Euphorbia - Care Guide

Growing & Caring for Euphorbia

Spurge, Wolf’s milk, Milkweed

The genus euphorbia contains such a huge number of species with different likes and dislikes, different uses in the garden and very different ultimate sizes that it is impossible to write a care guide that does not make some rather sweeping generalisations. For want of somewhere to start we have created three categories for different types of Euphorbia based on their performance in the garden and nurseries here.

You should definitely wear gloves if you are pruning, lifting and dividing or taking cuttings from any euphorbia. The stems contain a milky sap which can readily cause skin irritation or worse. If you touch your face with the sap on your hands you will get a very nasty rash as our staff have discovered the hard way over the years.

The following euphorbia are rhizomatous, lower growing and spreading varieties suitable for improved soil in dappled shade in the border.

E. amygdaloides purpurea – wood spurge, upright growing with reddish-bronze foliage.

E. amygdaloides var. robbiae – invasive with lime green flowers.

'Red Wing' a Euphorbia amygdaloides x Euphorbia x martinii from Bernard Ticker of Fullers Mill Garden.

Euphorbia 'Red Wing' click for larger image
Euphorbia 'Red Wing'

E. dulcis ‘Chamaeleon’ – rich purple leaves and contrasting yellow-green flowers (not an evergreen).

E. griffithii ‘Fireglow’ – orange-red involucres. Can be quite invasive. (Not an evergreen.)

These varieties are smaller growing again and, perhaps, rockery plants. They prefer lighter well drained soil in full sun.

E. cyparissus, Cypress spurge, is a spreading variety growing to only about 10in. We offer two forms; ‘Fen’s Ruby’ and ‘Orange Man’.

E. myrsinites is semi-prostrate with grey-blue leaves and greenish yellow flowers in yellow bracts.

Euphorbia myrsinites click for larger image
Euphorbia myrsinites

E. polychroma, Cushion spurge, grows to 12-15in with acid yellow flowers (Not an evergreen).

These varieties are much taller growing species and varieties which are clump forming (rather than spreading) plants with great ornamental appeal in herbaceous borders. They prefer lighter soils in full sun apart from those with variegated foliage which prefer more shade.

E. caracias and its several forms (‘Black Pearl’, ‘Silver Swan’, ‘Tasman Tiger’ and wulfeni) grow to 3-4ft in maturity and flower from spring to summer.

Euphorbia characias 'Black Pearl' click for larger image
Euphorbia characias 'Black Pearl'
Euphorbia characias 'Black Pearl' click for larger image
Euphorbia characias 'Black Pearl'

E. martinii grows to around 3ft in height and flowers at similar times. ‘Ascot Rainbow’ has grown in popularity in recent years for its blue-green leaves edged yellow and tipped with pink in the winter.

Euphorbia martinii click for larger image
Euphorbia martinii
Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow' click for larger image
Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow'

E. palustris grows to around 3ft with a similar spread. It is a deciduous species with orange and yellow autumn colours.

Euphorbia palustris click for larger image
Euphorbia palustris

These evergreen varieties grow much larger and become decent sized shrubs or more. Sun or dappled shade suits them equally well.

E. mellifera, Honey Spurge, grows extremely well up against a wall or as a freestanding plant in a shrub border. Its spring flowers are honey scented. Six feet or more in a coastal location with a similar spread.

E. stygiana is a rare species from the Azores which grows with a single erect trunk to 8-10ft with us as an architectural shrub. It has attractive light green leaves and honey scented flowers in summer. It also needs protection from cold winds and may be best against a wall.

E. x pasteurii is a cross between the two species above which can readily become a 6ft tall shrub with a larger spread. The midribs to the leaves are creamy white.

So variable are the species and varieties mentioned in this, all too brief, article that it is perhaps best to look at the pictures of the flower heads and of the plants actually growing in gardens to form a better view of the varieties most suited to your own garden.

Images to be added shortly. 

Evergreen pruning - Video Tip

Dead heading in June - Video Tip


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