Euonymus

This hardy genus is great for filling gaps and adding year-round colour to planting schemes, writes Kris Collins.

Euonymus japonicus 'Microphyllus Aureovariegatus' - photo: HW
Euonymus japonicus 'Microphyllus Aureovariegatus' - photo: HW

The evergreen forms of Euonymus are tried-and-tested favourites with commercial landscapers. Available in large numbers at a reasonable cost, they are used in blocks, often on a massive scale. But a closer look at the genus also reveals a host of strikingly coloured, structural forms suitable for specimen plantings.

E. phellomanus Award of Garden Merit (AGM), for example, has startling pink fruits in autumn, with contrasting orange seeds borne on striking, corky, winged stems. And E. myrianthus is a rare evergreen form from western China, which unusually for the genus produces bright yellow fruit in autumn that contrasts with its dark green foliage.

Among the more widespread varieties, E. fortunei 'Emerald 'n' Gold' AGM and E. fortunei 'Emerald Gaiety' AGM are probably the most commercially produced and hardiest for the landscape trade, and can be seen in many amenity planting schemes. Both are on the HTA's Top Plants for Amenity Landscapes list and offer year-round colourful infill and ground cover, a high survival rate and tolerance to most soil and weather conditions.

E. japonicus varieties offer a more upright habit, reaching around 1.5m and are often adopted as mid-height plants in borders, giving shape and instant colour. Where height is needed, E. japonicus 'Bravo' reaches 2m and is a popular coastal choice for hedging. Clipped as a specimen, it also makes a good break in border plantings.

The deciduous E. europaeus, the native spindle tree, is also an option for block planting and as a space filler, but its autumnal colours, striking bright berries and structural form make it great for use as a specimen plant too. Spindle trees are more delicate than the evergreen options and will need well-drained soil to prevent damping-off diseases such as Pythium. They are also susceptible to mildew and Euonymus scale.

These problems can be prevented through good cultural practices. Pruning in October or November ensures new growth will appear at a time where cold weather prevents mildew and scale taking hold before new leaves have toughened up.

Once planted, Euonymus forms need little maintenance, with watering required only when establishing plants, even in the driest parts of the country.

All parts of Euonymus are poisonous to humans and therefore consideration should be taken when designing a scheme used by children.

WHAT THE SPECIALISTS SAY

Matthew Tanton Brown, plant centre manager, The Place for Plants, Suffolk (Deciduous Euonymus National Collection Holder) "Euonymus is tough and can put up with all sorts of conditions. Some people think it is a bit common in the landscape but usually things are common for a reason. It is a great pioneer shrub for any new garden development - it is reasonably cold- and drought-tolerant, and is fine in full sun to semi-shade.

"There are certainly some good evergreen varieties. E. fortunei 'Emerald 'n' Gold' Award of Garden Merit (AGM), E. fortunei 'Silver Queen' and E. fortunei 'Emerald Gaiety' AGM are probably the three most well-known varieties and all are good for hedging - if you're looking for a formal parterre, they make a good alternative to box. At this time of year they come into their own as other plants die down for the winter.

"E. japonicus 'Bravo' is a lovely large form, offering creamy variegation and a tall, upright habit. When grown to height it's best out of the wind but kept short it also makes a good hedging plant.

"If you want something dwarf and compact for patio containers and troughs, there are microphyllus cultivars including E. japonicus 'Microphyllus Albovariegatus', which only grows 7-15cm a year."

William Friend, owner, East North Down Farm Nursery, Kent "E. fortunei and some of its cultivars are what I call 'roundabout' plants - we don't get too involved in supplying these. But the deciduous spindle trees E. europaeus and E. japonicus are underused and are great for autumn interest. E. europaeus 'Red Cascade' AGM probably has the best autumn foliage colour and bright red berries.

"We specialise in seaside and chalk-loving plants and as such we produce a lot of E. japonicus, which comes in various colour forms from plain green to silver and gold and variegated forms. We find it to be one of the best coastal planting options alongside things like Elaeagnus, though it doesn't grow well inland.

