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Wide shot of a euphorbia plant.
Incredibly tough and dry-tolerant, this group of shrubs and perennials looks like it belongs with the succulents. Showy flowers in spring and summer are a highlight, but its coloured foliage means euphorbia is of interest year-round.

 

What you need to know about euphorbia

Name: spurge, euphorbia. Euphorbia species and varieties including Euphorbia wulfenii, Euphorbia milii and Euphorbia tirucalli.

Height: from low groundcovers to shrubs of around 1m.

Foliage: evergreen.

Climate: cold temperate, warm temperate, arid/semi-arid, sub-tropical and tropical.

Soil: most soils, provided drainage is excellent.

Position: full sun, but will tolerate light shade.

Flowering: spring and summer flowers, with colour depending on variety.

Feeding: usually not required.

Watering: water young plants to get them established. Older plants need very little water

Appearance and characteristics of euphorbia

The euphorbia family ranges from small perennial plants to shrubs. The most commonly grown forms are small to medium evergreen shrubs up to 1m in height. Foliage is generally blue-grey, but some forms are available that are tinged or striped with cream, red and green, and combinations of those colours.

Flowers appear at the tips of the plant in spring and summer, and these are usually sulphur-yellow to lime green. Pink, cream, red and purple are also found, depending on the variety.

All varieties of euphorbia produce a milky sap when cut or damaged. Be very careful, as this sap can cause skin irritation. Be particularly careful not to get it in your eyes. Wear eye protection and long sleeves and gloves when working near euphorbia. The plants are also poisonous.

Close up shot of a euphorbia plant.

Uses for euphorbia

Euphorbia is famous for its drought hardiness, so is great for hot and dry gardens. Any of the smaller varieties will also perform really well in a pot, provided you use a free-draining potting mix such as a cacti and succulent mix.

How to plant and grow euphorbia

Plant euphorbia at any time of the year in a sunny part of the garden. The soil must have good drainage, so if the area is wet, plant it into a raised garden bed.

Caring for euphorbia

Straight after planting, you will need to water the euphorbia every few days until it’s looking established. You can then back off the watering to about once a month.

How and when to prune euphorbia

Euphorbia plants don’t really require pruning. You can remove the dead flower heads, and also any dead or broken branches. Remember to avoid the sap.

Diseases and pests

Euphorbia is very rarely worried by pests or diseases. However, it may be susceptible to fungus diseases if grown in humid districts, so in these areas it is important to plant it in full sun, in a spot that receives some breeze.

How to propagate euphorbias

You can make extra euphorbia plants by taking cuttings in spring and summer—just remember to wear waterproof gloves during this process. Select unflowered growing tips about 15cm long. Cut them and strip off the bottom two-thirds of the leaves, then stir the end in a glass of cold water to wash away the milky sap. Place the cuttings in a pot of damp propagating sand and keep moist, but not wet, for a few months, until roots have formed.

If you like this then try

Poinsettia: this Christmas favourite is a type of euphorbia featuring bright red new leaves against dark green older ones.

Desert rose: red and pink frangipani-like flowers on a short succulent stem.

Coleus: grown for its fabulous variety of foliage colours and patterns.

Start planting today

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