Elf flowers are the true beauties of the shade perennials. Between copses and under trees, they cover the space with a dense carpet of leaves. The graceful flowers float like little elves on the delicate heart-shaped canopy. Depending on the species, the leaf ornamental shrub can reach a height of 15 to 30 centimeters.

True jewels in the garden

As a decorative groundcover, the elven flowers with about 40 species are mainly distributed in the Mediterranean area and in Asia. In the meantime, however, many species and varieties have also found their way into German gardens, where they became known as bishop’s hat or sockflower, among other things. Despite its dainty appearance, the flowering ground cover is robust, easy to care for and long-lasting. The small, graceful, star-shaped flowers in white, yellow, orange, red or purple already appear in spring. Together with the foliage of green or brown tones, they attract with an expressive play of colors. Some varieties turn their leaves a warm reddish hue in the fall and others delight the eye with their green foliage all year round. There are species that produce new foliage when they flower in spring while the old ones die off.

Elf flowers can cross each other as well as be crossed. This has already resulted in countless hybrids, each of which has a fascinating effect on the viewer. However, there is also a downside. Crossbreeding makes it difficult to preserve the individual species. Nevertheless, the mysterious flowers are an enrichment for every garden.

Popular varieties and species

The Red Elf Flower (Epimedium x rubum) is a perennial garden herb. The undemanding plant is evergreen and combines well with other perennials. The deciduous foliage turns orange to yellow in autumn.

The Alpine Elf Flower (Epimedium alpinum) has beautiful bright purple flowers and heart-shaped dark green leaves, as well as red flowers with white flecks of colour. This variety is partly wintergreen and suitable for drier and sunnier locations.

Sulfur Pistachio (Epimedium x versicolor ‘ Sulphureum’) is a graceful foliage plant with yellowish flowers. During budding, the leaves are reddish in color and in winter they appear in a warm bronze hue.

The Orange Queen (Epimedium x warleyense) tolerates summer drought and is easily suitable for difficult locations. Its leaves are light green with a red edge when they sprout. The flowers shine in a bright orange.

Another beautiful variety is the Cambridge Elfflower (Epimedium x cantabrigiense). It impresses with its reddish flowers, which have a yellow edge. The plant grows to about 40 centimeters high and forms runners. Silvery Caucasus forget-me-not or male fern are particularly suitable as plant partners.

Among the species of the large- flowered elf flower (Epimedium grandiflorum) there are some varieties that fascinate with an aesthetic play of colors in the leaves and flowers. The most beautiful among them are:

  • ‘Rose Queen’ (green foliage, orchid-like dark pink flowers)
  • ‘Lilofee’ (dark green leaves, deep pink to violet delicate flowers)
  • ‘Elf Queen’ (white flowering plant with brownish green leaves)
  • ‘Rubinkrone’ (radiant with purplish red flowers and a brownish green foliage)


Elf flowers feel most comfortable in semi-shady to shady locations. If the soil is moist enough, the beauties can also tolerate some sun. However, blazing sun should be avoided, otherwise the pretty leaves will burn. Some species even thrive in the darkest and driest locations and tolerate the pressure of other roots surprisingly well.
Elf flowers develop their full splendor on nutrient-rich, permeable, lime-free, humus-rich and moist soil. If the location is protected from cold and dry wind, an easy-care and hardy plant will develop.


Elf flowers make no special demands on care. They are frugal ground covers that can sometimes survive dry periods. After the flowers have faded, all flower stalks and dead foliage should be removed.

Elf flowers have their roots just below the surface of the earth. Therefore, if possible, you should not hoe too deeply and weeds should only be removed by weeding. The leaf ornamental perennial only survives long dry periods with additional watering. Due to the herbicidal effect, bark mulch is not used in new plantings. As an alternative, you can apply a thin layer of pebbles or grit to the surface of the earth. In spring, compost, peat or leaf chaff contribute to magnificent growth.

