How to Grow European Spindle Tree

European spindle tree with yellow leaves and small red flowers hanging on thin branches

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The European spindle tree (Euonymus europaeus) is a deciduous plant that can be grown as either a large shrub or small tree. It is native throughout Europe and into the western regions of Asia. And it has been cultivated in North America, where it can thrive to the point of becoming an invasive species in some areas.

The tree has a fast growth rate and can be planted in the fall or spring. Its dark green leaves are slightly serrated and grow 1 to 3 inches long. In the fall, the leaves turn to shades of red, orange, and purple, and the pink-red fruits appear. While some wildlife eats the berries, all parts of the European spindle tree are toxic both to humans and pets. 

Common Name European spindle tree, European euonymus, prick timber, prickwood, spindleberry, robins' bread
Botanical Name Euonymus europaeus
Family Celastraceae
Plant Type Shrub, tree
Mature Size 12–20 ft. tall, 10–16 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Well-drained
Soil pH Acid, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Yellow-green
Hardiness Zones 4–7 (USDA)
Native Area Asia, Europe
Toxicity Toxic to people, toxic to pets

European Spindle Tree Care

The European spindle tree's yellow-green flowers are not particularly notable. But its fruits can add ornamental value to a garden. Initially pale lobed capsules, the fruits turn to a hot pink-red by autumn. To produce more abundant displays of fruit, it is recommended that this species is planted near another Euonymus europaeus cultivar for cross-pollination.

Overall, this is a relatively low-maintenance plant and can make an attractive background shrub with a flowering border in front of it. Plan to water during dry spells, fertilize, and prune to maintain the tree's shape.

Warning

The European spindle tree grows readily, and a few states have deemed it invasive. They are: Oregon, New Jersey, and New Hampshire. Wildlife can contribute to the invasiveness by eating the berries and dropping the seeds.

European spindle tree branch with fuchsia colored berries in front of tree trunk

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

European spindle tree branch with fuchsia colored berries closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

European spindle tree branches with fuchsia colored berries

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

European spindle tree with yellow leaves in woods

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

European spindle tree branch with several yellow leaves on branch

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

European spindle trees prefer full sun to partial shade, meaning at least roughly four to six hours of direct sun per day.

Soil

Euonymus europaeus should be planted in an area of well-drained soil. Besides that, it can tolerate a variety of soil types and soil pHs, though it prefers a loamy and alkaline soil.

Water

This tree likes lightly moist but never soggy soil. Water when the top few inches of soil have dried out. You'll likely have to water more often if you grow your tree in full sun and a warmer climate.

Temperature and Humidity

This is a very cold-hardy plant that can tolerate temperatures down to the teens. Humidity also shouldn't be an issue as long as it has good drainage and air flow.

Fertilizer

Feed your European spindle tree a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer each spring, following package instructions.

Types of European Spindle Trees

  • 'Winter creeper euonymus' (Euonymus fortunei): This variety features evergreen leaves and orange fruit.
  • 'Winged spindle tree' (Euonymus alatus): Also known as a burning bush, this plant has winged stems and pink and orange fruit.
  • 'Strawberry bush' (Euonymus americanus): This variety is shorter than its cousins—growing from 6 to 12 feet—and it has ridged twigs that become purple in the sun.

Pruning

In the spring, prune your spindle tree back to the desired shape and size, but do not take off more than a third of the overall plant. However, if a tree form is desired, select the strongest shoot and cut all other shoots to the ground. Stake the single remaining shoot. When it reaches the height at which you want the tree foliage to begin, pinch off all growth below that spot. Continue trimming as needed to achieve desired growth pattern.

Propagating European Spindle Trees

European spindle trees can be propagated with cuttings from a mature plant taken in the late summer. This is an easy and inexpensive way to allow you to plant the tree in a different area or to create more of a particular variety that you like. Here's how:

  1. Take a cutting of a young stem that's around 6 inches long.
  2. Remove any foliage on the lower half of the cutting.
  3. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone, and then place it in a small pot of moist soilless potting mix.
  4. Place the pot in bright, indirect light, and continue to water to keep the soil moist. Plant the new tree outside the following spring.

How to Grow European Spindle Trees From Seed

Stored seeds need eight to 12 weeks of warm temperatures followed by eight to 16 weeks of cold stratification prior to planting. Then, seeds should be planted in a seed-starting potting mix in a small tray or a cold frame. Keep the mix lightly moist but never soggy. Once the seeds have germinated and have grown enough to be handled—about a year from starting them—plant the new trees outside in late spring.

Overwintering

European spindle trees generally need no special winter protection, as they are cold-hardy. However, it can be helpful to position young trees in a spot that's sheltered from strong bitter winds.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

European spindle trees typically have no significant pest or disease problems. In terms of pests, they can occasionally attract scale and aphids. And for diseases, they might come down with twig blight, mildew, crown gall, leaf spot, and anthracnose.

Common Problems With European Spindle Trees

European spindle trees typically grow vigorously and with few problems. However, sometimes improper growing conditions can contribute to issues.

Dull Leaves

This species is appreciated for its vivid fall colors. But if it's grown in too much shade, its leaves will likely have diminished coloration at a time when they're supposed to be the most striking.

FAQ
  • How long can European spindle trees live?

    Spindle trees can live for more than 100 years in the right conditions.

  • Where should I place a European spindle tree outside my house?

    The best growing site for a spindle tree has good drainage and partial to full sun. The tree can adapt to many conditions, but it can't tolerate wet soil.

  • Can European spindle trees grow indoors?

    It is not ideal to keep a European spindle tree as a houseplant. The tree will quickly outgrow most living spaces and containers.

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. Euonymus europaeus. NC State Extension.

  2. Euonymus. Pet Poison Helpline.

  3. European spindletree. Invasive Plant Atlas.

  4. Spindle. Woodland Trust.