even handle full shade. Most species suitable to Sonoma County thrive in heat and can also take some frost. They can be drought tolerant, but some need regular water and almost all dislike soggy feet.

Despite the many redeeming features of euphorbias, they have some drawbacks. All have a milky white sap in their stems that is irritating on contact, can be toxic if ingested and especially painful if it gets into the eyes. It’s important to use care when cutting them and to wash up quickly after pruning. Gloves and long sleeves help protect hands and arms. The good news is that the unappetizing sap keeps the deer and gophers away. Self-sowing can also be a nuisance as is spreading by underground stems; but for most part, unwanted plants are easily pulled up.

Euphorbia amygdaloides robbiae. Commonly called Mrs. Robb’s bonnet, this species is fairly short (to 1 ft. tall) and can tolerate more shade than most euphorbias. Although the individual stems spread rapidly via rhizomes, it can be a useful variety where there is no supplemental summer irrigation—but only if it is strictly contained on all sides; otherwise, it can become an undesirable and invasive nuisance.

Euphorbia characias. This species has evergreen upright stems crowded with narrow blue-green leaves and grows in a dome shape to about 4 ft. It has brilliant chartreuse/lime green flower heads in stunning, round clusters that appear in late winter to early spring and last for many weeks. Stems should be cut back to the base as seeds form to prevent unwanted self-sowing and to allow room for new shoots that have already starting growing. E. c. wulfenii is the most commonly grown form of this species. It loves full sun and requires little water.

Euphorbia griffithii. This native of the Himalayas looks very different than the other species listed. It grows as an erect stem to 3 ft. tall and spreads slowly by creeping roots. ‘Fireglow’ has vibrant orange-red bracts that appear in early summer and create a sea of color and interest in sun or filtered light where it enjoys moderate moisture. Cut back to the ground in winter and divide every 3-4 years or more often to contain spread and keep it under control. Some gardeners prefer the similar ‘Fern Cottage’ cultivar that is said to be less invasive.

Euphorbia martinii. A hybrid of E. characias and E. amygdaloides, this perennial reaches 2-3 ft. and has dark green leaves tinged with a bit of purple. Dense clusters of chartreuse flowers with dark centers appear at branch tips in late winter to spring. It likes full sun or part shade, is drought resistant, and does not reseed as much as other species.

Euphorbia myrsinites. Commonly called myrtle spurge and donkey-tail spurge, this charming evergreen species has stems that trail on the ground octopus–like, outward from the crown. Short, chunky blue-green leaves swirl around the stems and end in clusters of chartreuse bracts in early spring and add eye-catching allure to the landscape. Rather than deadheading individual flowers, cut entire stems back to the base taking care not to remove slowly emerging replacement stems. New growth will continue year round.

September 2019

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