It's that time of year, time to observe and select trees and shrubs that offer brilliant autumn leaf color. One of my favorites is the colorful 'Burning Bush' or sometimes-called 'Winged Euonymus', Euonymus alata with its brilliant, almost fluorescent red fall color. Easy to grow this plant merits a place in most everyone's garden.
There are many varieties of Euonymus that make nice landscape plants, however the one with the best autumn leaf color is the 'Burning Bush'. This is an interesting plant family and its worth taking the time to become acquainted with them, as some make excellent ground cover plants, others attractive variegated landscape plants.
Here in the Pacific Northwest we see this shrub used effectively in many home gardens and also in commercial plantings. I think one of the most noticeable plantings is in the median planting of I-5 at Kalama, Washington. I doubt you will find plants with better red fall color anywhere, then in that planting. It has been used in other freeway plantings very effectively, including the interchange along I-5 at the Tacoma Dome at Tacoma, Washington.
Euonymus alata is deciduous (loses its leaves over-winter) but has a very interesting branching habit and unusual cork-like bark. My wife finds the cut branches ideal to use in fall flower arrangements, because of the combination of leaf color; horizontal branching and the cork-like bark.
There are two varieties commonly grown here, the standard 'Winged Euonymus' grows about 8 to 10 feet tall and up to 15 feet wide. The more common variety of 'Compacta' grows about 4 to 6 feet tall and about the same width. Either variety can be kept lower with simply pruning.
Occasionally the plants will develop small flowers, followed by showy orange red berries.
Although Euonymus alata is not really fussy about location in the garden, it is important to select a bright sunny spot in order to assure the brilliant red fall foliage color. Provide soil that is well drained.
USES IN THE LANDSCAPE
Euonymus alata can very effectively be used as a background large shrub in landscape borders. Or the lower growing variety of 'Compacta' is ideal to use as a mid-bed landscape shrub. A background planting of some type of evergreen makes the brilliant red autumn leaf color really standout in the fall garden.
PLANTING AND TRANSPLANTING
Today almost all plants are container grown and are very easily transplanted into the garden at anytime, except when the ground is frozen. The best time to transplant established plants would be during the winter dormant season months of November to early late February.
Mix generous quantities of organic humus into the planting hole. Peat moss, process manure or compost are ideal forms of organic humus. Make the planting hole about two times larger than the actual size of the root ball of the plant you are planting or transplanting. Be sure to set the plant at the same depth as it was previously growing. Large established plans may need to be staked for about six months or until they become re-established.
Euonymus are not heavy feeders, so if the soil is prepared properly at planting time it may never be necessary to feed them again. If the plants show signs of yellowing or are not doing as well as expected, they can be fertilized with a rhododendron type of fertilizer. The best time to feed them is in late winter or in late spring. Read and follow label directions and be sure to thoroughly water-in the fertilizer after application.
Plants have a typically uniform growth habit and seldom need pruning of any kind. The taller variety is sometimes grown as a hedge, so summer shearing may be necessary. Light pruning can be done at anytime, but severe pruning should only be done during the winter dormant season.
They are generally started from cuttings taken in August or September. Take tip cuttings of mature new growth. Start in cold frame or greenhouse, using 50% sand and 50% peat moss.
If you are looking for a plant with brilliant red leaf color, interesting growth habit and unusual bark, consider the showy Euonymus alata.