Pruning a burning bush

Pruning A Burning Bush – When To Prune Burning Bush Plants

Burning bush (also known as Euonymus alatus) is a dramatic addition to any garden or landscape. While it is a popular shrub, burning bush is also a shrub that is prone to “overgrowing” its space. The health of a burning bush plant does not rely on regular burning bush pruning, the desired size and shape of the plant does.

Different Types of Burning Bush Pruning

Rejuvenation of a Burning Bush

Burning bushes are notorious for slowly overgrowing their space. What started out as a lovely, well-shaped shrub can turn into a monster of a plant that is scruffy, leggy and sparse. While your first reaction would be to remove it, you should consider instead rejuvenating your burning bush. Rejuvenation is simply severely cutting back the plant so that it can grow all new growth.

To do rejuvenation pruning on a burning bush, take either a sharp, clean pair of pruning shears or hedge clippers and cut the entire burning bush plant down all the way to about 1 to 3 inches from the ground. While this may seem drastic, it is healthy for the plant and will result in the burning bush being forced to grow new, full and more manageable growth.

Pruning a Burning Bush for Shape

When trimming burning bushes for shape, you can also use either a sharp pair or pruning shears or hedge clippers, depending on how much you want to shape the plant. Picture the shape that you wish for your burning bush and remove any branches that fall outside of that shape.

If you are pruning your burning bush so that it can grow as a hedge, remember to trim the top of the burning bush plant slightly more narrow than the bottom to allow light to reach all of the leaves on the shrub.

You may also want to thin out interior branches that may be crossing other branches or are unhealthy.

When to Prune a Burning Bush

When to prune burning bushes depends on why you want to prune your burning bush.

If you are trimming burning bushes to rejuvenate them, you should be doing this in early spring, before the burning bush starts to put out leaves.

If you are pruning a burning bush to shape it, you can prune it while it is dormant, in either late winter or very early spring.

Pruning Burning Bush

We have a burning bush in front of our house (east side) which has grown way too large. A couple of years ago, we pruned it in spring to shorten it, but the new growth for the rest of that year had very small, pale leaves and looked quite unsightly. Fortunately the next year it looked fine. Now it has grown as large or larger (height and width) and we need to do something. Any advice you could give us about the timing and methods for pruning a burning bush would be greatly appreciated.

As you discovered, burning bushes do not like severe pruning. For a long term low maintenance solution you may want to remove or move this plant to a larger space. Replace it with a smaller plant that will fit the space when matures. Select a plant that fits the landscape design and is suited to the growing conditions. Or keep pruning. Try to remove no more than 1/4 to 1/3 the total volume. Severe pruning stimulates lots of growth and you end up back where you began. Make cuts above a healthy bud facing outward, where branches meet or back to the main stem. Removing small amounts of growth each year will be less stressful on the plant and less work and frustration for you. Late winter or early spring before growth begins is a great time to prune this and other shrubs that do not put on a big floral display in spring.

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Pruning techniques for burning bushes

Question: I have two gorgeous, big burning bushes in my yard that are really, really in need of trimming. I don’t want to trim before they put on their autumn show, but I need to know when is the best time to trim and how much can I really cut back. I am so afraid I’ll damage them if I cut too much. Thank you so much in advance.

Answer: Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is a common deciduous shrub that’s best known for its brilliant red fall color. While it does produce flowers in late spring, the blooms are small, green and very nondescript.

Burning bush is tolerant of many different growing conditions and soil types, which has lead to its success in home landscapes. However, burning bush is a native of Asia and is considered an invasive plant in many parts of the United States due to its ability to reseed. It’s been listed as an invasive plant here in Pennsylvania by our Department of Conservation and Natural Resources since 1994, because it quickly establishes itself in woodlands when birds eat and distribute the seeds. Burning bushes often go on to outcompete and displace native species.

That being said, the plant is still sold in garden centers and is widely planted throughout the state. I’m not telling you this to make you feel badly about growing burning bushes, but rather to make you aware of this plant’s negative role in the ecosystem.

All that being said, their ease of care is the main reason burning bush is so popular. Unlike many other shrubs, they’re not fussy when it comes to pruning practices and you have little to worry about. Truthfully, you can cut a burning bush clear down to the ground and it will resprout without hesitation (which is a trait that makes them very difficult to eradicate in woodlands where they run rampant). The best pruning time for burning bushes is in the early spring, just before active growth begins. Here in Pennsylvania, that’s typically in mid- to late March.

You can approach this task one of two ways. The first is to selectively thin the plant by following ⅓ to ½ of the branches from their outermost points down into the shrub where they meet the next branch. Cut each branch off at that meeting point. This will thin out the shrub, and if you choose the tallest branches for removal, it will also shorten the shrub’s height.

The other option is do to a hard, rejuvenative pruning. While this is mentally and physically challenging, it’s quite good for this particular shrub. Cut the entire plant down to ⅓ of its original height (and don’t be shy about it). Be sure to cut each branch off where it meets another branch. This retains the shrub’s natural growth habit and keeps it from looking “hacked.” This type of hard pruning encourages lots of new growth that develops that beautiful red in the autumn. Hard, rejuvenative pruning can be done as frequently as every four or five years.

As always, when pruning plants, be sure your pruners, loppers and pruning saw are sharp and clean before you start the job. Disinfect the blades with a spray of Lysol or use a sanitizing wipe for the job. Another option is to clean the blade with rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide or a 10% bleach solution.

