Burning Bush Growing Guide

Invasive (and poisonous) burning bush mixes the good and the bad.

May 01, 2020
burning bush

burning bush

The spectacular fall colors of the burning bush.

The spectacular fall colors of the burning bush.

The burning bush (Euonymus alatus), native to China and surrounding areas, averages 8 to 12 feet in height with its wing-like branches stretching out to make it nearly as wide as it is tall. For most of the year, the pleasant appearance, soil and climate adaptability and remarkable hardiness of this deciduous, ornamental shrub easily explains its longstanding popularity in landscaping.

Fall Color Display

Its fiery biblical moniker may seem a little confusing in the summer months, but all is revealed when fall descends and the leaves of this oft-used hedge shrub explode into spectacular crimson. A stunning display of seasonal brilliance that brings to mind another name for this backyard favorite. It is also known as the wahoo! (Exclamation point implied).

Burning Bush History

First introduced to the United States in 1860, burning bush was a nursery staple by the early 1900s. The low maintenance, high impact shrub became increasingly common on the Eastern seaboard, from New England to Georgia. An added boost in popularity came mid-century with the introduction of a hedge-friendly dwarf variety.

A Bush With a Bad Reputation

But the environmental adaptability, hardiness and ease of germination of this colorful superstar has come with an unexpected downside. Not only are these anxious to grow, birds love the seeds and carry them far and wide. Wild growth of this aggressor has begun to threaten native plant life in wild regions.

And as a consequence, this backyard beauty and longtime favorite has developed a different reputation. Although many still hold the burning bush in high regard, the National Parks Service no longer shares this opinion. The burning bush is now considered an invasive species and planting has been discouraged in recent years. The Missouri Botanical Garden describes burning bush as an invasive shrub, noxious weed and recommends "do not plant," observing, "This plant is listed as a noxious weed in one or more Midwestern states outside Missouri and should not be moved or grown under conditions that would involve danger of dissemination."

Although sales of burning bush have been banned in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the plant is still commonly available for purchase in other states and its fans are many. In all regions, the removal of established plants near forested regions and diligence in hand-pulling seedlings is recommended.

Burning Bush Alternatives

In addition to being invasive in many regions, burning bush is also poisonous to dogs, cats and children. So when you're looking for fall color but want to be a responsible gardener and not plant invasive and potentially dangerous burning bush, try these options.

Sumac

"Cutleaf" staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina laciniata) is an especially beautiful form with finely divided leaflets. One of sumac's strongest suits is their unsurpassable fall colors. Topping the wide, architectural plants are leaves that turn brilliant golden and crimson in the fall, from Canada and New England to even the normally fall color-starved coastal Southeast and other mild-climate areas. In fact, the name sumac comes from an ancient word meaning "red."

Photo by: Shutterstock/Somogyi Timea

Shutterstock/Somogyi Timea

"Cutleaf" staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina laciniata) is an especially beautiful form with finely divided leaflets. One of sumac's strongest suits is their unsurpassable fall colors. Topping the wide, architectural plants are leaves that turn brilliant golden and crimson in the fall, from Canada and New England to even the normally fall color-starved coastal Southeast and other mild-climate areas. In fact, the name sumac comes from an ancient word meaning "red."

Oakleaf Hydrangea

'Gatsby Moon' Hydrangea quercifolia

'Gatsby Moon' Hydrangea quercifolia

'Gatsby Moon' (Hydrangea quercifolia) really shines in fall, when its green leaves turn wine-red. Hardy in zones 5 to 9, this North American native is a deciduous shrub. Its white, cone-shaped flower panicles age to green.

Photo by: Courtesy of Proven Winners

Courtesy of Proven Winners

'Gatsby Moon' (Hydrangea quercifolia) really shines in fall, when its green leaves turn wine-red. Hardy in zones 5 to 9, this North American native is a deciduous shrub. Its white, cone-shaped flower panicles age to green.

Sweetspire

Love Child sweetspire is a pollinator magnet. It features fragrant white blooms in the spring and deep burgundy fall foliage color. Its compact mounded shape makes it perfect for small gardens and foundation plantings.

Photo by: Bailey Nurseries

Bailey Nurseries

Love Child sweetspire is a pollinator magnet. It features fragrant white blooms in the spring and deep burgundy fall foliage color. Its compact mounded shape makes it perfect for small gardens and foundation plantings.

Dogwood

Fall Color

Fall Color

'Cayenne' silky dogwood really hits its stride in the fall with vibrant red-orange color.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.

Image courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.

'Cayenne' silky dogwood really hits its stride in the fall with vibrant red-orange color.

Witch Hazel

Witch Hazel Tree

Orange Witch Hazel Tree in Winter Garden

Witch hazel has a sweet fragrance regardless of how cold the temperature. There are yellow and orange varieties available.

Witch hazel has a sweet fragrance regardless of how cold the temperature. There are yellow and orange varieties available.

Korean Spice Viburnum

Viburnum Carlesii Korean Spice Viburnum

Spice Baby Viburnum

Korean spice viburnum is beloved for its wonderful fragrance that can perfume an entire yard in mid-spring. Flower clusters start with pink buds that open to reveal white blossoms. Korean spice viburnum also has good fall color with red leaves and is deer resistant. Spice Baby viburnum is a tidy size that suits even the smallest yard, growing 42 to 60 inches tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 4-8.

Photo by: ProvenWinners.com

ProvenWinners.com

Korean spice viburnum is beloved for its wonderful fragrance that can perfume an entire yard in mid-spring. Flower clusters start with pink buds that open to reveal white blossoms. Korean spice viburnum also has good fall color with red leaves and is deer resistant. Spice Baby viburnum is a tidy size that suits even the smallest yard, growing 42 to 60 inches tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 4-8.

Neon Burst Cornus

Neon Burst offers visual interest year-round. It features a compact habit with attractive chartreuse foliage. The stems have a rich red hue early in the season and its fall foliage is a rainbow of purple, red, yellow and orange. In winter, stems turn glossy scarlet red.

Photo by: Bailey Nurseries

Bailey Nurseries

Neon Burst offers visual interest year-round. It features a compact habit with attractive chartreuse foliage. The stems have a rich red hue early in the season and its fall foliage is a rainbow of purple, red, yellow and orange. In winter, stems turn glossy scarlet red.

Autumn Inferno Cottoneaster

Autumn Inferno features a compact habit that works well in urban landscapes as a specimen or hedge. It has excellent dark green foliage transforms into a brilliant color in the fall. Autumn Inferno is a prolific bloomer that produces ornamental fruit that attracts birds.

Photo by: Bailey Nurseries

Bailey Nurseries

Autumn Inferno features a compact habit that works well in urban landscapes as a specimen or hedge. It has excellent dark green foliage transforms into a brilliant color in the fall. Autumn Inferno is a prolific bloomer that produces ornamental fruit that attracts birds.

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