Heidi’s April Plant Pick: Epimedium

Rescued from No-Man’s-Land

My April plant pick is a small evergreen perennial that I found several years ago tenaciously growing in the dry, neglected no-man’s-land behind our garage.

Even there, it looked so pretty and healthy with its heart-shaped leaves in dense clumps.  I thought if it can do so well there, I should move it to a location where it can really thrive and be more appreciated.

So I did a little research and found out what I had was an Epimedium pinnatum ssp colchicum Barrenwort.  And they like dry shade.  So I planted it as a groundcover under our vine maple tree.

Epimedium groundcover under a vine maple tree with a hellebore in the foreground.

At the time, I was a little worried that I might be planting something that, if treated kindly, might become a little too “prolific” and take over the garden.  After all, it wouldn’t be the first time that I made that mistake.

But I’m happy to report that, although this plant has spread in the seven or so years since it was planted, it has been at a sane pace, and in a well-formed and attractive clump.

Epimedium pinnatum ssp. colchicum behind a piece of terracotta salvaged from an old building that was torn down and repurposed as garden art.

 But Why is it my April Plant Pick?

The delicate little yellow flowers with their brown-edged centers are blooming right now.  The flowers remind me of a tiny columbine or maybe an orchid.

Epimedium flower
Epimedium pinnatum ssp. colchicum

I had been cutting away the dried leaves on this plant – a tedious task that I often put off.  But this year, I took the advice of a local gardening expert and, in early February, I cut all the leaves back to the ground.  Soon after that, the blossoms emerged, followed by fresh new leaves.  So right now, this plant looks fresh and perfect.

Epimedium foliage closeup

But it looks good all summer.  In fall, the leaves get a little more leathery-looking and some of them turn an attractive copper color.

Information and Care

There are about 40 different species of Epimediums, and most of them come from Asia.  Some species have spectacular little flower clusters in pink, rose, yellow, red, white, or mixed colors.

Some plants are very small and subtle, and they thrive in woodland settings.  Some plants are evergreen, and some are deciduous.

Epimeduim pinnatum ssp. colchicum is hardy in USDA zones 4-9.  It is a tough and independent little guy that needs very little care.  It is slug and deer resistant.  Apart from needing well-drained soil and some shade, it isn’t very picky about where it’s planted.

I usually mulch my garden beds with an organic mulch a couple of times a year, and it seems to like this.  It also gets more moisture than it probably needs, but it doesn’t seem to mind this either.

And now I know that I can trim the whole plant to the ground in late winter.  This only takes a few minutes and is great for keeping the leaves attractive.

Epimedium closeup

My only caution in doing so is to make sure the flowers aren’t already springing up or I might risk cutting them down as well.

This plant is great in masses as a border or a groundcover.  It also works well in containers.


For a comprehensive guide to epimediums, check out A Plant Lover’s Guide to Epimediums by Sally Gregson.

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3 Replies to “Heidi’s April Plant Pick: Epimedium”

    1. Nancy, good question. I’m not finding anything in my reference books or online to indicate that they are invasive. And they haven’t been invasive in my garden (USDA zone 8a), although the original clump that I transplanted has probably more than doubled over the years. But it’s not springing up in unexpected places or making a nuisance of itself. Heidi

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