Growing euphorbias from cuttings

Propagation via cuttings (clones)

Working in a public garden and chatting to visitors gives me insights into what plants are popular right now. One of the most asked about genera at the moment is euphorbia. This may be down to their appearance in stylish designer gardens with muted palettes at flower shows or maybe it’s their drought tolerance that is so appealing. I personally find them to be useful plants which work well with many planting schemes, from cottage gardens to tropical to arid.

Growing euphorbias is very easy but beware, all euphorbias exude a milky sap from their leaves and stems when cut which can cause severe irritation. Touching your eyes with just a trace of sap on your hands could result in a trip to A&E. It’s best to wear gloves when handling the plants and if working amongst them you should keep arms and legs covered.

Propagating most euphorbias is simple. They can be grown from seed but I find the easiest way to get quick results is to take cuttings (clones).

Select fresh, non flowering stems, preferably this year’s new growth from lower down the plant.

Remove lower leaves from the stem and tidy the bottom cut with a sharp knife just below a leaf node, on a cleaner chopping board than mine. Trimming the top leaves by about half will help reduce transpiration (water loss). Many gardeners will dip the stem into ground charcoal which stops the sap from dripping but I don’t find this necessary. I never use rooting hormone either but I guess it’s down to personal choice.

Prepare a free draining mix to grow your cuttings in as they will rot if waterlogged. I use equal parts compost, perlite and grit. Fill a pot with the mix, water it, dib holes with a pencil or cane and pop in your cuttings. Slightly firm the mix around them, add a label and cover with either a plastic bag or as I prefer to use, the bottom half of a plastic bottle. If using a bag, place a couple of sticks in the pot to prop the bag up and prevent it from sticking to the leaves.

Place the pot in a warm, not hot position, out of direct sunlight. It’s worth lifting off the cover once each week to refresh the air inside. The cuttings should be kept moist but not wet. I often find they need no additional watering before roots develop, usually within a few weeks.

Spring is the best time for taking cuttings but so long as they are well rooted before winter most varieties can be propagated until the end of summer. The E. x pasteurii ‘Skinny Bere’ cuttings shown above were taken last August. I left them in an unheated greenhouse over winter where they sat quite dormant. Now they are growing quickly and even branching out. ‘Skinny Bere’ is a large, statuesque plant to around 5ft tall but euphorbias of all sizes are available.

A few of my favourites…

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