HARDINESS: Zones 4 to 9
PREFERRED SOIL pH: Neutral lo slightly acid
PREFERRED SOIL TYPE: Average to poor, well-drained
PREFERRED LIGHT: Sun to partial shade
ATTRIBUTES Chartreuse flower brads on mounded plants; red fall foliage; for beds
SEASON OF INTEREST: Spring through fall
FAVORITES: Cushion spurge; E. dulcis 'Chameleon'; flowering spurge
QUIRKS: Milky sap can irritate skin on contact
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Campanula, coreopsis, iris, larkspur, marigolds, peony, yarrow
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: Sun to partial shade; average to infertile, well-drained soil
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Foliage can be damaged if grown in full sun in hot climates
RENEWING PLANTS: Lives years; divide clumps in early spring
CRITTER RESISTANCE: Excellent
SOURCE: Bedding plants, division
DIMENSIONS: 1-6 ft (0.3-1.8 m) tall and wide
Euphorbia in the Landscape
Producing long-lasting flowerlike bracts above handsome foliage, euphorbias are dependable, virtually trouble-free plants for any sunny garden. Also known as spurge, euphorbias grow into mounds of green, bronze, or golden leaves ranging in height from 1-6 ft (0.3-1.8 m). While it's a lovely foliage plant, it is ravishing when outfitted with colorful buttonlike springtime bracts, which are actually modified leaves at the base of the inconspicuous flowers. Besides being well-behaved garden subjects that combine easily with other perennials, euphorbias adapt to poor soil, tolerate drought, and appear impervious to pests and diseases.
Although care-free, euphorbias do require careful handling. The same milky sap that deters pests can cause allergic skin reactions in some people. Wear gloves when handling the plants, and use a flame to promptly sear and seal the ends of stems gathered for cut-flower arrangements.
Colorful Effects with Euphorbias
Euphorbias feature fascinating variations in color and texture. Cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma) covers itself with bright chartreuse flower bracts in spring, and its soft green foliage turns red in fall. A stone wall or weathered wooden fence as a background sets it off perfectly. It grows about 12 in (30 cm) tall.
Equally well-behaved is the slightly taller E. dulcis 'Chameleon', which has purple foliage topped by 18 in (45.7 cm) spikes of chartreuse flower bracts in early summer. The airy sprays of white bracts produced by E. corollata, or flowering spurge, resemble baby's breath, but these plants are easier to grow in poor, heavy soil and are slow to spread. The most dramatic type is E. characias ssp. wulfenii, which can reach 4-6 ft (1.2-1.8 m) tall and wide. Its blue-green leaves grow in upright clusters and are topped with large, spherical flowerheads.
You can grow cushion spurge from seed, but seedlings need 3 years to develop into mature clumps. It is faster to begin with purchased plants. Set them out in early spring and give them sun in cool-summer regions and partial shade in warm climates. As long as the site is well drained, the soil need not be extremely fertile.
Starter plants have sparse roots and benefit from supplemental watering to keep soil barely moist for 2 months or so after planting
In subsequent seasons, fertilize plants each spring with an organic or controlled-release fertilizer applied according to label directions. If plants look messy after flowering, trim them back by half their size, and they will produce compact new growth.
Increasing the Bounty
Euphorbias can be left alone for decades, but you can dig and divide cushion spurge as often as every 3 years to propagate it. When dividing, dig clumps as soon as the first shoots poke through the soil in early spring. Cut the roots into thirds or fourths with a sharp knife and promptly replant them.