Fiery foliage in fall makes burning bush truly festive

In the Garden with Mr. Bee

November 03, 2011|By Lou Boulmetis

As trees and shrubs start to flaunt their fall foliage, there's one shrub — the burning bush — that's certain to turn heads with its three-week-long display of bright-scarlet leaves that are so vivid the shrubs look like living fireballs.

How burning bushes got their genus name, Euonymus, is rooted in Greek mythology. Euonyme, you see, was Earth's mother. She was also the mother of the Three Furies, angry deities who avenged the victims of crimes when their wrongdoers went unpunished, relentlessly pursuing perpetrators to the ends of the Earth.

Legend has it that the Three Furies were bright red and hot-tempered because Euonyme created them when she was angry. Except for their bright red fall foliage, burning bushes look nothing like their monstrous namesakes. In fact, they prompt smiles.

Burning bushes are common throughout Asia, Europe and North America. More than 100 varieties exist, and although certain types get quite large, varieties of "dwarf burning bushes," Euonymus Alatus compactus, grow no larger than 8 feet tall and 8 feet wide.

To keep them even more compact, prune these drought-tolerant shrubs to half their size when they're dormant (without leaves).

During spring and summer, dwarf burning bushes have dark green and oval shaped leaves that grow to a length of 1 to 3 inches. They also have rectangular-shaped twigs from which fire engine red and hat-box-shaped seeds are clearly visible during winter months.

To keep dwarf burning bushes happy and to enhance their fall coloration, I grow them in full sun and where their soil drains freely. Then they're sure that they will turn heads and draw plenty of smiles.

Look for them now at well-stocked garden centers.

This week in the garden

If you want to remove unwanted limbs once and for all from deciduous (leaf-losing) trees and shrubs, this is a good time of year to lightly prune specimens, since freezing temperatures will shortly kill most of the new growth that sprouts.

Major pruning, on the other hand — that is, removing up to one-third of the limbs from most types of trees and shrubs — is best accomplished after the plants have completely lost their leaves but before their new growth begins in the spring.

Lou Boulmetis is a certified master gardener who lives in Littlestown, Pa. Call him at 1-888-727-4287 or email

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