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The first words that come to mind in describing the genus of Epimedium are dainty, finely textured, durable, and easy.
Dainty describes the clusters of small flowers in early spring. Epimedium flowers come in a range of colors including white, yellow, apricot, rose, and lilac. Their size varies from ½" to 3" (E. grandiflorm) in diameter. They are borne on branched stems which lends them the appearance of floating above the ground. The individual flowers are little nodding cups, often with spurs like columbine.
The flowers usually appear in April or May. At this time you can cut away the foliage from the previous year to keep it fresh and to accentuate the blooms. Finely textured describes the foliage of Epimediums. The compound leaves arise from the ground on thin wiry stems. Leaf shape varies slightly from heart shaped to lanceolate. They unfurl in shades of bronze or spring green.
Most species are evergreen in our climate. Durable describes the Epimedium’s ability to tie the shade garden together in some of the most difficult of garden conditions. Especially since they are one of the few evergreen ground covers that can live successfully in dry shade! They can grow in partial to full shade with shallow rhizomes that make them perfect for under trees.
Generally these tough plants prefer a cool woodland situation under deciduous trees. Watering is always necessary through the first season to help them get established. Please refer to species listing below for drought tolerance. Furthermore, many species can with stand temperatures down to -10˚F (they grow in Maine!) As always check individual species listings for zone ratings.
One more thing to add, Epimediums are deer resistant. The last and extremely appealing word is easy. There are some basic planting guide lines to make this testimonial come true. Amend the top 4-8” of soil with compost (the ratio is 2/3 soil, 1/3 compost.) It’s always nice (but not necessary) to throw in some all purpose or transplanting fertilizer in the bottom of the hole. Keep plants moist through their first season so they can establish.
They are best planted in spring, fall or in the cooler parts of an early summer day. Epimediums do not thrive in hot sun. So position them in partial to dappled shade. They can grow in deep shade, but will bear sporadic blooms. These perennials are virtually pest free. Here at Portland Nursery we carry some of the more durable, showy Epimediums. We have listed some of our “regulars.” Please call either location for current availability.
Epimedium cantabrigiense- An evergreen spreading variety with garden origins. Foliage grows 10-18” high and about 36-40 wide. Small ½” flowers are yellow with a pink tinge. Foliage turns bronze in the fall. Drought tolerant and deer resistant! Zones 3-9
E. grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’- A clumping deciduous selection with large 2” dark lilac flowers. The species heralds from Japan, China and Northern Korea. Spring leaves hold copper tints that mature to light green. Foliage reaches 8-12” high and wide. Deer resistant. Zones 5-9.
E. grandiflorum ‘Rose Queen’- This beauty is similar to her sister above. Deep pink flowers with white tipped spurs, Zones 5-9.
E. x purralchium ‘Frohnleiten’- An evergreen, vigorous spreading variety. Foliage grows 14-16” high and about 20-24” wide. Leaves emerge bronze which then recedes to the edges through the summer. Show stopping flowers are 2 1/2” across and bright yellow. Drought tolerant, deer resistant. Zones 7-9.
E. pinnatun sub species colchicum - A slow spreading evergreen from Iran. Glossy, wavy foliage reaches 8-12” high and wide. ¾” yellow flowers with tiny red spurs. Drought tolerant, deer resistant. Zones 6-9.
E. rubrum - An evergreen vigorous clumping hybrid . Pointed leaves emerge reddish and mature to green. It grows 10-12” high and wide. Bright red ¾” flowers. Drought tolerant, deer resistant. Zones 5-10.
E. x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’- A vigorous clumping evergreen. Leaves emerge a rich bronze in spring. This epimedium reaches 10-12” high and wide with flowers gracefully arching above the foliage. Blooms are bright yellow with long spurs. Drought tolerant, deer resistant. Zones 5-9.
E. x youngianum ‘Nieveum’- A slow mounding, evergreen cultivar. Richly color leaves are bronze in spring maturing to green. It grows 8-12” high 10-12” wide. Pure white flowers ¾” across or smaller. Drought tolerant, deer resistant, Zones 5-9
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Genus: Epimedium (epi-MEE-deum)
Common name(s): Bishop’s Hat, Barrenwort, Fairy Wings
Origin: 44 species in the wild, originating from Eurasia and the Mediterranean
Culture: Epimediums grow in morning sun to light shade. They thrive in moist well drained soil, and tolerate drought when established. Long lived perennials perfect for ground covers or along borders. Zones 5-10 depending on species.
Pests & Diseases: Virtually pest and disease free! Root weevils may cause minor leaf notching. Root rot could kill a plant if it is not in a well drained area.
Maintenance: Cut foliage back in early spring to keep it fresh and show off the flowers. Fertilize after blooming with an all purpose fertilizer. Water through the first season to establish.
Propagation: Divide in late winter.