Spurge – Euphorbia species

Unusual plant for poor soil. With its strong, bushy growth and long-lasting heads of green-yellow flowers, spurge makes an interesting plant for borders, walls and rockeries. It is also sometimes known as milkweed, because of its milky sap.

ANNUAL CALENDAR

SPRING

WINTER

March-April:

Sow seeds, and replant seedlings found under parent plants.

Some species, such as come into flower.

May:

Take cuttings 8cm long for rooting in well-drained compost. More species flower.

June-August:

Many species are in flower. The leaves of some species begin to turn orange towards the end of summer.

October-November:

Some spurges are still in flower, and others show good autumn colour.

Plant out young plants grown from seed into their final position. Can plant out self-sown seedlings, 40-50cm apart.

December-February:

Some species flower from

January onwards.

Protect plants in exposed areas or in very cold weather.

MOISTURE-LOVERS

If you want to grow spurge but cannot provide dry soil, choose E. palustris, a moisture lover. It flowers from June and its leaves turn orange-yellow in autumn. E. sikkimensis also prefers moist soil. You may need to go to a specialist supplier for both.

IMPORTANT

The milky sap in spurge stems and leaves is poisonous and can also irritate skin. Wear gloves when handling the plant, and warn children to keep away.

Spurge is an unusual-looking perennial that blooms for years once established in the correct conditions. It acts as a subtle foil to brighter-flowering plants.

The garden spurge is part of the large genus known as Euphorbia. Euphorbias grow wild all over the world in the most unlikely situations, and garden varieties can be spoilt by too much feeding. Spurge does well in spots and soils where many other plants are unhappy.

Planting and care

Spurge seeds itself where growing conditions are right for it, and many little plants grow around the parent. Plant these out into a chosen position from September to April as long as it is not too cold or wet.

Larger plants of E. characias and E. characias subsp. Wulfenii do not like to be disturbed. Do not try to grow new plants by dividing these.

Growing from seed

Sow the seed in a well-drained, soil-based compost in spring, and plant out the seedlings in trays when they are large enough to handle. Keep them where they have good light and plant them out into their final positions in autumn.

Sow annuals in the spring where you intend them to grow, and thin them out as they develop.

You can also grow spurge from cuttings from sturdy stems. Take cuttings in spring, and root them in compost with added sand.

POPULAR VARIETIES ,

Name, Height Spread (cm) (cm), Flowering period, Description

E. characias, 150, 100, early spring, yellow flowers; blue-grey leaves, often evergreen; good for flower displays

E. characias subsp. Wulfenii, 200, 100, spring, green-yellow flowers; narrow grey-green leaves; good for flower displays

E griffithii, 90, 60, early summer, red bracts surround small yellow flowers; large, red-veined leaves Snow-on-the-mountains 60 (E marginala), 30, summer, flowers and upper leaves green, white edges; grown as annual E. myrsimles, 15, 40, spring, green-yellow flower-heads; blue-grey leaves; trailing E. polychroma (E. epithymoides), 60, 50, spring onward, deep yellow flower-heads; leaves orange-red in autumn E. amygdaloides var. robbiae, 80, 60, early summer, green-yellow flowers; spreading and evergreen; grows in shade

Spurge

SITUATION

A sunny or partially shaded position. Most spurges are best in fairly dry, sunny borders or rockeries.

SOIL

Prefers dry, poor soil that is chalky or sandy. Most species do not thrive in moist soil, but one or two prefer it.

CARE

Once spurge is established it requires little attention. Cut down stems after flowering to encourage bushy growth. Plant self-sown seedlings in spring or autumn.

PLANT HEALTH

Spurge may develop grey mould if exposed to cold winds. Remove and burn affected parts of the plant.

Prevent by protecting plants from chilling winds.

BUYING

Spurge seeds can be obtained from major seed producers but they are not always on display in the shops. Order from a seed catalogue if you have trouble finding them.

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