Replace, don’t prune this bush
Q. It is safe to cut burning bush way down in the winter? Why should I prune it in late winter/early spring as opposed to January?
Micky from Austintown
A. Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) can be pruned at any time. But pruning anything during the coldest parts of winter can damage plant tissue and effect the plant’s cold hardiness. Some studies say you shouldn’t even prune in late winter if a sudden temperature drop is expected in the next few days following the pruning.
In general, we prune during the dormant season of late winter/early spring for a long list of reasons. You have a better view of dormant plants and can make better cuts for shaping plants. You invigorate the plant to grow by pruning at this time. And the list goes on.
As for cutting plants “way back”– it really depends. Burning bush has an invasive nature, so I would tend to cut it all the way back, and then some. If you want to keep it, pruning it down to just under 12” would be ok. It responds to pruning with sending lots more shoots upward, so yours must have lots of stems due to other pruning.
Rather than pruning burning bush, deciding on a replacement plant is a better idea. Most people grow burning bush because of the beautiful fall color. Most people never notice the bloom, the red berries hidden underneath the foliage or the new seedlings left by wildlife in areas where nature plants used to grow.
So here are some options for replacements plants:
Oakleaf hydrangea – Great fall color with bountiful blooms in the summer. There are short cultivars that stay at 3’ and shorter, along with taller versions. There are even cultivars with double blooms.
Fothergilla – Great mix of fall foliage, with early spring blooms and fragrant flowers.
Red chokeberry (Aronia) – It has flowers in the spring, berries in the summer and amazing fall foliage.
Sweetspire – If you have deer, this is the plant they do not like. It will be covered in white blooms and attracts butterflies. The fall foliage comes in red hues and out-performs burning bush.
Blueberry – This, too, has great red and orange fall color, along with edible berries. The challenge becomes lowering the soil pH.
To learn more about this plant and it’s invasive nature: http://go.osu.edu/burning
To find the perfect replacement for your burning bush, go to: http://go.osu.edu/replacements
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.