The Center Branches Are Dead on My Burning Bush


Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is a hardy plant capable of withstanding drought and poor soil. Originally from China, the bushes have been used to landscape commercial areas, homes and along roads and highways. Because of their adaptability, as well as their seeding techniques, the bushes are considered invasive in areas throughout the United States. Still, their brilliant fall foliage is valued by many growers. Although hardy, the plants are susceptible to pests and environmental damage.

Spider Mites

  • Spider mites are insidious, quick-breeding insects that can destroy burning bush branches in a single growing season. Along with brown branches and leaf drop severely infested plants are covered with fine, white webbing. Check for spider mites prior to these severe stages by holding a piece of white paper under a branch Shake the branch. Beneficial mites are red while spider mites leave a green streak. To control spider mites weed around the plant before winter as spider mites overwinter in weeds. Apply horticultural oil to infected areas and remove dead or heavily diseased portions of the shrub.


  • Scales live and breed in the branch crooks and notches of the shrub, making interior branches more susceptible to infestation than outer, new growth. These pests chew leaves and extract chlorophyll, effectively killing the plant one leaf at a time. Branches turn brown and leaves drop. Prevent infestation by watering your bush in dry months, a well-maintained plant can ward off attack more readily than a stressed, weak one. Check branches for eggs and use a horticultural oil if scales are present.


  • Burning bushes are dense plants. The denser the branches the more likely light will fail to penetrate the shrub's interior. Lack of light causes interior branches to turn brown. Established hedges should be pruned once in spring and again in mid-summer. Prune up to 2 inches of new growth at a time and ensure that the base of the plant is kept wider than the top. This allows light to penetrate into lower branches and decreases foliage death. For burning bushes grown as hedges, brown interior branches are not a problem, so long as insect infestation has been ruled out as a cause.

Maintenance and Care

  • Stem die-back is a problem seen in burning bushes and can be caused by nutrient and water deficiency. Though the bushes are capable of surviving in a wide range of less than optimum growing conditions, there is a difference between surviving and thriving. To encourage fall foliage displays and vibrant growth provide your bush with moist, well-draining soil. Test your soil and increase acid levels if the soil measures within the alkaline range on the pH scale. Incorporate organic matter (compost and mulch) into dense clay soils.

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