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Burning bush is a common name for the shrub Euonymus alata due to its brilliant pinkish-red foliage display in the autumn, creating the illusion of flame from a distance. Originating in Asia, it is hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8. The burning bush is a slow-growing shrub to 15 feet high and wide with great vitality, living for years without attention. Variety Compacta has been bred to a mature size of 6 feet by 6 feet and Rudy Haag to a smaller size of 3 1/2 by 3 1/2 feet. With its fall fiery show, a range in sizes to choose from, and ease of care, there is a burning bush for every landscape. Preparing the burning bush for winter weather requires very little of the gardener.
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Water the Euonymus alata shrub thoroughly, deeply and regularly before any freezing weather occurs. No plant or shrub thrives with a dry root system when the soil around it freezes. A burning bush with dry roots at a time when the soil around its root ball freezes will suffer some winter kill of branches, while one that is well-watered will be protected.
Apply a 3- to 4-inch layer of organic mulch around the base of the burning bush after the deep watering is finished. This locks in the moisture and adds some protection of the ground from a hard freeze. The Euonymus alata prefers a slightly acid pH soil, so the mulch should accommodate this by being composed of pine needles, sawdust, or ground wood bark rather than manures.
Brush off heavy snowfall gently with a broom if it occurs. The burning bush can suffer seriously from the weight of heavy snow upon its branches. This is a less critical task in the shorter variety, Rudy Haag, as it mounds close to the soil, but tall varieties risk branch loss.
Protect the burning bush from browsing deer if it is located in an area they frequent. Deer love this shrub and their constant nibbling can keep the intended mature height of 15 feet reduced to a bush that never gets larger than 2 feet. Pound tall wooden stakes into the soil around the perimeter of the shrub. Attach wire, such as chicken wire, to the stakes with metal twist ties to keep the deer from winter browsing. Unfortunately, the deer like this shrub year-round, so the barrier may have to remain until the burning bush plant grows above their reach.
The burning bush takes very well to shearing into a hedge form. Variety Compacta is often engaged in the landscape as an unclipped hedge, offering less work for the gardener.
In some parts of North America, the Euonymus alata is considered an invasive plant. This is primarily in New England and the East Coast. Check with the local agricultural extension service to confirm that it is not an invasive species in your area.