General Characteristics & Culture:
Culture & Growth: Epimediums are easy to grow, long-lived shade perennials that thrive in well-drained, moisture retentive soils. Although many grow on limestone in China, they also have grown very well here in the acid soils of New England. They can be planted in partial sun in northern latitudes; needing more shade further south. Too much sun will scorch the leaves. They are tough, and once established, most tolerate dry shady garden sites where other plants fail, making them good choices for planting under shallow-rooted trees and in gardens that experience periodic drought. Epimediums grow by underground woody rhizomes, and do not tolerate poor drainage. The length of their annual rhizome growth determines whether they will colonize an area, or remain in a clump. All varieties listed are clump-forming unless otherwise noted. Spreading types are so indicated in the description. We also list the typical annual rhizome growth under optimal conditions in our climate (central Massachusetts). Growth varies in different parts of the country, depending on conditions and length of season. Although some spread, they are not invasive. They are also not favored by deer. Heights range from 6” to 2.5’, but are most commonly from 12″ to 18″. Clump forming types usually mature to a plant that is as wide as it is tall. Use this general rule to help you with spacing the plants out in your garden when planting.
Hardiness: Unless otherwise stated in their descriptions, ALL plants offered here have thrived in our nursery (USDA Zone 5b), although we usually have snow cover. Many of these species/varieties are new to cultivation and have not been tested as to their environmental limits elsewhere. Customers in extreme weather areas often ask for suggestions as to which Epimediums will grow in their climate. For those gardening in USDA Zones 8 & 9, we suggest you first try plants categorized as heat-tolerant. Those in Zones 3 & 4 are advised to start with plants categorized as cold-tolerant. Epimediums do not tolerate rapid freezing and thawing, especially if their rhizomes are exposed. We recommend at least a few inches of mulch and caution against holding the plants in pots over winter—it is very risky!
Flowers: Epimediums have delicate flowers that bloom in May in Massachusetts. They come in a kaleidoscope of colors including white, yellow, purple, orange, red, and many shades in between. Their intriguing form is reminiscent of columbine, and most often composed of 4 inner sepals, a cup and 4 spurs. We define size as follows: Small= 1/4” to 3/4”; Medium= 7/8”to 1-3/8”; Large= 1-1/2” to 2+”. Flowers are borne above the leaves unless otherwise noted. The size of individual flower parts determines showiness, e.g. we describe the flowers of E. sagittatum as tiny (narrow parts), and those of E. alpinum as very small (wider parts), even though they are of the same diameter.
Leaflets: Size is difficult to generalize, as there can be a considerable range on a single plant. Unless otherwise noted, leaves are compound, and composed of from 3 to 27+ leaflets. Leaflets under 2” = Small; Medium= 2 to 4”; Large= 4 to 6”; Huge= 6”+. Many Epimediums also display spectacular but ephemeral spring foliage colors that repeat on leaves produced during secondary growth flushes. Some even display fall foliage color.
Evergreen/deciduous: Best described by Don Elick when referring to E. sempervirens and E. grandiflorum in his book Japonica Magnifica. “The real difference lies not in when, but in the way the leaflets go over: the deciduous ones fall away clean, however belatedly, whereas the evergreen ones decay on the stems, never fall, not even when a net of fibers is all that remains.” In USDA Zone 7 and warmer areas, the foliage of true evergreen types remains relatively intact over winter unless sited in an exposed area where it may suffer sunburn and desiccation. In colder areas, the leaflets of evergreen types often remain showy through December. Unless still attractive in spring, remove the previous year’s leaves before the new growth emerges to avoid damaging the tender young stems. Leaving the previous year’s growth intact encourages the growth of larger/taller plants with more robust leaves and flower scapes. New growth typically extends above the old growth, and if desired, the latter can be removed later, after the new growth matures. All varieties listed are deciduous, unless the description specifically states evergreen or semi-evergreen. Semi-evergreen types have foliage that persists in good condition after the initial round of hard frosts, but burns as winter comes on in earnest.
All propagation done on the premises
I propagate all of the Epimediums by division (no Epimediums are “bought in” for resale) to offer what is by far this country’s largest selection. Plant descriptions within this catalog remain sprinkled with snippets from Darrell’s adventures on his collecting trips to Asia. We will continue to convey useful information on the genus as to identity, and our experience and knowledge in growing the plants.Photos taken by Karen Perkins or Darrell Probst unless otherwise noted.