Barrenwort (Epimedium) is an attractive, versatile, dry-shade-tolerant woodland perennial with an extensive growing range of USDA Plant Hardiness zones 4 - 8. Epimedium is native to Eastern Asian woodlands. This easy-care, tough, yet delicate-looking perennial has sprays of dainty spurred flowers emerging on graceful, wiry stems in the spring, followed by attractive fresh new foliage in a variety of shapes and colors. Barrenwort starts off slow but spreads nicely once it matures after a few growing seasons. Different varieties may be considered evergreen, semi-evergreen, or deciduous, depending on what growing zone you live in. Breeders are continually introducing exciting new varieties, and we are certain you’ll soon be hooked on this must-have shade garden perennial.
Plant Barrenwort in full to partial shade in an area with well-amended, moisture-retentive loam soil; however, you may notice more flowers when planted in dappled sunlight. Barrenwort is one of the few top perennials that will tolerate dry shade conditions like a champ once it’s fully established. Dig a hole twice as wide as the container it came in, and loosen the roots if you notice the plant is rootbound. Plant Barrenwort so the crown of the plant is slightly above the soil line. Backfill the hole with a combination of existing soil and organic matter such as garden compost. Apply a 2” layer of organic mulch to help the roots retain moisture. Divide Barrenwort every 3-5 years to rejuvenate the plant during the spring or fall.
To get Barrenwort off to a good start, water regularly and deeply when first planted and throughout its first few growing seasons to speed up and establish root development, particularly when summer temperatures soar. Once mature, Barrenwort will tolerate spells of dry heat and dry soil conditions.
Apply a well-balanced fertilizer in early spring before new growth appears. Barrenwort will benefit from a topdressing of organic matter such as garden compost twice a year, in early spring and once again in the fall. The compost will naturally break down over time to improve your soil structure and provide vital nutrients to Barrenwort’s root system.
Cut back the previous year’s foliage in later winter to allow for the new flower stems to emerge and be seen. Remove any dried, brown, or tattered foliage from the previous year, or simply cut back the entire plant to about 1” tall. Blooming will be followed by fresh new foliage.
Caring For Barrenwort in Pots
Barrenwort can be successfully grown in pots, preferably in well-draining potting soil. Lightly top dress the container with organic mulch, and place it in a partial to full shade location. Water the pot deeply at least once a week, more when it's very hot and dry during the summer months. The planter must have drainage holes and should be elevated, sitting on raised feet. You will need to provide additional winter protection if your pot is exposed to harsh wind and freezing temperatures. Insulating and placing the pot in a more protected area is helpful.
Winter Care for Barrenwort
Preparing your Barrenwort plant for winter is an important step to ensure it gets a healthy start in the spring. Remove any debris surrounding the plant base and discard it. Give your Barrenwort plant a thorough deep watering before the ground freezes–getting water to the plant’s root system is key. Apply a 2” layer of organic, loose mulch, such as finely shredded leaves or pine needles, to ensure the roots are well insulated during the winter months.
Common Barrenwort Care Questions
Is Barrenwort A Shade Plant?
Barrenwort can tolerate full shade, however, for the brightest colors and the greatest number of blossoms- they do best in sun-dappled areas
How Do You Divide Barrenwort?
Dig up the plants before they flower in spring. Tear apart the clumps rhizomes, or cut them apart.
When Can You Transplant Barrenwort?
They can be transplanted in the Spring- the same time when it is safe to divide them.
How Tall Does Barrenwort Grow?
Its evergreen foliage grows 6-18 inches tall- usually wide as it is tall.
Does Barrenwort Spread?
Yes, It is a rhizomatous plant, a clump-forming evergreen that tends to spread, it may grow well beyond its intended boundaries and crowd out other plants.
Can Barrenwort Grow In Sun?
Barrenwort can take morning sun but not hot midday or intense afternoon sun. They can tolerate full sun given that they will be needing more water.
When Should Barrenwort Be Cut Back?
The best month to cut back Barrenwort is in February, when old stems and leaves can be pruned without removing new flower buds.
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Author Chris Link - Published 01-12-2023