Euonymus alatus (Burning Bush) is an ornamental shrub grown for its spectacular flame-red leaves and vibrant, red berries in fall. Native to Asia, this plant became a very popular addition to US gardens.
E. alatus is one of around 170 plants in the Euonymus genus. Also known as a winged spindle tree, the burning bush is probably one of the most popular.
This perennial, (Euonymus alatus), developed a bad reputation and is considered to be an invasive plant in many American states. It is banned or restricted due to its threat to native plant species needed by native wildlife to survive.
Euonymus alatus is a flowering, deciduous shrub that comes from China, Japan, and Korea. Burning bush was introduced to America in the middle of the 1800s. Introduced as an ornamental shrub, it quickly became popular and cultivated throughout the eastern half of the USA.
|Burning bush, winged spindle tree
|4 to 8 feet
|4 to 8 feet
|USDA Plant Hardiness Zone
|Zones 4 to 8
|Plant specific features
|Invasive species in parts of the USA
How to Plant and Grow a Burning Bush
Before you decide to plant burning bush shrubs, check with your local growers co-operative that it is not illegal to grow in your region.
Clear the planting site of all weeds, grasses, and other rubbish. Dig a hole much larger than the width of the plant’s root ball. The depth ought to match the size of the root ball.
Water the container before planting and leave it to soak before attempting to remove the plant from its pot. The plant will be easier to release from the pot, and there will be less risk of damage to the roots.
Once you have placed the plant in its planting hole, backfill the hole and tamp down the soil. Water it well and apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the plant, making sure that the mulch is not in direct contact with the plant’s stem.
Where to Plant
This is an easy-to-grow shrub, but it will be the most striking if it is planted in a sunny position. Although it will tolerate partial shade, it will perform best in full sun.
If you are growing this species of Euonymus as a hedge, the plants should be spaced around 4 to 6 feet (1.83 meters) apart. They grow moderately fast, at a rate of between 1 and 2 feet (0.61 meters) a year, until they reach their mature size of around 6 feet (1.83 meters).
When to Plant
The best time to plant burning bush is in the fall or early spring.
Burning Bush Care and Maintenance
Euonymus alatus is extremely adaptable and will grow well in a range of soil types. The pH level is totally irrelevant, as it will thrive in any growing medium, from sand to heavy clay soils. There is one caveat, however; burning bush needs moist, well-draining soil.
As with many shrubs, burning bush needs to be kept well-watered when it is newly planted. Regular watering is necessary until the plant has settled into its growing space.
Watering should be thorough, and about once a week. Once established, this bush is drought-tolerant.
In early spring, before the new growth has appeared, apply a slow-release fertilizer that is designed for shrubs. This will encourage plenty of new growth during the growing season and keep your plant healthy.
Try to find a site that receives as much sun as possible. The sunnier the position, the brighter red the color will be.
Pruning and Repotting
Before tackling pruning, remove all dead, diseased, or damaged wood from the burning bush. Removing this, especially if it is close to the main stem, will improve air circulation in the center of the plant. It will also encourage the development of healthy, new buds.
Whilst you can, and should, remove dead branches as soon as you spot them, pruning should only be done in the winter or very early spring at the latest.
Pruning has two purposes; primarily to encourage the plant to produce new shoots. Secondly, it is a useful technique if you want to shape the plant. Burning bush is an excellent choice of a shrub to use for shaping.
You can also keep the growth of the burning bush shrub in check by removing the suckers that grow from ground level around the plant’s base.
Bearing in mind the potential invasiveness of Euonymus alatus, propagation is not necessarily advised, nor considered in a positive light.
Burning bush is a strong plant that seeds freely. This is why it can succeed in eradicating native species of trees and woody shrubs. If you purchase a burning bush, it should come with a warning, informing you of its invasiveness.
Before choosing to propagate this plant, you may wish to consider planting an alternative native shrub.
If you decide to go ahead and propagate burning bush, then the best way is to take stem cuttings in the spring. These cuttings will not yet have become woody, and are known as softwood cuttings. The cutting will root readily.
The cutting should be around 5 inches (12.7 cm) long, and the use of hormone-rooting powder will aid and quicken the rooting process. Make sure the cuttings do not dry out.
The most effective way to retain moisture around the cutting is to either place the pot in a plastic bag or cover it with the top half of a plastic drink bottle.
After about a month, the cutting should have formed small rootlets. It can then be hardened off, the plastic cover removed and should be left undisturbed for a few weeks.
Select a sunny planting site and transplant the cutting outside. For the first year, make sure the soil does not dry out.
Pests and diseases
The main pest with burning bush is the plant itself! Considered invasive, it can threaten to out-compete native species.
Generally, the shrub is easy to grow and easy to care for. Powdery mildew can attack the shrub if it is left in wet soil or after a prolonged wet spell. Make sure that watering is done at ground level, to avoid over-wetting the foliage.
Spider mites will not cause any serious damage, but can be a nuisance, so should be treated with an organic insecticide.
Temperature and Humidity
Euonymus alatus grows successfully in USDA zones 4 to 8. This plant grows aggressively and in a wide range of temperatures.
It can adapt to different temperatures and humidity levels. Its adaptability is one of the main reasons it is so successful and invasive.
Other Uses for Burning Bush
This is a useful shrub for planting as a hedge. It is an attractive landscaping plant and is used in Chinese medicine.
Types of Burning Bush You Can Grow
There are a number of hybrids available which provide a choice of size. These range from the dwarf “Pipsqueak” which will not grow more than 5 feet (1.52 meters) to “Monstrous” which grows up to 20 feet, hence its name!
Burning bush is also known as the winged spindle tree because of the ridges that appear on the new growth for a short time in the spring.
If this shrub isn’t banned in your region, you may decide to grow it for its spectacular fall display. You should, however, still try to grow it responsibly and contain it as much as possible.
*image by AIS60/depositphotos