The Epimedium genus is a group of plants described as carpeting perennials. Native to woodlands in Asia and the Mediterranean regions, these spring blooming plants encompass dozens of varieties that grow well under trees, and in shade and rock gardens, adding a burst of spring color to the landscape. Most will fill in a desired space over time through the slow spread of woody rhizomes, without taking over the garden or crowding out other desired plants. Epimediums are an ideal addition that work well as ground cover plants in partially shaded areas where other plants may fail to grow.
Most Epimedium plants have heart-shaped or arrow-shaped leaves with red markings. They produce dainty flowers in the spring, each with four petals. The flowers grow on arching leafless stems and appear to hover above the plant, mimicking butterfly wings. They can be seen in red, pink, purple, white, yellow, and orange and may bear a resemblance to orchid blossoms at first glance. Some herb species within the Epimedum genus have been used in Chinese traditional medicine, but research into the medicinal properties of this plant is limited..
|Common Name||Epimedium, barrenwort, bishop’s hat, fairy wings, horny goat weed|
|Plant Type||Perennial, groundcover|
|Mature Size||8-12 in. tall, 12-36 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Partial, shade|
|Soil Type||Loamy, sandy, moist but well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral, alkaline|
|Flower Color||Red, pink, orange, yellow, purple, white|
|Hardiness Zones||5-8, USA|
|Native Area||Asia, Mediterranean|
Epimedium plants are generally easy to care for. Mediterranean varieties are often evergreen and sport their showy foliage year-round. These varieties are considered more drought tolerant than the Asian varieties which die back during the winter. During fall, foliage may turn red, yellow, or bronze, depending on the variety. These easy-going ground cover plants do not often struggle with pests or diseases. Rabbits and slugs may nibble on the foliage, but do not often cause lasting harm. However, vine weevils and the mosaic virus can affect these plants.
Mimicking the woodland conditions of the Epimedium's natural habitat will create the perfect environment for the plants to thrive. They enjoy the dappled shade of trees and the resulting leaf mulch. Planting them near trees and adding compost or leaf mold yearly is ideal.
These plants prefer partial or dappled lighting. They are also a good choice as a shade-garden plant but are not suited for full sun locations. They thrive under trees or near larger structures that shade them from harsh afternoon sunshine.
Epimedium plants are great additions to dry, rocky soils where other plants may struggle. They are considered drought-tolerant, especially the Mediterranean varieties. They do well when planted near trees, as they handle root competition well. Though they can grow in rocky, dry soils, they perform best in fertile and well-draining soil and cannot handle soggy conditions.
Preferred soil pH levels depend on the variety being planted. Generally, most Epimediums prefer neutral to slightly acidic soil conditions.
Because these plants are drought-tolerant, Epimedium plants will not need a regular watering schedule once established. Water only when the soil begins to dry out, making sure it drains properly and does not pool or cause the ground to get soggy. With young plants, consistent watering is needed to help the plants establish.
Temperature and Humidity
Epimediums are hardy little plants that can be grown in USDA hardiness zones five to eight. They can handle a wide range of temperatures and humidity levels. However, intense heat, such as from the summer sun, can scorch the leaves.
Because these plants are often found growing in woodland areas or under trees, Epimedium plants appreciate having compost or leaf mold worked into the soil yearly. Add this or a slow-release fertilizer each spring.
Types of Epimedium
- Epimedium ‘Pink Champagne’: This vibrant, evergreen variety is known for its spiky, pink flowers and red-bronze foliage.
- Epimedium x perralchicum: This variety’s leaves turn a beautiful bronze in the spring and fall. It produces small, yellow flowers that appear in the spring.
- Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’: As suggested by its name, the ‘Amber Queen’ variety is known for its amber-yellow flowers that appear in spring and remain through mid-summer.
Pruning is only necessary for evergreen varieties of Epimedium. In early spring, before flowers appear, it is best to prune the foliage to the ground. Because these varieties do not shed their leaves, fading leaves need to be trimmed away to encourage fresh, healthy growth and a beautiful, vibrant plant.
This ground cover grows slowly, but it will eventually fill its intended place. Division is a great way to keep Epimedium plants contained as well as provide more plants for other areas. It is best to divide in the spring after flowering or in the late summer to early fall. You will need gloves, a shovel, and a pair of garden snips.
- Using the shovel, gently loosen the soil around the plant.
- Once the soil is loose and the root structure can be moved, gently remove the plant.
- Using the shovel and snips, cut through the root system to divide the plant. Be sure each division has a healthy root system and foliage.
- Plant each division in its desired location.
How to Grow Epimedium From Seed
Starting Epimedium from seeds is easy and quick. However, it is good to keep in mind that the seeds will most likely produce a plant with different characteristics than the mother plant. For identical plants, propagation by division is preferred. If you would like to start them from seeds, follow these instructions:
- Keep a careful watch on the plant to harvest the seeds. The seeds are dropped while still green, making them easy to miss.
- Once seeds appear, collect them and sow them immediately. Do not let the seeds dry out.
- Gently cover them with a small amount of soil, but do not bury them deep. Do this outdoors and allow the winter to cold stratify the seeds. If the seeds are planted indoors, place the pots in the refrigerator for around three months.
- Germination will occur in the spring if planted outdoors. If planted indoors, germination will occur after they are removed from the refrigerator.
- Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Plant indoor seedlings outdoors after the threat of frost has passed.
Potting and Repotting Epimedium
Their slow-growing, hardy nature makes Epimedium plants a great option for container gardens. When choosing a container, be sure it has drainage holes that allows water to flow freely from the bottom. Add compost or leaf mold to the soil before planting. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. When the Epimedium outgrows the container, simply remove and divide the plant.
Epimedium plants handle cold winters well. Some varieties naturally die back during the winter while others are evergreen. Because of this, Epimedium plants do not require any extra attention to survive the winter, as long as they are grown in their appropriate zones.
How to Get Epimedium to Bloom
Plants within this genus produce delicate, four-petalled flowers that appear to hover above the plant. Depending on the variety, these flowers can be seen in red, pink, orange, yellow, purple, white, or a combination of these colors. Some flowers feature spiky petals while some have smooth, round petals. All give these plants a delicate, elegant look.
Epimedium plants usually bloom in the spring. To encourage blooming, be sure to give the plant compost or fertilizer in the spring and provide it with ideal conditions, especially in terms of light and water.
Common Problems With Epimedium
Epimedium plants are quite hardy and are generally problem-free. Besides the occasional pest mentioned earlier, root rot may be a problem if the soil is not draining properly.
Discolored, Wilting Leaves
Root rot may cause discolored, yellow, wilting, small leaves, soggy stems, and dark, soft roots. This is caused by too much moisture in the soil. To fix this problem, gently remove the plant and cut away any infected areas. Soil amendments, like compost or sand, should be used to increase drainage.
Do Epimedium plants spread?
Yes, Epimedium plants are considered spreading ground plants. However, most varieties grow at a slow rate and do not share the invasive qualities of many other ground cover plants.
Are Epimediums considered evergreen?
Some Epimediums are evergreen while others die back during the winter. This depends on the variety. Most Asian varieties die back while most Mediterranean varieties are evergreen.
Where do Epimedium plants grow?
Epimediums are native to Asia and the Mediterranean. They are often found growing in woodland areas with dappled lighting and well-draining soil.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. Horny goat weed. Updated September 7, 2021.