  • Horticulturist Jessica Walliser is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is Send your gardening or landscaping questions to or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

    Categories: Lifestyles | Home Garden | Jessica Walliser Columns

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    Fielding Questions: Hope for a burning bush, a noxious flower and a new hedge

    Here’s what to do: With a strong lopping-type pruning shears or pruning saw, cut all the branches down to the point at which the new growth is arising from the base. Cutting the shrub all the way down to this new growth will remove the top branches, and divert all the burning bush’s energy into recovery. Prune as soon as you can.

    Burning bush does tend to get overgrown and woody in time, so a rejuvenation every so often keeps the branches young, vigorous and well-filled around the base. Adding a well-balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer before July 4 will provide extra nutrition for the burning bush as it rebounds.

    Q: I still have a lythrum plant in my yard, even though we were advised to remove them about eight years ago. I felt that it never spread or went to seed and was a safe plant to grow. My landscaper said I need to remove that plant, or I could be fined. I thought they had relaxed that advisory. What are the current recommendations? — Jane Doe.

    A: A number of years ago, lythrum, which was a widely planted perennial flower, was added to the North Dakota Department of Agriculture’s Noxious Weed List, which currently contains 13 plants deemed dangerous weeds: absinth wormwood, Canada thistle, dalmatian toadflax, diffuse knapweed, leafy spurge, musk thistle, purple loosestrife (lythrum), Russian knapweed, saltcedar, spotted knapweed, yellow toadflax, Palmer amaranth and houndstongue.

    From North Dakota’s Noxious Weeds Laws and Regulations: “Each person shall do all things necessary and proper to control the spread of noxious weeds.” The enforcement manual adds, “Formal enforcement action is generally a measure of last resort in an effective weed control program, and it usually should only be used after all other attempts to get someone to control noxious weeds have been ineffective.”

    In summary, if someone reports your lythrum to the authorities, you would likely receive a letter indicating you are to remove the lythrum, and you would be given the chance to do so before other measures are taken.

    Q: We have removed an old overgrown hedge from the south side of our house. What kind of shrub could be planted along this 32-foot stretch? We have one ninebark that seems to be doing well there. Your suggestions would be very helpful. — Joan Nelson, Moorhead.

    A: One of the more common shrubs used for hedges in the past was cotoneaster, and is still planted today. Ninebark is a nice shrub if it is kept pruned regularly, otherwise it becomes filled with old, dead branches. Because of its need for pruning, and tendency to become woody, there might be better choices.

    Alpine currant makes a nice hedge, and its foliage trims nicely. Dwarf forms of lilac make beautiful informal hedges, such as Miss Kim lilac and Dwarf Korean lilac.

    If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler at [email protected] All questions will be answered, and those with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.


    This is why some say burning bush should be eliminated as an invasive plant… notice all of the burning-bush seedlings that have sprouted from dropped seeds.

    (George Weigel)

    Q: Could you tell me when is the best time to prune a burning bush? I have one that’s getting too big.

    A: Some people would tell you any time is the best time – the sooner the better and to cut it the whole way down to the ground and rip out the roots.

    Burning bush (Euonymus alata) is a popular shrub that a lot of people like for its fire-engine-red fall foliage. But it’s also a non-native species that throws around seed rampantly, leading to unwanted plants that can out-compete more desirable plants.

    That’s why there’s some sentiment to have burning bush banned for sale and/or eradicated from home landscapes. I agree that it’s one of the more invasive home-garden species, along with most varieties of butterfly bush and barberry.

    That said, if you plan to keep your burning bush and just size-control it, end of winter is an ideal time… just before new growth begins.

    The leaves are off the plant then, which makes it easy to see which branches to cut and where.

    Most people just shear their burning bushes to the size and width they like. This is such as a hard-to-kill plant that it doesn’t mind heavy and repeated shearing.

    A better way is to thin out excess branching by cutting about one-third of the branches back to the ground or at least back to the trunk. Then remove all crossing or inward-facing branches.

    The last step is cut the “keeper” branches down to the height you want and to “skinny” the plant to the desired width by shortening the length of branches around the perimeter.

    Any wood you can remove that has little red berries on it is at least reducing the number of potential babies your shrub might make. The seeds are inside the berries.

    Most people grow “dwarf” burning bushes, which are down-sized versions of the species. But even still, these dwarf plants can easily grow 8 to 10 feet tall.

    Burning Bushes

    The burning bush, Euonymus alata, is one of the most popular deciduous landscape shrubs grown in the United States. The reason it is so popular is because of the brilliant red color this plant displays each fall. The red fall color is simply stunning. Burning bush is an easy plant to grow. They will grow in most soils and soil conditions in zones 4 through 8. The burning bush prefers moist, well drained soil, but they are very adaptable to poor soils, drought, and heat stress. The red color is enhanced and is more brilliant if the bush is planted in full sun. Shade will mute the fall colors. The burning bush displays dark green foliage in the spring and summer. Burning bush is popular for mass plantings, borders, hedges, and as an accent plant.
    Burning bush usually does not require much pruning. If pruning is required, cut the older branches out immediately after it finishes blooming. Shearing a burning bush will also mute the fall color but it will not harm the shrub. The bush can be cut to the ground following bloom time if you feel the plant needs renewal. Burning bush can grow into a large bush so care should be given to allow enough space for the plant to grow without interference from other plants or buildings. Care should be give to young burning bush plants to prevent rabbits from eating the bark around the base of the bush. After burning bush plants are established they are relatively fast growing.

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