How to Grow Purple Wood Spurge

Purple wood spurge bush growing on hill with dark purple leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Purple wood spurge is an evergreen perennial favored for its purple-tinged, dark green leaves. The foliage retains some color during the wintertime, so the plant can be considered a "winter interest" specimen in areas that don't receive much snowfall (where there is heavy snow, these low-level plants may be buried for much of the winter). Medium-growing wood spurge is easy to care for and is deer-resistant, but it is also toxic to humans.

Euphorbia amygdaloides 'Purpurea' makes for a good rock garden plant or edging plant. It also can work at the edge of a woodland garden, provided there is sufficient sunlight. Purple wood spurge blooms in the spring, in fact, that's the time of year when all the magic happens for this plant: it's also when it should be divided, or when its seeds should be planted.

The growth of purple wood spurge can vary significantly, but the typical size at maturity is 12- to 18-inches tall, with a spread of about twice the height. The stems are ringed by leaves, the beauty of which is the main reason gardeners choose to grow this perennial.

Botanical Name Euphorbia amygdaloides 'Purpurea'
Common Name Purple wood spurge
Plant Type Evergreen perennial
Mature Size 1-ft. wide, 3-ft. tall
Sun Exposure Shade
Soil Type Sandy
Soil pH Neutral
Bloom Time Late spring
Flower Color Yellow, green
Hardiness Zones 4-9 (USDA)
Native Area Europe, Asia
Toxicity Toxic to humans and animals

Purple Wood Spurge Care

Wood spurge typically blooms in May. Note that what makes the inflorescence noteworthy is not the actual flowers (which are yellow or green but insignificant) but rather the accompanying chartreuse bracts. Clusters of these appear atop the plant's red stems, which provide eye-catching contrast for the light-green bracts.

The new foliage of purple wood spurge is lighter in spring (red to burgundy) than what follows. It is also lighter than any old leaves. The coloration after the initial leafing out becomes a deep purple-green. The stems start out red, although they lose this coloration in summer. Likewise, the leaves become progressively more green as summer advances. By August, the leaves are totally green and darker than the coloration on most green plants.

The foliage becomes a very dark purple-green again in the fall. By November, there may be an interesting pinkish-red on the bottom leaves, while the rest of the leaves assume a purple color. If December is cold (in zones 4-5), the stems of wood spurge may start to droop over, and this deterioration eventually spreads to the leaves. In warmer areas (and during relatively warm winters in zone 5), much of the foliage should remain healthy and assume a black-purple color that is quite alluring.

Purple wood purpurea spurge stems with dark purple leaves and light green buds closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Purple wood spurge purpurea plant with dark green and purple-tinged leaves on end of stem closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Purple wood leatherleaf spurge with dark green leaves wit new leaves lined with red closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

Grow this dark-leaved perennial in well-drained soil of average fertility, in full sun to partial shade. Full sun can improve the leaf color.

Soil

Purple wood spurge needs to be planted in well-draining, fertile soil.

Water

Moderate watering is what your wood spurge thrives on.

Temperature and Humidity

Wood spurge is indigenous to Europe and Asia. It can be grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 4-9.

Fertilizer

During the growing season, feed your purple wood spurge every two weeks.

Is Purple Wood Spurge Toxic?

All parts of the purple wood spurge are toxic to humans and animals because its sap, or latex, contains diterpene esters. Wear garden gloves when working with this plant to keep yourself safe.

Symptoms of Poisoning

Contact with purple wood spurge can irritate the eyes and skin of people and animals, and all parts of it are also toxic to eat. Call poison control, or your veterinarian, if you or your animals eat or touch purple wood spurge.

Purple Wood Spurge Varieties

  • Leatherleaf spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae): works well as a spreading ground cover
  • Cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma): grows in a dome shape and is perfect for borders
  • Mole plant (Euphorbia lathyris): features long, thin leaves, and greenish-yellow flowers

Pruning

Purple wood spurge is not especially amenable to pruning, nor is pruning usually necessary since it's not a large plant. If you do prune it, don't expect re-growth to occur quickly.

Furthermore, the plant blooms on the previous year's growth, so if you decide to prune (and if you value the flowers), wait until after the blooming period. Under some conditions, the plant may get leggy enough that you might want to prune it to restore compactness.

Cleanup is a separate issue from pruning. For best appearance, cut off the flower stalks in June after they dry out and become less attractive. In spring, in cold climates, you also might remove damaged portions of stems that have succumbed to the winter cold.

Purple wood spurge readily self-sows, so unless you want it to spread, you'll probably have to pull new seedlings continually. Divide the plant in early spring to prevent overcrowding, if necessary.

Propagating Purple Wood Spurge

The easiest way to propagate purple wood spurge is by digging up the clumps of roots in the spring, dividing them, and replanting.

How to Grow Purple Wood Spurge From Seed

Purple wood spurge is super easy to grow from seed: simple sow its seeds directly into the ground! Germination takes 2- to 3-weeks.

Potting and Repotting Purple Wood Spurge

Euphorbia amygdaloides 'Purpurea' does very well in containers, if planted in the right medium.

To do: buy large planters and fill them with a mixture of sand and regular potting soil. Wearing garden gloves, remove the seedling from its container—remember, purple wood spurge is toxic and can cause contact dermatitis. Place the seedling on the soil mix, and arrange it so its root ball is 1-inch below the rim of the pot. Fill with the soil mixture. Note: it's best to have one purple wood spurge per pot. Water when the top feels dry.

Common Pests/Diseases

Purple wood spurge is a favorite for aphids, which you can treat with insecticidal soap. It also falls prey to grey mold, which can be treated by removed all infected areas with sterilized garden shears, not watering in the evening, and treating your plants with a copper-soap fungicide.