Euonymus alatus, commonly known as Burning Bush, is a large, lumpy, unattractive shrub, except in the fall, when the leaves turn a deep pink. Its only interesting feature, besides fall color, is the ridged bark resembling wings–ergo “alatus”, or “winged” in the scientific name. The native shrub grows to 15′ (4.5m), or taller, and often looks inappropriate where planted, since it tends to dwarf surrounding plants and is frequently out of scale with nearby buildings. Euonymus alatus is not fussy about soil, is hardy to Zone 4, and will even tolerate some shade (although it prefers full sun). Its primary pest, euonymus scale, can stunt the plant’s vigor if allowed to take hold and left untreated; however, since scale is an incidental problem in cultivated locations, this otherwise easily grown plant is often overused by landscapers and homeowners. The species euonymus also produces numerous seeds, and some states have classified the plant as an invasive pest.
Fortunately, plant breeders have been focusing on the plant’s main attribute–its fall color–and have been able to develop some promising smaller cultivars, including ones that are virtually seedless. One oldtime cultivar that should be ignored, in my opinion, is Euonymus alatus ‘Compacta’. In spite of its name, the plant grows 8′-10′ (2.4-3m) high and as wide, and merely looks like a large green mushroom for most of the year, becoming a large, deep pink mushroom in the fall. The newer cultivars remain under 7′ (2m) tall and have a more attractive vase shape. Starting with the tallest of the new cultivars, we have Euonymus alatus ‘Fire Ball’®. As its name suggests, ‘Fire Ball’® turns a scarlet red color, and grows 5′-7′ (1.5-2m) high and as wide. It is one of the Proven Winners© line of plants and is probably best used as a specimen.
Next is Euonymus alatus ‘Rudy Haag’. ‘Rudy Haag’ grows to 5′ (1.5m) high by 5′ (1.5m) wide, develops a rose-red color in the fall, and is suitable for foundation planting, groupings or as a specimen. ‘Rudy Haag’ is virtually seedless. Another 5′ (1.5m) by 5′ (1.5m) cultivar, developed by Lake County Nursery in Ohio, is Euonymus alatus ‘Pipzam’ Pipsqueak®. ‘Pipsqueak’ develops a scarlet red fall color, is denser in texture than the species euonymus, and has a pronounced horizontal branching habit.
Smallest of the new cultivars is Euonymus alatus ‘Odom’ (aka ‘Little Moses’). ‘Little Moses’ only grows 3′ (1m) high by 3′ (1m) wide, so it can easily be used in a mixed border, as well as groupings or low hedges. It is hardy to Zone 5 and, like ‘Rudy Haag’, is virtually seedless. In the photo to the right, you can see the deep rose pink color ‘Little Moses’ displays in an eastern exposure.
All euonymus require average moisture and, after the first year, can be fertilized in the spring with a slow release fertilizer. Before ordering any variety of Euonymus alatus check to make sure that purchase of the plant is not prohibited by your state. New Hampshire, for example, does not allow any variety of Euonymus alatus to be planted because of its invasiveness. Also, some of these shrubs are so new in the trade that they may not be readily available in local nurseries.