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Home & garden.

5 Jan 2022

How to grow epimedium

With spring flowers and beautiful leaves, epimedium is a great plant for shade. Discover our best epimedium varieties and tips for how to grow them.
CT
Ceri Thomas
Epimedium

The striking flowers of epimedium, poised on spindly stems like a crowd of colourful spiders, always look enticing in photographs – though they’re a little more petite in the flesh than you might have imagined. The leaves can be colourful, too, in spring and again in autumn. They’re good ground-covering plants for shady parts of the garden, with different ones suitable for moist or dry shade

Which? Gardening magazine grew a range of popular varieties in the north and south of the UK over two years to see which would give us the best display.


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Key facts

PLANT TYPE Hardy perennial

POSITION Shade or partial shade

SOIL Well-drained or moist depending on the variety

How to grow epimedium: month by month

JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJune


PRUNE/FLOWERINGFLOWERINGFLOWERINGFLOWERING
JulyAugustSeptemberOctoberNovemberDecember






Best epimedium varieties

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Best Buy epimediums
What it looks likeVariety nameHeight x spread
45 x 40cm
This variety really stood out from the crowd in our trial, with a long-lasting and impressive display of large flowers on masses of long stems. The glossy, heart-shaped leaves are evergreen and looked neat throughout winter, though they stayed green and didn’t redden. The new leaves did have some speckled red colouring. But it was the flowers, untouched by frost and held high above the leaves for many weeks, that really drew attention. It's best for moist soil in partial shade. Peak flowering: April-June.
What it looks likeVariety nameHeight x spread
30 x 30cm
This variety is recommended as one that reflowers, and we had flowers in July and August at both our trial sites during the first year and in north London in the second year. The medium-sized (3cm) blooms faced outwards more than some, so the delicate details could be seen. The new leaves, which were still appearing in late May, were a pretty shade of deep red, too. This is an evergreen variety that looked neat during the winter, though some of the leaves turned brown in snow in Glasgow. It's best for moist soil in shade. Peak flowering: April-May.
What it looks likeVariety nameHeight x spread

How we test epimediums

In spring, we planted 27 varieties of epimedium at the Which? Gardening magazine trial garden in north London, where the soil is well drained and the weather tends to be relatively dry and mild; and at Greenbank Garden in Glasgow, where the heavy clay soil and colder, wetter conditions give plants some very different problems to contend with. They were planted in the light shade of nearby trees on both sites and we made sure they were watered well while settling in.

We assessed the plants weekly from spring to autumn in both years and monthly in winter, looking at when they flowered and for how long, whether they reflowered in summer, whether they were evergreen and, if so, how attractive they looked over winter. We also looked at the leaf colour in spring.

Caring for your plants

Planting

Plant in light shade in dry or moist soil according to the requirements of the variety chosen. Add organic matter (leaf mould is best) when planting, and water all varieties well if it’s dry, until they’re established. Different varieties prefer different soil acidity and alkalinity, but soil that is just on the acid side of neutral (pH of 6.2-6.5) is recommended as suitable to grow the widest range of species.

Pruning

With deciduous varieties, you should remove the old leaves in late winter before the buds appear, so you’ll get a better view of the flowers and new coloured foliage. Don’t remove the leaves of the evergreen varieties in spring as they can take a long time to regrow.

Deadheading

Deadheading won't prolong flowering as flowers are formed in the previous season. But it’s worth doing to tidy your plants once flowering has finished.

Common growing problems

Frost

Frosty weather at flowering time can kill the flower buds and ruin the display. Varieties that hide their flowers among old foliage can be less prone to frost damage than those with taller stems. So, unfortunately, the varieties with the most visible flowers are the ones more likely to get damaged by frost. 

Planting them under a canopy of trees or among other plants can help to protect them. It may also be worth tucking horticultural fleece around them if you see late frosts forecast.