Choose epimedium for ground cover

There are 58 species of epimedium, a statement-making ground cover. This one is called the royal flush. (Submitted photo)

I saw pictures of a yard with this incredible ground cover of green leaves with red edges. I started investigating and found that is was epimedium, also called barrenwort, bishop’s hat and fairy wings.

Epimedium is a perennial that spread from rhizomes (underground stems), and come in 58 species, can make an amazing display under trees in deep shade and drought conditions. I had to get some of these plants to add to my collection.

These plants have been grown by gardeners for more than 150 years. The Asia varieties are deciduous (they die back in winter), and the Mediterranean are evergreen. They are rated for Zone 5 and bloom in mid-spring, but can go into May and June depending on location.

The flowers are four-pointed (look like columbines) with spurs, and come in white, pink, red, lavender, yellow and purple. They come two to seven leaflets on a stem per leaf. The leaves are heart-shaped oval and pointed with hairs.

They are most commonly grown as a ground cover but have other uses in the garden.

As with other plants that spread from rhizomes, some of these spread quickly. Others grow at a gentle pace.

They are not invasive. In fact, many varieties are slow growers — and even slower yet when they are grown in dry conditions.

They will grow to 8 to 10 inches high and spread to 18 inches. They should be planted 3 feet apart in a garden setting.

Care is easy for epimedium plants. They enjoy the shade with damp fertile soil, but will grow in the sun as long as you provide more water. They grow into mounding clumps that can be divided to encourage healthy growth.

Epimediumgrandiflora — “Rose Queen” — is a true beauty that makes quite a statement in the yard. You may have to hunt for this one but I am sure it will be well worth it.

Other great attributes of this plant include deer and rabbit resistance. What else could you ask for? Well, they have very limited disease issues and they can tolerate both heavy shade and dry soils. Plants, similar to hosta, can be divided every three to four years. This helps keep plants as healthy as possible and gives gardeners more plants for other locations or to share with others.

To learn more about this wonderful plant and its species and hybrids, go to: https://go.osu.edu/epimedium.

Hughes is an Ohio State University Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Mahoning County.


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