Euonymus is a broad genus of woody flowering plants, mostly native to eastern Asia and portions of Europe. One species, E. fortunei, is especially popular as a garden plant. Known as wintercreeper, E. fortunei is a broadleaf evergreen shrub that can also serve as a climber or spreading ground cover. The distinctive green-and-gold varieties provide a classic but colorful look for the garden.
Wintercreeper's scientific name, forutnei, comes from plant explorer Robert Fortune, while its common name derives from its habit of creeping steadily higher and higher as it grows. Wintercreeper can climb up to 66 feet as a juvenile plant, if it has support, though it generally stops creeping once it reaches full maturity. Without support, it will spread out as ground cover; or it can be kept trimmed as a shrub about 2 feet tall.
|Botanical Name||Euonymus fortunei|
|Common Names||Wintercreeper euonymus, wintercreeper|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||Up to 70 feet as a vine; usually kept to 2 to 4 feet as a mounding shrub|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Medium moisture, well-drained soil|
|Soil pH||6.0 to 8.0 (slightly acidic to slightly alkaline)|
|Flower Color||Greenish white (flowers are insignificant)|
|Hardiness Zones||4 to 9 (USDA)|
How to Grow Wintercreeper Euonymus
Plant wintercreeper euonymus in just about any location other than boggy, saturated soil. It has a good tolerance for most soil and sun conditions. It is generally easy to grow and is tolerant of unfavorable conditions, such as poor soil, drought, and pollution, making it suitable for urban environments. However, because it's technically an invasive plant, it can spread into surrounding lawns and garden areas, as well as climb adjacent trees, if it is not kept in check.
Wintercreeper euonymus is a versatile plant that can serve as ground cover for both sunny and shady areas, as an edging plant along paths, as a slope cover, as a foundation planting, or trained to climb like an ivy to cover walls, chimneys, or fences. Trim it back each year after flowering is complete to keep it in check; otherwise, it can become invasive.
Wintercreeper thrives in full sun to part shade, but it can tolerate a significant amount of shade.
Wintercreeper grows easily in average, medium moisture, well-drained soil. It prefers alkaline soil but will tolerate many different soil conditions, including compacted soil, various pH levels, and dry (drought) soil conditions. But it does not do well in wet soil.
Water the plant when the top 3 inches of soil are dry. If the plant is already established, it can also tolerate drought conditions. If you live in a cold-winter climate, you can help prevent common winter problems, such as desiccation, by watering the plants well in the fall, before the ground freezes.
Temperature and Humidity
Wintercreeper euonymus does well in all climate conditions found in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9. In areas with harsh winters, Wintercreeper can suffer some winter damage from ice and dramatic temperature fluctuations. Wrapping plants in burlap can help minimize damage. Fortunately, this resilient plant is very good at recovering from the effects of winter.
As an evergreen shrub with insignificant flowers, wintercreeper usually needs no fertilizer for general health. If desired, you can feed it once a year in the fall, using a small amount of fertilizer applied at least 2 inches from the plant's trunk.
Pruning Wintercreeper Euonymus
Pruning can be done either to control the spread of the plant or to keep it in a desired shape—such as to keep it in a mounded shape rather than allowing it to spread as a ground cover. Major pruning should be done after summer flowering is complete. Make sure to sterilize cutting tools after each cut.
Propagating Wintercreeper Euonymus
Wintercreeper is easily propagated from new-growth cuttings. With sterilized cutting shears, take a 4- to 6-inch length of stem that has at least 4 pairs of leaves. Strip off the bottom pair of leaves and place the cutting in moist potting mix. Keep the potting mix moist until roots at least 1 inch long have emerged from the nodes where the leaves were removed, then transplant into a larger pot. Make sure to harden the plant off before transplanting into the garden.
Varieties of Wintercreeper Euonymus
There are three varieties of wintercreepers:
- Euonymus fortunei var. fortunei is native to China and Korea. This is the only variety that features the green-and-gold leaf pattern.
- Euonymus fortunei var. radicans is native to Japan. This variety has plain green leaves.
- Euonymus fortunei var. vegetus is native to northern Japan. Some experts say it's not distinct from var. radicans.
Additionally, there are several recommended cultivars, though not all will offer the emerald-and-gold coloring that many gardeners desire:
- 'Emerald Gaiety' has green and white leaves.
- 'Emerald 'n' Gold' has green leaves with wide yellow margins. It can mound into a shrub 4 to 5 feet in height.
- 'Emerald Surprise' has green foliage with smaller yellow margins.
- ‘Canadale Gold’ has glossy leaves with golden margins. It is a mounding form, but is also good for vine training.
- 'Minimus' is a small mounding cultivar, growing to only about 18 inches but with a 6-foot spread. Known as "baby wintercreeper," it has quite small leaves.
- 'Coloratus' is known as purple-leaved wintercreeper. It is a low spreading cultivar, with leaves that have purplish color on the undersides.
Compared With Japanese Euonymus
A similar species to Wintercreeper is the Japanese euonymus (Euonymus japonicus), which is native to Japan, Korea, and China. Like the wintercreeper, it's an evergreen shrub that grows to be around 10 to 15 feet tall when grown as a vine. However, Japanese euonymus is most commonly used as a hedge plant, growing 6 to 8 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide in its natural form. It has hardy, leathery foliage and dense growth, making it a good choice for a topiary plant.
There is a green and yellow cultivar of Japanese euonymus, known as 'Bravo', while other cultivars—'Albomarginatus', 'Latifolius Albomarginatus', and 'President Gauthier'—have green and white leaves. There is also a dwarf variety, microphyllus, that's about 2 to 3 feet high and is often used for edging.
E. fortunei is considered to be a toxic plant, but is it poisonous only if it is consumed in large quantities, so there's no need to be too concerned.
One of the most common problems you may face with many types of Euonymus shrub is Euonymus scale, an armored insect that attacks the leaves and stems of infected plants. Treat for scale by pruning off infected branches and/or by applying a horticultural oil at the appropriate times of the growing season. In many areas, this is late May to early June and late July to early August, during the two hatches of the insect.
Cockfield, Stephen D, Potter, Daniel A. Euonymus Scale (Homoptera: Diaspididae) Effects on Plant Growth and Leaf Abscission and Implications for Differential Site Selection by Male and Female Scales. Journal of Economic Entomology, 83,3,995-1001, 1990, doi:10.1093/jee/83.3.995