Spurge is one of the most diverse and largest classes of plants with over 2,000 species in the family. Showy modified leaves (technically called bracts) provide visual interest. Most are green, but other colors are available, too. This tough and vigorous grower quickly fills a garden space.
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Spurge is one of the few plants known for its standout green flowers that complement all other flowers in a garden. The foliage colors of spurge are diverse, with blue, green, burgundy, and variegated options.
Spurge Care Must-Knows
Growing conditions between species vary, but it is usually best to plant spurge in full sun, which ensures colored varieties will be their best and brightest. Part sun is typically tolerated, too, but you may miss out on some flowers and the foliage color may be more muted.
Spurge performs best in well-drained soil. Some types are like succulents and can be treated like a cactus. These types are drought-tolerant; err on the side of more dry than wet because they can rot, leaving you with a pile of mush.
Spurge has a milky white sap when cut or damaged. This sap is generally poisonous and is what makes the plant deer- and rabbit-resistant. The sap is an irritant to humans as well, so wear gloves when you are handling spurge as it can cause a skin rash. Also, avoid getting the sap in your eyes; it can cause vision problems, even blindness.
Spurge can be aggressive, and some varieties can be invasive. Most spurge will spread by underground rhizomes, creating dense mats of foliage. This makes it a great option as a groundcover or as a filler between taller plants. It can also make it a bully as it chokes out smaller plants. Make sure to pull up runners early before they take over.
More Varieties of Spurge
'Blue Haze' spurge
Euphorbia 'Blue Haze' produces eye-catching chartreuse flowers in late spring to early summer on blue-green foliage that grows 18 inches tall. Zones 7-9
Euphorbia 'Bonfire' shows off rich maroon foliage from spring to fall. In spring it also bears clusters of chartreuse flowers. It grows 1 foot tall and wide. Zones 5-9
Euphorbia polychroma develops shades of chartreuse, yellow, burgundy, red, and orange through the seasons. In fall the foliage turns brilliant red, maroon, and orange. It grows 12 to 20 inches tall. Zones 3-10
Euphorbia cyparissias grows upright, resembling a tiny spruce or cypress tree, but the plant spreads to form a bushy groundcover. It produces chartreuse bracts, which age to red. Zones 4-8
Euphorbia 'Froeup' is sometimes called Excalibur. Growing 2 to 3 feet tall, its foliage emerges with a red tint, matures to deep green, and takes on yellow tones in fall. Zones 5-8
'Glacier Blue' spurge
Euphorbia characias 'Glacier Blue' grows 2 feet tall and wide and is prized for its white-edge, gray-green foliage. The flowers, which appear in spring, are cream with green centers. Zones 7-11
Euphorbia griffithii has green foliage with a purplish-red tinge; it turns orange-red in fall. It produces small yellow flowers surrounded by showy orange-red bracts on plants up to 3 feet tall. Zones 4-9
Helena's Blush spurge
Euphorbia amygdaloides 'Inneuphhel' Helena's Blush bears green foliage edged in white and pink and chartreuse-variegated bracts. It grows 20 inches tall and is often grown as an annual. Zones 6-9
Euphorbia x martinii is a shrubby plant 3 feet tall with reddish-purple leaves. It bears chartreuse bracts (petals) with small red flowers. Zones 7-10
Spurge Companion Plants
Phlox are one of those bounteous summer flowers any large sunny flowerbed or border shouldn't be without. There are several different kinds of phlox. Garden and meadow phlox produce large panicles of fragrant flowers in a wide assortment of colors. They also add height, heft, and charm to a border. Low-growing wild Sweet William, moss pinks, and creeping phlox are effective as ground covers, at the front of the border, and as rock and wild garden plants, especially in light shade. These native gems have been hybridized extensively especially to toughen the foliage against mildew problems; many recent selections are mildew-resistant. Phlox need amply moist soil for best overall health.
This North American native plant has a home in nearly every garden with flowers that hummingbirds love. Long blooming with brilliantly colored, tubular flowers, penstemons—ironically—have been a staple in European gardens for decades. There are many different penstemon types. The leaves are lance-shape or oval, sometimes purple-red as in 'Husker Red'. Some Western species need outstanding drainage to dry conditions and won't thrive during wet weather. However, many, such as 'Husker Red', thrive in a wide variety of conditions. Just be sure to provide excellent drainage. Mulch in areas where a type is marginally hardy.
New Zealand Flax
Bring a note of the tropics to your garden with the bold, colorful, strappy leaves of New Zealand flax. They are excellent as container plants that can be overwintered with protection, but in warm areas, they're spectacular planted directly in the ground. Flower panicles may reach 12 feet tall in some selections with red or yellow tubular flowers. Blooms only appear in mild climates, but there they attract many species of birds. If space is limited, check out dwarf forms. While New Zealand flax is a popular perennial in frost-free areas, it's becoming more and more loved in northern regions, where it's treated as an annual.