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How to Grow: Euphorbia
Listen to this podcast on how to grow and care for Euphorbia or spurge perennial flowers.
This group of plants is extremely varied. Some are large, cactus-like trees and shrubs, while others are ground covers. Holiday poinsettias and crown of thorns houseplants are included in this group. Some of these succulents can also grow as hardy herbaceous perennials. That’s why I’m excited about growing euphorbias.
Euphorbias have the unflattering, common name of spurge, which is derived from the old English word “to purge”. It comes from the use of the milky sap as a purgative in medieval times. While many have to be grown as houseplants or annuals in our cold climate, there are some selections that are hardy to zone 4. The most common species is Euphorbia polychroma. Spurge has colorful flowers in late spring, and attractive colored foliage. Cushion spurge features clusters of yellow flowers at the stem ends with chartreuse bracts. The plant grows in a mound about 18 inches tall. The narrow, green leaves turn a brilliant red in fall. Another hardy spurge is ‘Bonfire’. This euphorbia grows about 1 foot tall. It features burgundy red leaves that make a stunning contrast to the yellow flowers. ‘Candy’ also grows 1 foot tall, featuring purple stems and leaves with the yellow flowers.
Spurge loves full sun and well-drained soil. Once established it’s tolerant of poor fertility soils and drought. Poor water drainage is a killer of these plants. The plants can be grown in the flower garden, as edging along a border or even in containers. Spurge self sows readily so be on the lookout for seedlings in spring. Trim plants back after flowering by one-third to prevent self sowing and to keep the growth bushy and compact. It can be divided in early spring, but generally doesn’t like to be moved. Spurge is deer and rabbit resistant, but the milky sap may cause skin irritation for some gardeners.