Propagation Techniques for a Burning Bush

by Bridget Kelly

Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is a large and slow-growing shrub that eventually reaches up to 15 feet tall, with an equal spread. It’s a versatile plant grown for a number of uses but primarily for its striking, bright red fall foliage. Burning bush is hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 8. Busy moms will love the ease with which seeds germinate and the plant's adaptability to a wide variety of soils.

1. Seeds

The best time to collect burning bush fruit is in fall, just as the capsules begin to split open. Allow the capsules to air-dry at room temperature and they should pop open. If you won’t be planting the seeds immediately, store them in an air-tight container. Otherwise, plant the seeds at a depth that is twice the seed’s width in a sunny area of the garden in loosened soil. Seed spacing is unimportant since burning bush seedlings grow slowly and won’t need to be transplanted into their permanent locations for a season or two. Seeds sown in the summer require cold stratification for three months. Fill a sandwich bag halfway with moist sand, push the seeds into the sand, seal the bag and refrigerate it. Plant the seeds directly into the garden as you would if you were using fresh seed but cover the planting area with a 2- to 3-inch layer of straw. Seeds germinate within 8 weeks.

2. Cuttings

Propagating the burning bush with cuttings planted in equal parts of peat moss and perlite is the easiest way to get an exact copy of the plant. Take cuttings anytime the shrub has foliage, although summer is the best time according to noted horticulturist Michael A. Dirr. Cut a 4- to 6-inch piece of burning bush stem and remove all the leaves except for four at the top of the cutting. Roll the bottom end of the cutting in IBA rooting hormone powder, ensuring that at least three nodes are covered in the powder. After sticking the cutting into the planting medium, place the container in a plastic bag and seal it. Leave the cutting in an area that remains between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and it should produce roots within 8 weeks.

3. Layering

There are several forms of layering the gardener can choose when propagating plants. Tip layering in the summer works best with the burning bush. Choose a stem close to the bottom of the bush and dig a 3- to 4-inch deep hole in the soil below it. Remember to wear gloves when working with soil or planting medium to prevent encountering soil-borne pathogens. Insert the tip of the stem into the hole and cover it with soil. The tip will grow down and then bend to begin its upward journey to the surface of the soil. Roots will form at the bend, according to extension specialists with North Carolina State University. Allow the new shoot to grow in place until late fall or early spring and then transplant it in a sunny spot.

4. Suckers

Suckers is a term used to describe a sprout growing from a plant’s horizontal roots. It may sprout quite near the base of the plant or it may pop up several feet away. Removal of the sucker depends on how deep the burning bush’s roots are. If the roots are near the surface, you may be able to brush aside the soil and use sharp pruning shears to sever it from the mother plant. Otherwise, drive a spade into the soil 6 inches away from the sucker until it severs the roots. Ensure that the sucker has roots and try to keep as much of the soil around them as possible. Plant the sucker as you would a containerized burning bush -- in a sunny area, in loosened soil. Keep the soil moist at all times while the burning bush sucker becomes established.