Euphorbias are a large family that has about 2000 species under that name. They range from border and herbaceous plants to succulents and serve a lot of landscaping purposes in your garden. These perennials will brighten those dark corners in your landscape and bring life to any spot where nothing seems to grow or establish.
The euphorbia plant is a good candidate as a houseplant as well. The fluffy spurge varieties are ideal both indoors and outdoors. And since they don’t require much care nor are they that difficult to grow, why not give them a try in your garden? Their ornamental foliage adds texture to any flower bed and acts as a stunning backdrop to a showy flowering plant.
What is the Euphorbia Plant?
A native of Madagascar, the euphorbia plant is a hardy perennial. Most of the species under that name are actually succulents. The rest vary between border splurges to herbaceous varieties. Many people mistake euphorbias for cacti since some varieties look similar to cacti. However, there are many differences between those two species.
Euphorbias have USDA hardiness zones between 9 and 11 which means they love plenty of sunlight and enjoy warm weather conditions. They are also drought-tolerant but they don’t do so well when hit with frost. If your winters turn really cold, you might consider growing this perennial in a pot and bring it inside until the weather improves.
The leaves of these succulents are usually fleshy and radiate a bright green color in the shimmering sun. Some varieties have sharp thorns among the leaves so you need to be careful when handling them. Each leaf is about 2 inches long while the thorns are one inch each. The flowers grow in clusters and bloom in the late spring or early summer. They vary in color from yellow to red with attractive bracts.
Because of their compact size, you can grow them either indoors or outdoors. The mature plant of some varieties doesn’t exceed 6 inches on average. However, these are spreaders and they take more horizontal space than vertical.
Euphorbia Plant Varieties
With over 2000 species that grow in many tropical spots around the world, there’s a good chance you’ll find a euphorbia that catches your eye. Here are some of the most popular species that you can grow.
- Cushion spurge: A tall plant by euphorbia standards. It can reach 18 inches tall and is more tolerant of mild and cold weather conditions. This variety has hardiness zones between 4 and 8 and bloom in the spring. The flowers are usually yellow.
- Basketball euphoria: A compact succulent with a curious shape that changes as the plant develops. The stem starts as a spherical shape that later dissipates into a cylindrical stem. It has hardiness zones between 10 and 11 and is grown mainly indoors as an ornamental plant.
- Crown of thorns: A border plant that grows for up to 6 feet. It has a bushy shape and favors warm climates. It has hardiness zones between 9 and 11. Different hybrids and cultivars have bright blooms that come in red, yellow, and pink.
- Dragon fish bone: A unique variety that likes to spread and acquire a bushy shape. It usually starts to grow vertically until it reaches a certain height before spreading out. The mature plant grows to 6 feet high and spreads to 8 feet wide. Like the Crown of Thorns, it too favors warm climates and has plenty of thorns on the stems.
- Donkey-tail spurge: A perennial that likes to sprawl and spread around. It grows to one foot tall and has hardiness zones between 5 and 9. As such it is a good choice for moderate to warm climates. The foliage is stunning with blue-green leaves although the flowers are too tiny to notice.
- Wood spurge: Another evergreen bush variety that doesn’t grow beyond 24 inches. It can handle cold climates and has hardiness zones between 6 to 8. It flowers during the spring and the blooms are usually yellow.
- Mottled spurge: This spurge thrives in warm conditions as it has hardiness zones between 10 and 11. It spreads out into a large shrub with branches that look like scallops. Outdoors it reaches about 16 feet high.
How to Grow Euphorbias
Euphorbias are easy to grow and don’t require special attention while they establish in the soil. The easiest way to plant these perennials is from a cutting. Growing them from seeds is just too hassling and time-intensive. Not to mention that it’s hard to find seeds in the market due to their short shelf life. Here’s how to grow euphorbias in easy steps.
- Wear protective gloves and glasses at all times when handling euphorbias.
- Find a new shoot on a mature plant. The new shoot stands out with its light green color.
- Use a sharp and sterilized blade to cut the shoot near the stem. Collect as many cuttings as you need.
- The cutting will immediately start oozing a milky sap. Wash it off in cold water. The sap is both toxic and causes skin irritation so avoid getting it on your skin.
- Let the cuttings dry for one day as you prepare your soil.
- You can either use a succulent potting mix or you can make your own.
- Fill a pot with drainage holes in it with two portions of soil, one portion of sand, one portion of perlite, and one portion of peat moss.
- Dig holes in the soil near the edge of the pot using a pencil. The edge is usually moist compared to the soil in the middle of the pot that is often drier.
- Plant the cuttings in the holes and pack the soil to make sure they can stand upright. Water immediately.
- Keep the pot in a sunny spot and make sure to keep the soil moist.
- The cuttings will take between two to three weeks before roots develop.
- When the roots are about 2 inches long, you can repot the plants in their own pot or move them outdoors and plant them in the garden.
Euphorbia Plant Care
So far so good. Planting euphorbias is straightforward and simple enough. Caring for them is even easier. Once they have the right amount of water and sunlight, they will keep spreading their green foliage and delight you with their bright blooms.
While these hardy perennials will grow in just about any soil as long as it’s well-drained, they have a special preference for slightly acidic soil. This is why when you make your own potting mix you need to add plenty of perlite and peat moss. But even neutral soil will do just fine as far as euphorbias are concerned. Check the pH in the soil and make sure it’s between 6 and 7 for best results. If your garden has heavy soil, you should til the top 8 inches and add a liberal portion of sand or perlite to improve drainage.
Euphorbias are highly tolerant of drought and can handle dry soil better than wet or waterlogged pots. This puts them at odds with most succulents that crave plenty of water and don’t mind getting their feet wet. So you should always wait for the top few inches of the soil to dry out before you water the plants. The roots don’t handle exposure to water for too long and root rot sets in quickly. During the summer, you need only to water the plants once a week. If you get about one inch of rain, then you don’t need to irrigate the plants.
Whether you grow your euphorbia as a houseplant or you plant it in the garden, sunlight is a prerequisite for the survival and success of these perennials. How much sun your plant needs depends on the variety you have. Some varieties need at least 6 hours of full sun as is expected of many succulents. Others can handle partial shade and still bloom as usual. Your weather conditions also play a role here. If you live in a hot and humid climate where the sun shines all day every day, then partial shade is a must to protect the sensitive leaves and keep the blooms from fading quickly.
Almost all 2000 species of the euphorbia plant are highly toxic. If you cut the plant, you’ll notice a milky sap coming out of the cutting. This liquid is the plant’s defense mechanism against herbivores. If ingested it causes stomach ache and digestion problems. The sap is also a skin irritant and causes a painful itch that might develop into a rash and swelling of the infected area. You should always take precautions when handling the plant. Also, keep it away from inquisitive children and pets in the house.
Pests and Diseases
Thanks to its toxicity and sharp thorns, euphorbias don’t attract many pests. However, mealybugs and spider mites seem to have developed an immunity to the toxic sap. They usually feed on the leaves and stems and if left unchecked, they could kill your succulent in no time. Your best defense is to find them early and get rid of them using neem oil or a swap soaked in rubbing oil.
Since these succulents prefer well-drained soil, their roots are sensitive to waterlogged soil. Root rot develops quickly. Symptoms include yellow leaves, drooping flowers, and wilting stems. If you can’t save the plant, try salvaging some cuttings and starting new plants instead.
High humidity and lack of air circulation can lead to fungal infestations such as mildew. Make sure the plants are spaced well and avoid sprinkling the leaves or stem with water. If you have no control over the weather conditions outside, consider growing euphorbias indoors and use a fan to improve air ventilation.