Burning bush is invasive

Q. Two years ago you warned me that Euonymus alatus was invasive. I’d not seen any in the wild at that time, but I set about to look for it to verify the claim. What is the primary way that these spread from planted sites into the wild?

Greg from Greenford

A. Greg sent several photos that were Euonymus alatu (Thunb.) Sieb., better known to home gardeners as the infamous burning bush.

Some still argue whether or not this plant is invasive. Greg isn’t the first to be leery of my view of this plant as something on my “do not plant” list.

Gardeners around the Mahoning Valley tell me they never see seedlings around their burning bushes. Well, this is because you apply lots of mulch, you pull weeds, and some of you spray weeds in the landscape to keep them from growing. These are all acceptable practices, but the end result of doing these things results in no seedlings – misleading gardeners that this plant is not spreading.

Burning bush spreads by seed. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a planting at a local park. The shrubs have no seedlings around them, but 10 feet away in the woods there are thousands of seedlings. This is because nobody mulches, mows or sprays this area in the woods.

The National Park Service and other sites list this plant as DO NOT PLANT and the US forest service has extensive information on its “invasion history in the United States.”

This plant is relatively cheap at the store or garden center. It has great fall red color – the main reason it is grown/used. It can survive in almost any landscape situation, including wet, clay soils in our area. But it grows rapidly and requires pruning to keep the size down. When it is sheared instead of pruned, it develops thick branching at the outer parts of the plant and reduced foliage in the center.

There are many options to replace burning bush in the home landscape. I would say the perfect replacement plant is the many varieties of Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea Quercifolia).

This plant has the same fall red color, plus it blooms in the spring throughout the summer.

A bonus would be the varieties that grow less than 4 feet tall, and thus never require pruning. Some of these varieties include “Ruby Slippers,” “Sikes Dwarf” and “Pee Wee.”

Other replacements include blueberry, fothergilla and witch hazel, to name a few.

For details on burning bush, visit go.osu.edu/burningbush.

For details on replacement options, visit http://go.osu.edu/replacementplants.

Eric Barrett is OSU Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources in Mahoning County. Winter hours for the Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic vary. Submit questions to the clinic at 330-533-5538 or drop samples off to the OSU Extension Office in Canfield.

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