Growing Japanese Spindle plants
The Japanese spindle is grown for its beautiful foliage. Photo © Mauro/Flickr

Euonymus japonicus, or the Japanese spindle, is a small flowering shrub native to Japan and China that is a popular ornamental plant among gardeners. This shrub has leathery, green foliage, with serrated oval leaves about two inches long. There are a few varieties of E. japonicus, which differ in the patterns on the foliage; for instance, ‘Latifolius Albomarginatus’ has a white outline around its leaves, and ‘Microphylllus’ has deep green leaves and grows much smaller than the other variants.

Many of these cultivars also grow variegated leaves, usually in some combination of green, white, and yellow. They also grow small, greenish-white flowers with a vinegary smell. Cultivars of the plant like ‘Microphyllus’ can be as small as two to three feet tall, but E. japonicus itself is usually in the 6-10 ft. range and can grow as high as fifteen if unchecked. It grows in a stiff oval mound, and its foliage is quite dense. These shrubs respond well to pruning in the spring, and they often lose their leaves in winter. Though E. japonicus can make a pleasant houseplant, take care: all parts of this plant are poisonous if ingested, so watch it around any pets or small children.

Growing Conditions

  • Light: Lots of bright, indirect light is good.
  • Water: During the growth period from spring to fall they should be watered regularly. You can scale back their water during the winter.
  • Temperature: Room temperature is fine; they should receive about average warmth. Keep them in cool, temperate conditions during winter.
  • Soil: Though they can tolerate lots of conditions, their soil should be well-drained and moist. A typical potting soil mix should be good.
  • Fertilizer: They can be fed in the beginning of spring with a balanced fertilizer before growth starts. E. japonicus may also benefit from the application of root stimulator.


    They propagate from cuttings, which should be taken at the end of the growth period in late summer. Cut a stem from the plant right below a node, which is the point from which a leaf or bud grows, and then replant it in a mixture like peat moss and perlite or sand. Make sure to keep the cuttings misted, warm, and well-lit in their infancy.


    E. japonicus should be repotted every year in spring. Water the root ball in advance to make the process easier, then remove the entire plant in one piece. Trim the roots to loosen up the ball, then replace in a new pot and backfill it with potting soil.


    Along with the baby ‘Microphyllus’, the most popular variant of E. japonicus is the Golden Euonymus, or ‘Aureo-marginatus’. This shrub, one of the most brilliant cultivars of the species, is grown for its bright yellow leaves. Many other cultivars exist with interesting variegated patterns like the dark green ‘President Gauthier’, as well, and new ones continue to be bred. Do some research in nurseries and online to find which cultivar you prefer.

    Grower’s Tips

    These plants will benefit aesthetically from yearly pruning, and it’s good for their health as well. Keep them pared back by pruning in spring, and repot them annually as well.

    They are susceptible to euonymus scale – watch out for unusual marking on the leaves. If your plant suffers from scale, a good pesticide can provide relief. Make sure the shrub’s soil drains well – if your plant becomes waterlogged, it will suffer. But in general, these are fairly hardy plants that can tolerate lots of conditions. Regular water and bright light in the growing season is the key to keeping E. japonicus happy.