Planting Emerald and Gold Euonymus Shrubs

Emerald 'n' Gold shrub surrounded by mulch.
David Beaulieu

If you're looking for easy-to-grow shrubs that can provide coverage, Euonymus plants might be just what you're looking for. The green-and-golden-leaved varieties provide a classic but colorful look for the garden. Choose from Wintercreeper Euonymus, also known as Euonymus fortunei, or Japanese Euonymus, also known as Euonymus japonicus, both part of the Celastraceae family that's native to East Asia.

Wintercreeper Euonymus

Named after plant explorer Robert Fortune, Wintercreeper Euonymus, or Euonymus fortunei, is an evergreen shrub that, as its name suggests, will creep higher and higher as it grows. The shrub can grow up to 66 feet as a juvenile plant if it has support, creeping high enough into the crowns of surrounding trees to get more light. However, it stops creeping as an adult. Without support, the shrub grows to between 5 and 15 feet.

There are three varieties of wintercreepers:

  • Euonymus fortunei var. fortunei, native to China and Korea; this is the only variety that features the green-and-gold leaf pattern.
  • Euonymus fortunei var. radicans: native to Japan. This variety has plain green leaves.
  • Euonymus fortunei var. vegetus: native to northern Japan. Some experts say it's not distinct from var. radicans.

Additionally, there are three cultivars, though not all will offer the emerald-and-gold coloring you might desire:

  • Emerald Gaiety: Green and white leaves
  • Emerald 'n' Gold: Green leaves with wide yellow margins
  • Emerald Surprise: Green foliage with smaller yellow margins

Wintercreepers grow easily in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils that get full sun to part shade, though it can tolerate a significant amount of shade, a wide range of soil, and a number of soil conditions, except for wet soil. If the plant is already established, it can also tolerate drought conditions.

Keep an eye out for common problems, which include Euonymus scale, anthracnose, crown gall, leaf spot, mildew, and aphids. Because it's technically an invasive plant, it can spread into surrounding lawns and garden areas, as well as climb adjacent trees if not kept in check. Fortunei is also a toxic plant but only if consumed in large quantities, so there's no need to be too concerned.

Japanese Euonymus

Also known as Euonymus japonicus, the Japanese Euonymus is native to Japan, Korea, and China. Like the Wintercreeper, it's an evergreen shrub that grows to be around 10 to 15 feet. However, there is a dwarf variety, microphyllus, that's about 2 to 3 feet high and often used for edging.

The green-and-yellow cultivar is known as Bravo, while other cultivars — Albomarginatus, Latifolius Albomarginatus, and President Gauthier — have green and white leaves.

Japanese Euonymus grows best in USDA zones 7 to 9. It can grow in sun and shade with a range of soil types, but it thrives in sunny conditions. Like the Wintercreeper, Japanese Euonymus is technically classified as poisonous, but it's only toxic if large quantities are consumed.

Problems to watch out for include euonymus scale, powdery mildew, and pests including mites, leaf miner, aphids, mealybugs, and crown gall. Common diseases that can affect the shrub include witches' broom, stem dieback, and fungal leaf spots.