How to Grow and Care for Wintercreeper Euonymus

winter creeper

The Spruce / Autumn Wood 

Euonymus is a broad genus of woody flowering plants, mostly native to eastern Asia and portions of Europe. One species, E. fortunei, which is native to China, 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. It is grown for its foliage and not for the insignificant greenish-white flowers that appear in the spring. The distinctive green-and-gold varieties provide a classic but colorful look for the garden.

Plant wintercreeper in the spring or early fall. It 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.

While there are no studies or records about Euonymus fortunei being toxic, as other species in the genus are toxic to humans and animals, proper precautions should be taken so people and pets don't ingest any parts of the plant.

Wintercreeper is potentially invasive if it is not kept in check. It and can spread into surrounding lawns and garden areas, as well as climb adjacent trees.

Common Names Wintercreeper euonymus, wintercreeper
Botanical Name Euonymus fortunei
Family Celastraceae
Plant Type Perennial, herbaceous
Mature Size Up to 70 ft. as a vine, 2-4 ft. as a shrub
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral, alkaline
Hardiness Zones 5 to 9 (USDA)
Native Area Asia
Toxicity Toxic to humans, toxic to pets
winter creeper by steps
The Spruce / Autumn Wood 
Wintercreeper Euonymus fortunei close-up shot. Nature background with green and white leaves.
Olga Chalovskaia / Getty Images

Wintercreeper Euonymus Care

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.

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.

Warning

Wintercreeper euonymus is viewed as invasive in the eastern United States because it spreads not only into surrounding lawns and garden areas, but also climbs trees and moves into forest openings where it replaces native plants.

Light

Wintercreeper thrives in full sun to part shade, but it can tolerate a significant amount of shade.

Soil

Wintercreeper grows easily in average, medium moisture, well-drained soil. It prefers alkaline soil but will tolerate many different soil conditions, including compacted soil, slightly acidic to slightly alkaline pH between 6.0 to 8.0, as well as dry (and even drought) soil conditions. However, it does not do well in wet soil.

Water

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. Fortunately, this resilient plant is very good at recovering from the effects of winter.

Fertilizer

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.

Types 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 small leaves.
  • 'Coloratus' is a low spreading cultivar, with leaves that have purplish color on the undersides, therefore it is also known as purple-leaved wintercreeper.

Pruning

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 flowering is complete to remove all the spent flowers before they go to seed. Make sure to sterilize cutting tools after each cut.

Propagating Wintercreeper Euonymus

Wintercreeper is easily propagated from new-growth cuttings in the spring. Here's how:

  1. With sterilized cutting shears, take a 4- to 6-inch length of stem that has at least 4 pairs of leaves.
  2. Strip off the bottom pair of leaves and place the cutting in moist potting mix.
  3. 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.
  4. Make sure to harden the plant off before transplanting it into the garden.

How to Grow Wintercreeper Euonymus From Seed

Starting wintercreeper euonymus from seed is not recommended for several reasons. Germination of the seeds is erratic and may take months. If you use seeds that you have collected from a cultivar, the new plant will not be true to the parent so it's not worth the effort and wait time. You have a much better chance of successfully propagating euonymus from stem cuttings.

Potting and Repotting

If you want to grow wintercreeper euonymus in a container, select a compact or dwarf variety and keep it well-pruned to control its growth. Choose a container that is at least as large as the nursery container, with good drainage holes. Terra cotta is ideal because it lets excess moisture evaporate.

Fill the container with well-draining potting mix and water it regularly to keep the soil moderately moist, keeping in mind that container plants need more frequent watering than in-ground garden plants.

Repotting becomes should be done in the spring and becomes necessary when the roots fill the pot or start to grow out of the drainage holes.

Overwintering

Wintercreeper euonymus is hardy to USDA zone 4 and needs no winter protection when planted in a garden setting. In containers, however, freezing winter temperatures can damage the roots. To insulate the roots from the cold, wrap it with burlap and bubble wrap, or place it inside an insulating silo or overwintering.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

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.

Common Problems with Wintercreeper Euyonymous

Other than the potential invasiveness if its growth is not controlled, this plant does not have any common problems and is easy to grow.

FAQ
  • Is there a difference between wintercreeper euonymus and Japanese euonymus?

    Japanese euonymus (Euonymus japonicus), is a similar species 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.

  • How does wintercreeper euonymus spread?

    It spreads both vegetatively by stems that root wherever there's soil, and by seeds eaten by birds or dispersed by water.

  • Why is wintercreeper a problem?

    It chokes out other plants, including shrubs and trees, by depriving them of light. The vine grows into the canopy of even tall trees and eventually covers it entirely.

  • How did wintercreeper get its name?

    The species name, fortunei, comes from plant explorer Robert Fortune, while its common name derives from its habit of creeping steadily higher and higher as it grows.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant List. ASPCA.

  2. Euonymus fortunei. North Carolina Extension Office.

  3. Wintercreeper, Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States.

  4. 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