Burn the Burning Bush!

Fall Fothergilla in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Fothergilla’s range of fall colors (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

I travel on a lot of country roads during my ride to work, and enjoy the scenery along the way. Especially in the fall, as leaves start turning flashy shades of gold, orange and red.  Alas, there is a putrid, pinkish-red leaved villain littering the native landscape, a shrub that is non-native, highly invasive and virtually mundane and uninteresting except for its fall foliage.  It has taken over our native woods with reckless abandon and continues to dominate further and further every year.  Most will only notice it for those few weeks in autumn when it turns an almost freakish, faded red; a color resembling one of Santa’s suits after a few too many washes. Humdrum summer foliage, unnatural fall color, boring architecture, and a bully to boot, why, burning bush should be just that-burned!

Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet' in Fall in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Fall colors of Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Why am I suggesting that you burn your Euonymus alata bush? Consider that Euonymus alata is listed as an Alien Invasive throughout eastern North America, and it is now banned from being sold in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Easily spread into the forest by birds that consume its berries, the burning bush is taking over our woodlands by smothering out the native understory plants. If you don’t have a burning bush on your property, please don’t plant one! And if you do, consider cutting it down, digging up the roots (or it will come back), and replacing it with one of the delightful alternatives I have listed below. All are comparably sized and offer multi-seasonal attributes as well as truly exquisite fall coloring for gardens zoned 5-8:

Fothergilla:  gardenii (3′) or major (8′), are native shrubs that love it out in the open or in a garden setting.  Before leafing out in early spring, they produce clusters of white, bottle brush shaped, lightly scented flowers.  During the summer each has interesting ‘Ruffles have ridges‘ potato chip textured leaves that are a nice contrast with other garden shrubs. Once mid-autumn arrives, fothergilla really dazzles with not just one or two shades, but the whole spectrum from gold to deep burgundy, all on one shrub. C’est magnifique!

Hydrangea quercifolia in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Hydrangea quercifolia’s autumn foliage (Photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Hydrangea quercifolia:  The oakleaf hydrangea is a superb native shrub that will be happy with a little shade and is tolerant of crummy soil conditions. It has ornamentally interesting oak leaf shaped leaves, produces showy white or pink blooms in summer, and offers the most breathtaking fall colors ranging from cherry red to a rich plum purple.

Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’: Another native shrub that produces frothy white flowers en masse during the spring, has a lush green foliage carried on slightly weeping branches through summer and the richest, most intense crimson foliage lasting from mid-September to the end of November.  Simply a “Must have” plant to ignite the fall garden border.

Viburnum Winterthur in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur’ (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Viburnum spp & cvs:  I love viburnums for their versatility, seasonal interest and easy care. Many offer showy (even fragrant) flowers and attractive form and foliage through the summer, transitioning to fiery displays of color in the fall. Its hard to choose, but a few of my favorites are Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur,’ Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’ and Viburnum trilobum ‘Wentworth.’ Winterthur flaunts shellacked, burgundy leaves that shimmer in the border, Mariesii boasts showy indigo berries and maroon foliage on horizontal limbs, and Wentworth displays maple shaped leaves of glowing garnet. Between the sensational foliage and vibrant berries, many viburnum will put on a fabulous fall encore you won’t want to miss ♥


  1. My sentiments exactly. And while you’re at it, get rid of the plain green Berberis. On my way to the Coventry Regional Market this morning, I saw lots of both growing along the road where it had obviously not been planted.

    • Yes, Sue, I agree! It drives me crazy to see a house with one barberry or burning bush in their yard, and across the street are dozens of illegitimate offspring as a result. Unfortunately, all the local nurseries still seem to be promoting these plants instead of all the beautiful and native alternatives. Sigh. All we can do is try to set a better example, and remain patient …

  2. I bought one 15 years ago…and lucked out. The rabbits ate it! All of it. I am in total agreement with you now. Very unnatural looking.
    I’m in a chilly zone 5 and am working on my second attempt with both Fothergilla and Oak Leaf Hydrangea. Euonymous europeus also does splendidly, though it is rather boring until September when both fruit and foliage are sensational for weeks.

    • Thank you for your comments! You will be delighted with fothergilla, don’t give up-they take a few years to get going. The oak leaf hydrangea is a new fave for me. As for the euonymus europaeus, be careful. That produces berries and may also be invasive… However, I can recommend euonymus fortunei ‘Silver Queen’ or ‘Emerald ‘n Gold’, these are smaller variegated evergreen shrubs for our zone 5 (through 9). They look like a holly, and stand up to cold, drought and abuse. Great multiseason interest and seem to be deer resistant as well.

  3. For me, euonymus europaeus is a suckering shrub, actually a tree wannabe. I deal with the suckering parts with secateurs in the spring because I love the September & October show! Folks in other regions claim it does not sucker or seed about. I’ve not had problems with the berries over the years.

  4. Diana Edwards says

    Interesting..I didn’t know they were invasive. I see them and like the vibrant color. Thanks for alternative selections.

    • Yes, it’s the nasty little red berries it produces, and the birds consume, that helped this shrub to spread all over. I promise you will love some of the alternative shrubs much more once you give them a try. Let me know!

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