Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Euphoric Over Euphorbia

All through the long winter I dream of my garden. On the first warm day of spring I dig my fingers deep into the soft earth. I can feel its energy, and my spirit soars.
~Helen Hayes, American actress, 1900-1993

Euphorbias (ew-for-bee-a) are native to the Mediterranean’s sandy, hot regions but hybrids have brought hardy varieties to our cooler northern gardens. Grow them in full sun in USDA zones 5-8. They are quite adaptable so don’t be afraid to try them in your garden even if it’s not so Mediterranean-esque. They have a long spring flowering season, and those planted in the more sunny sites often produce the deeper foliage colors. Give them good drainage as heavy soils will kill them quickly and they reportedly don’t like windy sites.

I have three Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’.  Two are in my street side parking strip, notably windier than the one in my back yard. The two that get the wind, flowered just like the one in the back but they are lacking any leaves at this point. They were full and leafy all summer but the cold winter winds have left them bare stemmed. The new growth is coming out leafy so my guess is they will leaf out again with the warmer weather. This is their first year so their performance is yet to be seen over a succession of seasons so I can compare those in the wind to the more protected one.

They are known for their drought tolerance and most have chartreuse inflorescences as seen above on my E. Redwing. An exception being E. ‘Blackbird’ (below) whose flower is more of a rust color aging to apricot with some peachy tones throughout.

Euphorbias comprise a large group of plants ranging from annuals, perennials and succulents enjoying a surge in hybridization which is delighting Euphorbia lovers and collectors with an amazing array of foliage colors and a multitude of plant sizes for both big and small gardens.

E. wulfenii (above) is the tallest I’ve seen, at easily 5 ft (1.5m) tall but E. mellifera reportedly reaches 8 ft (2.4m).  There are others but the shortest I’ve seen is E. myrsinites ‘Donkey Tail Spurge’ reaching less than 6”(15cm) tall and looks quite like a succulent ground cover.

Some Euphorbias are reportedly short lived plants but can easily be propagated by cutting off stems, stripping the leaves off the bottom half of the stem and inserting it into soft soil. This is also a great way to increase the presence of your Euphorbias in the garden. Repetition of plants and or color can make your garden look ‘put together’ and professionally designed.  Some Euphorbias will seed themselves around your garden too. Some may come true to seed but others will not. You may like that habit of self-seeding as a way to fill a garden space.  Nope, not me.  I once had E. dulcis Chameleon that made such a nuisance of itself that I ripped it all out and continued to remove seedlings for a few years to come.  My little postage stamp sized garden doesn't have room for such joyful self-seeding abandon. Either that or I’m too type A to allow it. Hmmm. I think not.

Pruning is easy. When the flower is finished it will begin to turn to seed. That’s when you cut down the old stems to 3-6” (8-15cm) from the ground.  New growth will appear from the base or low on the old stems. Those will be this year’s leafy stems and next year’s flower. Now that you’ve removed the seed heads, the plant’s energy will stop forming seed and be redirected into producing the new leafy stems. When cut or wounded all exude a white milky sap which can irritate the skin and eyes so be careful when working around them.

Lastly a note on using common names. Euphorbias are also known as Spurge and are related to the Poinsettia. However this Spurge must not be confused with the ‘other’ spurge, Pachysandra, which is an evergreen ground cover with white flowers for the shade garden.  They are completely different plants, needing different exposures but sharing a common name. I know relying on common names is easier but as I've said many times on this blog, knowing the Latin botanical counterpart is so helpful to find the plant you are looking for in the nursery because many totally different plants can share a common name, especially if you travel to different parts of the world or even just within the US. 

In Bloom In My Garden: Alyssum, Anemone nemerosa robinsoniana’, Bergenia, Blueberry, Clematis alpina ‘frankie’, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Euphorbia, Geum, Hellebore, Heuchera, Hyacinths, Iris,
 Tulipa, Trillium,Tiarella, 

Authors photos