Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus): History, Varieties, Lifespan & Care

Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) is a large shrub that reaches heights between 15 and 20 feet. It is a member of the bittersweet family (Celastraceae). It originated from Korea, China, Eastern Russia and Japan and is usually called winged spindle tree, winged euonymus because of its wing-like leaves protruding from the stems. The common name “burning bush” refers to its bright red fall color.

The shrub can grow up to 20 feet tall and has opposite, simple, elliptical leaves that are 2 to 3 inches long with smooth to fine-toothed margins. During the autumn season, the deep green leaves turn a bright red color. It is Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zone 4 to 8.

It was first introduced to the United States in the 1860s. It features bright red fall foliage, corky “winged” branches, and orange-red fruits. The shrub is a popular plant in gardens and parks because of its four-season interest. This deciduous shrub blooms in late spring to early summer, usually around May to June. The flowers are small, greenish-yellow, and appear in clusters at the tips of the branches.

Burning bush shrubs are commonly planted in a group as a mass planting or as a hedge. The advantage to planting this species is that it is adaptable to nearly any light level, tolerates poor soil and survives in areas with air pollution. The burning bush is a slow-growing shrub, but proper care encourages new growth on the bush each year.

In the United States, it is found in New England, as well as Illinois, extending south to northern Florida and the Gulf Coast. In some places it has escaped the managed landscape and invaded natural habitats, outcompeting native vegetation for sunlight, soil nutrients, and space. As a result, It is currently considered an invasive species in 21 states in the United States. In Minnesota, it was added to the State Noxious Weed List in 2020 as a Specially Regulated Plant and was prohibited from sale, propagation, and transport in the state starting January 1, 2023.

Alternatives to Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus)

Alternative PlantNative RegionHeightWidthFall Color
Red ChokeberryEastern U.S.6-10 ft4-7 ftRed
ServiceberryEastern U.S.15-25 ft10-20 ftYellow/Orange
Red-Osier DogwoodNorth America6-9 ft5-7 ftRed
Virginia SweetspireSoutheastern U.S.3-4 ft4-6 ftRed
WinterberryEastern U.S.6-15 ft6-12 ftRed
Highbush BlueberryEastern U.S.6-12 ft6-12 ftRed
Oakleaf HydrangeaSoutheastern U.S.4-6 ft4-6 ftRed
American BeautyberrySoutheastern U.S.4-6 ft4-6 ftPurple
Virginia CreeperEastern U.S.30-50 ft5-10 ftRed
SpicebushEastern U.S.6-12 ft6-12 ftYellow

Pruning Burning Bush in the Garden

The ideal time to prune a burning bush is during late winter or early spring, before new growth appears. This timing ensures that the plant puts its energy into fresh growth when the warmer weather arrives.

When pruning, remove any dead, diseased, or damaged branches to prevent the spread of disease and to encourage healthy growth. Although, Bugs on burning bush are rare,  You can remove any dead or damaged branches at any point in the year. Also, thinning out the dense interior branches can improve air circulation and sunlight penetration.

For shaping purposes, you can use pruning shears to cut inward-growing branches down to an outward-facing bud or branch, redirecting the growth to create a more open and attractive form. When pruning to maintain its size, cut the top of the bush narrower than the bottom so as to allow sunlight to reach all the leaves.

In cases where a burning bush has overgrown its space, rejuvenation pruning can be performed. This involves cutting the entire bush down to 1 to 3 inches above the ground. Rejuvenation pruning should be done in early spring before the bush starts to put out leaves.

Varieties of Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus)

Variety NameFall ColorSize (Height)
‘Compacta’Intense red4-6 feet (Medium)
‘Rudy Haag’Fiery red2-3 feet (Dwarf)
‘Fire Ball’Vibrant red3-4 feet (Compact)
‘Compactus’Brilliant red4-6 feet (Compact)
‘Kompacta’Intense red2-3 feet (Dwarf)
‘Select’Intense red4-6 feet (Medium)
‘Compactus Nana’Bright red2-3 feet (Dwarf)
‘Monstrosus’Brilliant red4-6 feet (Medium)
‘Emerald Gaiety’Green and white3-4 feet (Compact)
‘Microphyllus’Vibrant red2-3 feet (Small)
‘Compactus Variegatus’Green and white3-4 feet (Compact)
‘Red Ace’Fiery red4-6 feet (Medium)
‘Compactus Superbus’Brilliant red3-4 feet (Compact)
‘Little Moses’Fiery red2-3 feet (Dwarf)

How to Grow Euonymus Alatus From Seeds

  • Harvest seeds from mature Burning Bush plants. Look for seed capsules in the fall, after flowering. The capsules contain bright orange-red seeds.
  • Burning Bush seeds require a period of cold stratification to break dormancy and stimulate germination. Place the cleaned seeds in a moistened paper towel or peat moss, then seal them in a plastic bag. Place the bag in the refrigerator for about 90 to 120 days. Check the moisture level periodically and ensure the seeds don’t dry out.
  • Choose a location for planting the seeds. Select an area with well-draining soil and partial to full sunlight.
  • Sow the seeds directly into the prepared planting site in the spring, after the last frost date. Plant the seeds at a depth of about ¼ to ½ inch (0.6 to 1.3 cm) in the soil.
  • Once the seedlings emerge, provide regular watering.
  • After a few weeks provide transplant them to their final growing locations.