Emerald 'n' Gold Euonymus Shrubs

The Pros and Cons of These Variegated Bushes

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

Why are Emerald 'n' Gold euonymus plants so popular? Would they be a good fit for your own landscaping? Find out by learning their selling points as well as the problems that come with growing them.

Taxonomy, Botany of Emerald 'n' Gold Euonymus Shrubs

Plant taxonomy classifies these plants as Euonymus fortunei Emerald 'n' Gold. While common names such as "spindle" do exist for E. fortunei, many writers simply use the Latin genus name (without capitalizing) as if it were the common name. Not only is the genus name more precise, but also few gardeners today would know what you were talking about if you referred to the plant as "spindle." Emerald 'n' Gold is the cultivar name. The plant is in the staff vine family, as is, for example, the bittersweet vine.

Emerald 'n' Gold euonymus plants have broadleaf foliage and are evergreen shrubs.

Plant Features

Although they can achieve somewhat larger dimensions by maturity (if left unpruned), Emerald 'n' Gold euonymus shrubs are most often pruned to be kept compact: about 3 feet tall by 4 feet wide. Some of the plants' many, rigid branches shoot more or less straight up into the air (as do the branches on E. fortunei Emerald Gaiety), while others hug the ground before curling upwards at their tips.

The calling card for this shrub, as with Moonshadow euonymus (E. fortunei Moonshadow), is its variegated foliage. In this case, the color pattern is green on the inside, golden on the outside (the gold tends to fade on older leaves). A touch of pink may come into the leaves in fall or winter.

Planting Zones, Growing Needs for Emerald 'n' Gold Euonymus Shrubs

The bushes are best grown in planting zones 5 to 8. Their water needs are average.

Grow Emerald 'n' Gold euonymus shrubs in well-drained soils. While they are not fussy about sun vs. shade, they will produce their best color display if planted in full sun. Giving them a sunny location may also help you avoid the problem of their variegated leaves reverting back to an all-green color.

Landscaping Uses

With their low-mounding habit (aided by pruning), Emerald 'n' Gold euonymus shrubs can be used as ground covers. Planted on a hillside, they are good for erosion control. But they are also just tall enough for use as low hedges or foundation plants. Emerald 'n' Gold euonymus shrubs are showy enough to warrant their use as specimen plants in spring if used in odd-numbered groupings. But the golden color is intense only in spring. If you need salt-tolerant plants, grow E. japonica, instead.

Emerald 'n' Gold Euonymus Shrubs vs. Invasive Wintercreeper Vine

Emerald 'n' Gold euonymus shrubs should not be confused with E. fortunei var. radicans, although both are sometimes referred to as "wintercreeper." The radicans variety, also commonly known as "climbing euonymus," is a climbing vine and considered a highly invasive plant.

But under the right conditions, Emerald 'n' Gold euonymus, too can spread. It does not spread very much, but where its stems make contact with bare ground, the stems may put down roots. To avoid such spreading, lay down mulch and weed fabric and keep the plants pruned back. They will climb a bit if supported but are basically shrubs and do not climb nearly as much as E fortunei var. radicans. Another plant of this genus that is invasive is burning bush (E. alata).

Care: Pruning, Dealing With Reversion, Scale Insects

The beautiful variegated foliage for which you bought these small evergreen shrubs in the first place may revert to plain old green on some of the new shoots. Whenever you see this reversion taking place, simply prune off the shoots with these green leaves, so as to discourage their further growth. If not checked, such shoots will, in fact, soon take over the whole plant. This is because their leaves have more chlorophyll in them (giving them increased vigor) than do the variegated leaves. 

Emerald 'n' Gold euonymus shrubs do recover quickly from pruning, so you need not worry over the loss of a few branches here and there: They will soon be replaced by new ones. It is best to prune them back by 1/3 each spring, regardless of the presence or absence of reverted branches. This fosters dense, bushy growth. The need for so much pruning, though, means that these are not great plants for low-maintenance landscaping.

If you fail to follow this pruning regimen with yours for a few years, the result may be a bush that has reverted to a color almost entirely green. This can be especially true if your shrub no longer gets the amount of sunshine that it used to, due to changes in your landscape. How would you solve this problem? Prune it drastically in late winter. The following spring, variegated leaves will cover the plant again, almost causing you to forget what it had looked like before you pruned it.

But what causes this reversion? And why is that term used? As the Royal Horticultural Society explains, you need to understand how most of the variegated plants come into being, in the first place. Their parents were "regular" plants with green leaves, but then a sport (or mutation) was found. Plant developers then worked with this sport to put a new plant on the market. But their true nature (namely, as green plants, rather than as variegated plants) remains latent within them. They are capable of "returning to their roots," if you will, at any time. That is, chances are good of their reverting back to plants with green leaves.

Variegated plants, generally speaking, are less likely to revert if you give them adequate sunlight (assuming that they are meant to be grown in the sun). This makes sense if you keep in mind that the variegated leaves have less chlorophyll in them. Chlorophyll is central to photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert the sun's rays into energy that they can use. Since variegated plants start out at a disadvantage in this regard, depriving them of the sunlight they need only makes matters worse. Is it any wonder then that, as a response to this challenge, the plants would revert back to having the green leaves that make photosynthesis easier?

In terms of pests, keep an eye out for attacks from scale insects. If one part of the plant is heavily infested with scale, prune it off and dispose of it properly before the scale can spread to other areas of the plant. Magnolia is another plant for which you commonly must practice scale control.

Other Types

In addition to Emerald 'n' Gold, Emerald Gaiety, Moonshadow, and radicans, examples of euonymus include:

  • E. japonicus Green Spire: fast-growing shrub with shiny-green leaves; a narrow, columnar plant (6 to 8 feet tall, with a spread of just 1 to 2 feet), it is used in hedges; full to partial sun, zones 6 to 9
  • E. japonicus Aureo-marginatus: similar to Emerald 'n' Gold, but with superior golden color; grows to become 5 to 10 feet tall, with a spread of 4 to 8 feet
  • E. americanus: North-American native (zones 6 to 9); sometimes commonly called "strawberry bush" for the color of the husks of its fruits; the pinkish-red husks burst apart to reveal orange-red seeds; 4 to 6 feet tall x 3 to 4 feet wide; dappled shade is best, but it will survive even in full shade

Origin of the Names for Emerald 'n' Gold Euonymus Shrubs

The genus name, Euonymus comes from the Greek and literally means "well-named." People misspell this word a lot. It is pronounced yoo-ON-uh-muhs. Many gardeners who have heard the name but have never seen it written do not realize that the name begins with "Eu" rather than just with a U (since the E is silent). But you can remember this fact easily if you take careful note of the Greek origin of the word. The "well" in the literal translation of the botanical name comes from the Greek prefix, eu. We have it in many English words, including "euphemism." 

The species name, fortunei, comes from the fact that it was 19th-century botanist, Robert Fortune who brought the species to the West from its native China. And, finally, the cultivar name, Emerald 'n' Gold, comes from its variegated foliage: Leaves that are emerald, with golden edging.