Fire Bushes

(Question)

I have two fire bushes, and I should have kept them pruned, but they grew too large, and out of shape. I hired someone to prune them back, a few weeks ago, which they did, but now there’s no green growth left, and only green shoots coming up at ground level. Normally, I’d remove these shoots, but don’t want to take them off now. I’m hoping my plants will come back to life. I’m sorry to have been so long-winded, and thank you so much for giving your time to us !

(Answer)

Thank you for writing with your pruning question: this is a subject that concerns, and often confounds, many a gardener. First, your fire bushes (also called  burning bush) are shrubs of the genus Euonymus, and the species is E.alatus, (photo) a deciduous shrub that develops stunning red foliage in the fall. For interest’s sake, this genus also includes the easily recognized E.fortunei (wintercreeper euonymus) with its yellow/green variegated fleshy, evergreen leaves. Both species can be grown as ground cover, free-standing bushes or trees, or as climbers.

The natural shape of the bush form is appealing, but you are correct, care of these plants should include the occasional pruning (in very early spring ) to keep the size down, and remove any broken, or damaged, branches. I’m wondering if your pruning was done a bit hard, and a bit too late, after the plant had already set out its leaves, and so now it’s quite bare, with the exception of those few shoots appearing at ground level: let them grow for the time being, since they’re the plants’ only means of photosynthesis at this point. But the good news is that E.alatus are known to be somewhat tolerant of severe pruning.

c680-0524060tpAlso, burning bush prefer to grow in a sunny spot, and in soil that is moist and slightly acidic. Fortunately, they also adapt to partial shade, poor soil, dry soil, and the wrong pH, although each of these elements may adversely affect their fall color display. Right now your plants’ roots systems are likely working very hard at supplying nutrients to re-set new leaves. To help mitigate their post-pruning stress, treat them to some good soil amendment, and wash it down with 2 watering cans full every 3 days. Moat the water with a wide donut-shaped ring of nitrogen-rich compost around the main trunks (but please do not pyramid the compost, the plants’ roots must breath).

The only other advice you might need right now is: have patience. Eventually your bushes should begin to thrive again, with your TLC. And below, for your reading pleasure, is a wonderful Toronto Master Gardener guide on ornamental shrubs, which includes your fire bushes. All the best!

Toronto Master Gardeners Ornamental Shrubs