Ask the master gardener
Q: How do I propagate Epimedium?
A: Fifteen years ago, a friend gave me a large clump of a beautiful foliage plant called epimedium, whose common names are barrenwort and bishop’s hat. By regular division of this one clump over the years, I now have large patches of this terrific groundcover in four areas and have given away several pots.
Its biggest virtues: it is a shade plant that looks good six months of the year; it grows nicely in DRY shade if necessary; and the deer don’t eat it, nor does it seem to be bothered by any other critters or diseases.
The genus epimedium is a perennial of 30 to 40 species. The plants are 10 to 12 inches high with heart-shaped leaves that are sometimes bronze in the spring before turning green with dark red highlights.
The leaves also color nicely in the fall. Before the leaves emerge, the plant produces delicate, airy spring flowers.
Mine are yellow-pink, but the possible range of colors includes white-yellow, pink, red and bronze.
Epimediums thrive in well-drained, moist fertile soil but they tolerate dry shade nicely. I’ve never watered mine. In late fall, I leave the now dry epimedium leaves on their wiry stems to catch and retain falling leaves, which serve as a good mulch.
In late winter or early spring, I clip back the old leaves in preparation for the lovely flower spikes. To divide, I dig up a clump and gently pull apart or clip apart the fibrous roots, with one spadeful producing four to six new clumps. The clumps spread at a nice pace but are not invasive.
My epimediums appear to appreciate the four to five hours of sunlight they receive once all the trees have leafed out.
— Karen Aversa, Pleasantville, master gardener, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Westchester