"It does suffer from downy mildew and Euonymus scale insect. If hard pruned in summer, as it so often is in municipal plantings, the new growth in the warmer months is susceptible to both mildew and scale, weakening the whole plant."

IN PRACTICE

Trevor Tooth, garden designer, Kent "The E. fortunei evergreen forms are a great gap filler where you need year-round foliage and act as good ground cover under other larger shrubs. They stand out in winter and step back in the summer months to let the perennials and grasses take over.

"The deciduous types tend to get forgotten and are much underused, but even the common E. japonicus that you see used as hedging in coastal places makes a stunning plant.

"E. alatus AGM is a fantastic deciduous shrub for autumnal colour. I tend to use it as a feature plant or structural plant - if you can prune it to become almost a miniature tree it looks amazing."

SPECIES AND CULTIVARS

- E. alatus Award of Garden Merit (AGM) is a striking deciduous form, selected for its red autumn foliage, berries and textural bark. A medium-size shrub growing to 2.5m in 5 years.

- E. alatus 'Compactus' AGM is a slower-growing variety. It does not hold berries in autumn and does not have the rigid bark. It will eventually match the species in size given time.

- E. alatus 'Fire Ball' is a compact form selected for its tighter branching and superior hardiness.

- E. alatus 'Timber Creek' is another compact form, with rich crimson autumn colour. It is said to be the most free-fruiting of the species.

- E. bungeanus is a large, deciduous form reaching up to 6m in height. It has small flowers and pink fruits with yellow shading.

- E. bungeanus 'Dart's Pride' is a more slender form with arching branches and birch-like leaves.

- E. bungeanus 'Pendulus' is a smaller form growing to 4m with a hanging habit to branches.

- E. cornutus var. quinquecornutus is a rare form whose pink-tinged fruits sport five or six horn-like extensions that look like jester hats. It has a height of 3m and a spread of 2m.

- E. echinatus offers red spring growth against olive-green evergreen leaves. It is short and evenly spreading to 1m.

- E. europaeus is a deciduous shrub, which grows to 6m. It flowers from May to June but is renowned for its attractive pink to red fruit in autumn with orange seeds.

- E. europaeus 'Red Cascade' AGM combines attractive autumn berries with vivid red foliage.

- E. europaeus 'Variegatus' is a variegated form of the species.

- E. fortunei has a creeping habit and evergreen foliage, which makes this species and its many cultivars ideal for ground cover and underplanting.

- E. fortunei 'Blondy' is a small but lively looking plant, which has long, dark green leaves, substantially variegated with a clean creamy yellow It grows to 50cm and is also known as E. fortunei 'Interbolwi' under PBR.

- E. fortunei 'Emerald 'n' Gold' AGM is a dwarf option. It has a spreading habit, with yellow-margined leaves, tinged pink in winter. It occasionally produces a few small, inconspicuous greenish flowers.

- E. fortunei 'Emerald Gaiety' AGM is a popular coloured form, with irregular white leaf margins and conspicuous pink tints during winter.

- E. fortunei 'Harlequin' is another dwarf evergreen variety, whose white-speckled, ovate, green leaves have scalloped margins that become pink-tinted in winter.

- E. fortunei 'Silver Queen' is a bushy shrub growing to 2.5m. It has ovate leaves margined with white and often tinged pink, and inconspicuous pale green flowers in summer that are occasionally followed by pink fruit.

- E. hamiltonianus is a large, deciduous form that can reach 3m high. Its wood is very hard, dense and traditionally used for wooden staffs and small implements.

- E. japonicus can grow up to 2.4m in height. It does not produce berries but is much used as evergreen screening or hedging. Performs well in coastal settings.

- E. japonicus 'Microphyllus Aureovariegatus' is a dense, compact, evergreen shrub with dark green leaves narrowly edged with yellow.

- E. japonicus 'Ovatus Aureus' AGM is a bushy, mid-sized, evergreen shrub with oval, broad, yellow-margined green leaves, which are golden-yellow when young.

- E. phellomanus AGM is a deciduous form with a vigorous spreading habit with young shoots and strongly net-veined leaves.

- E. verrucosus is a medium-sized deciduous form growing to 2m with knobbly branches and stems, giving a rough texture.


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