Euonymus is a large genus of plants which includes many species of deciduous and evergreen shrubs, trees, and vines.
Probably one of the most well-known of these is Euonymus alatus (Winged Euonymus, a.k.a. Burning Bush). This deciduous species is especially popular for its beautiful red fall color. Other popular species are the evergreen forms, Euonymus japonicus, Euonymus kiautschovicus, and the trailing Euonymus fortunei. Many of these evergreen cultivars have attractive variegated foliage.
Because of its diversity, euonymus has many different uses in the landscape. Some varieties are planted as stunning specimen plants, while others are used as an attractive living screen or hedge, and still other varieties create a lovely evergreen ground cover or trailing rock wall cover.
Few shrubs in the landscape provide brilliant fall color as reliably as the “Burning Bush” (E. alatus). When the temperatures begin to drop in the fall, this beautiful shrub transforms from a deep green to a striking fiery red. It’s no wonder these shrubs are so popular in the landscape – many even consider them overused! It should be planted in full sun to achieve the most intense fall color.
Unfortunately, Euonymus alatus and another popular deciduous species, E. europaeus, have escaped into the wild and have become invasive in some areas of the country.
The colorful fruit capsules which appear in the fall and add to their beauty in the landscape split open exposing equally colorful seeds. These seeds eventually drop to the ground and can produce hundreds of seedlings under the shrub or are eaten by birds and dispersed to other areas where they can germinate and grow.
The evergreen species, Euonymus japonicus, includes many of the more colorful variegated cultivars. Variegated cultivars should be planted in full sun to light shade for the best color.
Spreading euonymus (E. kiautschovicus) is a beautiful evergreen or semi-evergreen species with glossy dark green leathery leaves that is often grown as a hedge or living screen. ‘Manhattan’ is one of the most popular cultivars. Unfortunately, this species is prone to winter burn in colder zones.
Winter creeper, E. fortunei, is an evergreen species with a trailing habit which, depending on the cultivar, can be used as a ground cover, low shrub, rock wall cover, or as a climbing vine. There are many beautiful variegated cultivars in this species as well.
Finally – Pruning!
I originally began writing about euonymus because a few days ago I received a post on our discussion board about pruning these plants. I got a little off topic! Here is the question:
I have several overgrown Euonymus shrubs that have come into my hydrangea shrubs. I would like to cut the [euonymus] back but how far can I cut them and when is the best time?
As far as how much they can be cut; these plants can really be pruned back as hard as you want or need to. Like many shrubs, euonymus has dormant buds in the bare wood and new growth will sprout below the pruning cuts so eventually you will end up with a beautiful, fresh, new but more compact shrub.
The timing for pruning euonymus depends on the type, deciduous or evergreen – hence my discourse on the various species!
Deciduous euonymus should be pruned in late winter or early spring before they start to leaf out. As I mentioned, these shrubs can be pruned hard if needed, even back to 3″ – 6″ from the ground. They can also be pruned less drastically, removing dead and crossing branches, thinning out about a third of the oldest stems (all the way to the ground), and pruning the remaining stems to create an attractive, natural looking shrub.
These euonymus can also be trained to grow as a small tree by pruning out all but 1-6 main stems and removing any lower branches that develop along these main stems.
The pruning time for evergreen euonymus depends on how hard you need to prune them. If they need to be cut fairly hard to rejuvenate them or to bring them down in size if they have grown too large for your space, this should be done in late winter or early spring while they are still dormant.
If you just need to prune them back to shape them or reduce their size a little, you can prune them in the late spring or early summer when they are growing. It is best to avoid pruning them after the end of July or any new growth will not have time to harden off before winter.
If you need to do any “severe” pruning of your other shrubs like holly, boxwood, rhododendron, or yew, now (while they are still dormant) is the time to do it.
Be sure to fertilize them with Espoma Holly-tone, Plant-tone, or Tree-tone after you prune!