How to Grow and Care for Euphorbia

euphorbia plants

The Spruce / Kara Riley 

Euphorbia (Euphorbia spp.) is a very large genus of plants with more than 2,000 species. About 1,200 of them are succulents, some with bizarre shapes and wide, fleshy leaves and others that look remarkably like cacti, complete with spines. Growers commonly refer to plants in the genus as euphorbia or spurge.

Euphorbia is a somewhat confusing genus, with species and subgenera frequently added and deleted. The genus includes annual, perennial, and biennial species. You'll find herbaceous plants and woody shrub species as well as both deciduous and evergreen species. The linking characteristic among the species is the presence of a milky white sap in the plants.

The species of euphorbia grown for landscape use or as houseplants are mostly succulents, which feature fascinating shapes and foliage, but a few are known for their flowers. One of the most popular euphorbia species that is not a succulent is the poinsettia.

Most euphorbias bloom in the spring or summer and go dormant in the winter. In general, it’s best to plant most species in the spring after the threat of frost has passed, though houseplants typically can be started at any point. The species growth rates vary, from slow to fairly quickly.

All euphorbia are toxic to humans and are toxic to dogs and cats. The level of toxicity in the plant varies from species to species.

Common Name Euphorbia, spurge
Botanical Name Euphorbia spp.
Family Euphorbiaceae
Plant Type Herbaceous, perennial, succulent
Mature Size 6–36 in. tall, 6–36 in. wide
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Sandy, well-drained
Soil pH Neutral, acidic
Bloom Time Spring, summer
Flower Color Yellow, red, pink, white
Hardiness Zones 5–11 (USDA)
Native Area Africa, Asia, North America, South America
Toxicity Toxic to humans, toxic to pets
closeup of euphorbia plant
The Spruce / Kara Riley
closeup of euphorbia species
The Spruce / Kara Riley 
Candelabra Euphorbia (Euphorbia candelabrum)
Regis Cavignaux / Getty Images

Euphorbia Care

Euphorbias are very easy to care for. They require some pampering to become established, but once they are established, these plants are quite self-sufficient. In fact, more die from too much care, especially overwatering, than from neglect. However, they are fairly hardy and make great plants for beginners.

It's critical to provide your euphorbia with very well-draining soil. Soggy soil can quickly cause root rot and kill a plant. If you're growing your plant in a container, the pot must have ample drainage holes. An unglazed pot is best because it will allow excess moisture to escape through its walls as well as through the drainage holes.

Provide your plant with lots of sunlight and periodic watering. Avoid overhead watering, which can cause powdery mildew and other fungal problems on the foliage. Pruning is typically only necessary for overgrown plants to bring them back to a manageable size.


Euphorbia plants prefer full sun, meaning at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight on most days, though some species can tolerate part shade. In hot climates, some afternoon shade can be helpful for most species.


All euphorbias, especially the succulent varieties, need well-draining soil. A sandy soil with a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH between 5.0 and 7.0 is best, though most will do fine in slightly alkaline soil as well. When grown in containers, euphorbia should be planted in a cactus/succulent potting mix.


From spring to fall, when the plant is actively growing, water whenever the top few inches of soil feel dry. During the winter, reduce watering to only when the plant shows signs of wilt. 

Temperature and Humidity

Most euphorbia species can tolerate hot temperatures and prefer a warm environment with average daytime temperatures about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold tolerance varies among the species. Some will handle a light frost while others don’t grow well in temperatures below about 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity tolerance also varies. To prevent fungal diseases, it’s important for the plants to have good ventilation around them in high humidity climates.


Feeding requirements vary by euphorbia species, but in general, all of them will benefit from some fertilizer. Adding compost or a balanced organic fertilizer to a new plant will help to promote healthy growth. After that initial feeding, many Euphorbia species will do fine with a weak liquid fertilizer applied throughout the growing season. For the amount to use, follow the product label instructions.

Container-grown plants typically need more feeding than plants grown in the ground. And a plant that develops yellowing leaves at the bottom is one that's in need of feeding.

