Burning Bush (Euonymus)

Hedge of Euonymus alata ‘Compactus’

Euonymus alata ‘Compactus’ in late summer

Burning bush (Euonymus alatus ) is a large shrub, one that reaches heights between 15 and 20 feet. It originated from Korea, China, Eastern Russia and Japan (USDA hardiness zones 4-8). It is often called winged spindle tree or winged burning bush because of raised ridges along stems.

During the autumn, the deep green leaves turn brightly crimson red or “burning”. Flowers are mostly inconspicuous. Burning bush is a self-seeder and red berries are fertile. It appears on the invasive species list in 21 states.

Burning bush grows in average soil as long as it is well drained. It  will not tolerate wet, poorly-drained soil. For best fall leaf color, site shrub(s) in full sun. Feed with a slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote® or Nutrikote® in early spring. Mulch the planting for weed prevention and to reduce irrigation needs. Pruning is rarely practiced on this compact-growing shrub. Young plants display a root suckering tendency.

Dwarf burning bush (E. alatus ‘Compactus’) is a smaller version of the popular landscape shrub reaching heights between 8 to 10 feet. Leaves turn blazing red in the fall, even earlier in late August in response to dry weather. The bright red berries attract feeding birds and is also highly invasive. Bark ridging along the stem is barely noticeable, often appearing as a dark line.

Rudy Haag (E. alatus ‘Rudy Haag’) is a slow growing burning bush variety that reaches heights of only 4 to 5 feet, a lot smaller than dwarf burning bush. This nearly seedless plant defies the burning bush’s invasive nature. Flowers on Rudy Haag are mostly sterile and therefore do not produce fruits.

Little Moses® is a slow growing, extremely compact form, only 2-3 feet tall and wide. Seeds are fertile.

The good news is that several universities and laboratories in the U.S. are working to develop triploid or sterile forms. As sterile cultivars are identified, I’ll let you know.

All parts of burning bush, including the berries, are poisonous. Keep away from farm livestock, pets and children.

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