Suitable neighbors

If elf flowers are planted alone, they already convince with their variety of colors. In combination with other plants, the effect can be increased. Columbines, primroses, autumn anemones, Christmas roses or hostas have a particularly harmonious effect. Dwarf heart flower, magnificent pier and lungwort also leave a romantic impression when combined with elfin flowers. In addition to shade grasses, ferns, meadow herb and silver candle, the elf-like flowers are shown to their best advantage.

Planting in the garden – care

Elf flowers can be planted in spring and autumn. Due to the susceptibility to late frost, planting in the spring is more appropriate. The planting distance should be at least 20 to 40 centimeters so that the ornamental leaf perennial has enough space to fully develop. Once the planting area has been prepared, the following steps are necessary:

  • Place plants with pot in a water bath
  • Roughly distribute elf flowers on the planting area to correct the spacing
  • a natural appearance is achieved when setting groups (3 to 5 tuffs)
  • Carefully pull the perennial out of the plant pot and loosen the root ball if necessary
  • dig a sufficiently large planting hole
  • Insert the plant and press down the garden soil firmly
  • Apply perennial fertilizer and carefully work into the surface of the garden soil
  • Water the plants well (use a watering attachment so that the small parts of the plant are not damaged)

If you want, you can create raised areas in the plant bed. This makes the delicate little plants look more natural.

Düngen und Gießen

For optimal growth conditions, young and growing plants must be watered regularly. In particularly dry times, it is advisable to water the elf flowers additionally. However, waterlogging should be avoided. Lush growth is achieved by adding slow-release fertilizer and compost in spring. If you occasionally add liquid fertilizer to the irrigation water, you also provide the little dancing elves with the most important nutrients.


Evergreen varieties and species do not necessarily need to be cut back. If the elf flowers have suffered through a long, hard winter, it makes sense to cut them back in late winter or before they sprout in spring. If you want to keep the carpet of flowers as low as possible or enjoy the freshly sprouting leaves, a radical pruning is also appropriate. Smaller plantings can be easily edited with secateurs. Large stocks are cut with electric hedge trimmers or lawn mowers. For pruning, the plants are cut just above the surface of the earth. After pruning, compost is spread between the plants.

Note: In the first year, the old foliage should not be cut off to protect it.


Elf flowers can be propagated in two ways.

1. Propagation by offshoots (rhizome cuttings)
In order to propagate some varieties and species of the elf flower, you can take the natural growth behavior as a basis. If the runners have rooted, you can separate the long shoots from the mother plant in autumn or spring.

2. Propagation by division (root division)
In late spring (after flowering), the shade perennial can be propagated by division. To do this, simply carefully dig up the plant and clean the rootstock. The plant is then divided and replanted. Press the soil down well again and water the plantlet sufficiently.

In order to get the ornamental foliage perennial well through the winter, it is necessary to protect the roots from freezing.

  • Deciduous cultivars and species shed in winter and need a light mulch during this time. This protects them from frost and moisture.
  • Newly planted and young plants also need a protective mulch as frost can damage them.

Mulch and brushwood are good alternatives to leaves.

diseases and pests

Typical diseases and pests, such as those found on certain plants, hardly ever occur with elf flowers. Sometimes it can happen that snails or the vine weevil spread on the delicate plants. In that case, there is a remedy.

Remove snails – To keep snails from young and freshly planted elf flowers, lettuce is suitable. Simply slip them over the young plants and cover the lower edge with sand. If you want to make the effort, you can also collect the snails regularly.

Controlling Vine Weevil – These nocturnal beetles are most effectively controlled with parasitic nematodes (roundworms). The worms deposit a certain type of bacteria in the vine weevil larvae, causing the larvae to die within a few days.
If you always remove the old leaves in spring, you rarely have to fear pests.

Every year, the elf flower heralds spring with joy. Its filigree flowers come in a wide range of colours. The foliage of the little beauties is also used as a decorative accessory in bouquets. Anyone who has the opportunity to collect these elf-like plants with countless varieties and species will be impressed by the extraordinary properties and the expressive variety of colors.

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