Types of Euphorbia

Here are some of the most popular euphorbia species: 

  • Cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma) is a clumping perennial growing 12 to 18 inches high with yellow flower bracts that appear in spring. It is grown in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8.
  • Crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii) is a bushy evergreen plant that can grow up to six feet tall outdoors in zones 9 to 11. It can also be grown as a houseplant but typically won't reach its maximum size indoors. Different cultivars offer red, pink, or yellow flowers that bloom repeatedly.
  • Baseball euphorbia (Euphorbia obesa) is a small succulent with a round, ball-shaped stem that gradually becomes cylindrical as the plant ages. It is usually grown as a houseplant but can be grown outdoors in zones 10 and 11.
  • Donkey Tail spurge, Myrtle spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) is an evergreen succulent with creeping, spiraled blue-green foliage. It grows six to ten inches tall and in the spring produces star-shaped yellow bracts. It makes a nice edging plant and is often used as a ground cover in zones 5 to 9.
  • Wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides) is a bushy evergreen that grows 18 to 24 inches tall with yellow flowers that appear in mid to late spring. It is suitable for growing in zones 6 to 8. Purple wood splurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides 'Purpurea') is a popular cultivar.

Propagating Euphorbia

Euphorbias can be grown from seed, but the seeds are difficult to germinate (or even find). Therefore, this plant is usually propagated by stem cuttings, ideally in the spring when the new growth starts but propagation can also be done in the summer.

  1. Using a sharp, clean knife, take a tip cutting at least three inches long. Fresh cuttings can ooze milky sap and irritate the skin, so wear gloves when handling them.
  2. Allow the cut stem to dry and callous over at least overnight, better for a couple of days. This will improve your success rate.
  3. Fill a four-inch pot with seed-starting mix or cactus potting mix and water it slowly until evenly moist.
  4. Dip the cutting in rooting hormone and insert it at least 1/3 of an inch into the soil.
  5. Keep the growing medium lightly moist as the cutting develops roots.
  6. Once you feel resistance when you gently tug on the stem, it is ready to be planted in a larger container or in a garden bed.

Potting and Repotting

If you grow euphorbia as a houseplant, choose a special potting mixture blended for cacti and succulents that drains quickly. Alternatively you can also mix together three parts potting soil, three parts coarse sand or gravel, and two parts perlite or pumice. A terra cotta pot works best because the porous nature of the material wicks away moisture from the soil and helps prevent root rot.

Common Pests & Diseases

Euphorbia plants tend to be mostly problem-free. Between the milky sap and the spiky needles, few insects find euphorbias tempting. However, be on alert for a few pests. Mealybugs and spider mites are the most common pests. They will feed on the plants, weakening and eventually killing them. The population of both these insects can increase to large numbers rapidly. So catching them early is your best chance of controlling them. Insecticidal soaps and oils are good nontoxic remedies.

Furthermore, root rot and fungal diseases can occur when conditions are too moist. Try to correct the plant's growing conditions first before resorting to fungicides.

varieties of euphorbia plants
The Spruce / Kara Riley
cushion spurge
Richard Radford / Getty Images 
crown of thorns spurge

Getty Images

wood spurge
Whiteway / Getty Images 
donkey tail spurge
  • What makes a plant a euphorbia?

    All plants in the Euphorbia genus are called euphorbia, which is the first part of their botanical name, followed by the species name, for example Euphorbia trigona, whose common name is the African milk tree.

  • Can you cut back euphorbia?

    It depends on if the euphorbia is a herbaceous perennial that drops its leaves in the fall or is a succulent evergreen. Perennial euphorbia types can be cut back in the spring. Evergreen euphorbia types usually only need light trimming and deadheading after flowering.

  • Is euphorbia a cactus?

    Succulent euphorbias like the pencil cactus often contain the word cactus in their common name and are mistaken for one. Botanically they are not members of the cactus family (Cactaceae).

Article Sources
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  1. University of California Agriculture, and Natural Resources. “Toxic Plants (by Common Name).” Ucanr.Edu,

  2. Lauren Jones, V. “Are Succulents Poisonous to Cats and Dogs?” Petmd.Com, PetMD, 17 May 2019,