Thursday, 25 February 2021

Euphorbia - careful as you go!

 I'm not a big fan of Euphorbia as a genus: I find most of them quite untidy in growth, and dull in colour. 

OK, they have their moments: 

Here they are after a summer rain shower, all glittery with raindrops.

And, yes, I suppose they do provide height and colour through most of the winter.

But they have one major drawback, which makes me  dislike them, as a gardener: and that's the evil white milky sap. 

 It's sticky, it ruins your clothes, and for many of us it causes an allergic reaction if you get it on your skin. Apparently if you get it in your eyes it means a trip to the hospital, so for goodness sake, don't get it in your eyes!

At this time of year, a lot of us will be catching up with the cutting down, if you see what I mean, of the herbaceous plants, and many of the Euphorbia will need to be cut back as well, and because of that sap, it's well worth taking a bit of extra care when working with them.

For a start, always wear gloves. Always! And preferably long sleeves, just to make sure you don't get the sap on your skin.

With many perennials, it's usually easier to cut them in two stages, removing the tips, with the old flowers and seeds, to go on the bonfire heap, and then cutting the stems right down, with that material going onto the compost heap.

But not with Euphorbia! As soon as you cut or break a stem, that white sap starts to ooze out, so only cut once, and watch out for the cut stems in your hand dripping on you.

My method is to approach the plant (cautiously!) from one side, and gently gather up all the stems with one arm. Then I lean over and cut the first few stems as low as I possibly can, really close to ground level. The next few stems have to be cut very slightly higher, otherwise you find your hand is brushing across the stumps of the first ones, which nicely covers you in sap. So by the time I've done the entire clump, it has a gently shelving appearance.

As I cut, I lay the cut stems over to one side - it's no use picking them up, as they will drip everywhere, and it's less messy to pick them up all in one bundle, then shove them straight in the wheelbarrow and off to the bonfire heap with them.

Oh, and it's not just the stems, which ooze this milky sap - no, it's the leaves as well. 

So the most casual brush-past results in leakage.

This, as a concerned adult, is why I always encourage Clients to let me dig up and burn any Euphorbia, if they have children or pets. Or grandchildren. It is abominably easy to brush past the plant, and damage the foliage.

No matter how careful I am, I always end up with some sap on my gloves, so it's a good idea to wipe your gloved hands on the grass a couple of times, to get it all off. Otherwise you transfer it to your clothes, your legs, your hair.... you get the picture.

 This photo - above - shows a barrow-load of Euphorbia on their way to the bonfire heap: and yes, all those white splodges are droplets of sap - so always stack them in the wheelbarrow with the cut ends away from yourself!



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