Handsome Euphorbias for the Southern Garden

I first noticed euphorbias when I lived in England, and they struck me then as both handsome and quirky, but I never considered them again until I was working as a designer years later. One summer our wholesale grower listed a few different euphorbias as accent plants for the upcoming fall season. Those of us on the design staff were always looking for something different to pair with pansies or violas instead of the typical winter companion plants, ornamental kale or cabbage. The fact that euphorbia was evergreen and held up well in cold weather made it a very useful plant, but what caught me by surprise months later was the beautiful spring growth of these plants, followed by flowers that were much more interesting than those of any brassica. I loved seeing the acid green bracts of ‘Ascot Rainbow’ floating elegantly on tall stems over beds of pansies. I was addicted.

‘Ascot Rainbow’ euphorbia in a bed of ‘True Blue’ pansies

As a cool season plant, euphorbias growing in Georgia zones 7 and 8 will stand up to just about anything winter will throw at them. In April it is a joy to watch the blooms elongate and open on strong stems, which will persist until you remove them in late summer. Plants used as winter accents can be left in place or transplanted to another sunny area of the garden.

As a warm season plant in a garden border, euphorbias are wonderful paired with many types of perennials and grasses. The only thing they require is sunshine and well-drained soil. They have moderate water needs and are considered drought-tolerant once established. Do not overwater them– it is the kiss of death!

Euphorbia amygdeloides ‘Robbaie’ is especially useful to me in my Southern garden as it thrives in dry shade, making it perfect to use at the edge of woodland as an evergreen groundcover along with shade-loving shrubs. ‘Robbaie’ will slowly spread, a plant trait that I appreciate because honestly I would much rather cover the ground with plants than pinestraw or bark mulch.  

If you love dark and moody foliage plants, euphorbia Blackbird’ will thrill you, with its dark purple foliage and vibrant green bracts in spring. This variety is wonderful combined with other foliage plants or annuals in fiery tones of red or orange.

‘Galaxy Glow’ has bracts that will turn from yellow-green to rose pink by summer. The slightly glacous leaves of this variety appeal to me (I’m a sucker for any plant with blue-green foliage) and I planted several last fall near a group of ‘Canyon Creek’ abelias. The abelia holds onto its spent flowers, which slowly form tawny rose baubles on each branch by late summer, which will echo the colorful bracts of the euphorbia.

‘Shorty’ euphorbia combined with dusty miller and violas in a spring container planting.

Euphorbias are also very useful in areas where deer are present. They will not eat this plant. (The milky sap in the stems is toxic.)

Note that if you have dogs who like to nibble on everything in your garden, you should probably not use large quantities of this plant. Please use common sense and wear gloves when you remove the spent blooms at the end the summer, and don’t touch your eyes, or I’m told that you’ll be spending a bit of time at the hospital getting assistance with eye irritation.

Warnings aside, chances are that you need this plant genus somewhere in your garden, but you hadn’t realized it until just now. I love classic flowers just as much as the next guy, but sometimes you need something that is a bit more architectural, more handsome than pretty. This is that plant.

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