This evergreen shrub plant with its many varieties is recognized by many name: Boxwood. Box-leaf. Winter creeper.
If you are daring, true gardener, you might simply say euonymus (yoo-on-uh-muhs).
Because of its diversity, the euonymus has many different uses; I love using these plants in containers. The full shrub works well as a stunning specimen plant, in a combination planting or an as attractive living screen.
In the landscape, it is often used as a hedge. Most euonymus plants grow well in either full sun or shady conditions; however, the variegated evergreen forms generally need more sun to develop and maintain their best color. They prefer moist, well-drained soil, especially when planted in pots.
Shopping for Euonymus
Varieties I have successfully used in pots are the following (in order of my favorites):
- Golden euonymus, or “aureo-marginata,” has bright golden foliage (shown above).
- “Silver king” has green leaves with silvery white edges (shown below).
- “Silver queen” has green leaves with creamy white edges.
- “Goldspot euonymus or “aureo-variegata” has leaves with yellow blotches and green edges.
- Box-leaf euonymus, or “microphylla,” is a small-leafed, compact shrub, usually trimmed as a hedge. In pots, it can be trimmed into a nicely shaped topiary.
Growth, Care and Feeding
The euonymus is slow-growing. If you choose a variety with variegated leaves, it will add more to your garden than simply green. It will take the full sun, and is very hardy during our mild winters. Since it does grow slowly, you can keep the plant in the same pot for several years without a problem. I do suggest that you start the larger varieties in 22-to-24-inch (or bigger) pots. The smaller-leaved box-leaf can do well in a slightly smaller pot.
When the shrub becomes root-bound in its container, you do not have to up-size the pot. You can gently remove the plant from the pot and cut back the roots by up to one-third. Then re-pot the plant with fresh potting soil and some time-release fertilizer; water thoroughl,y and you are good to go. I would do this in the early fall or spring.
Each of these euonymus varieties can be trimmed to shape. You can surround them with flowers to make a beautiful, full-potted garden. As you fertilize your flowers bi-weekly with a water-soluble fertilizer, the shrub will be getting the added food it needs to thrive.
In more hot and humid climates, gardeners often complain of the propensity for the plant to attract scale insects. If you keep the plant from getting too compact with its strong branches by pruning out some of the center branches, and you blast the with water with your hose nozzle set to the “jet” setting, you will keep the plant healthy so it can resist a scale attack.
If you are lucky enough to find a young plant with a strong center stem, the euonymus will shape nicely into a small tree. Remember, though, that it is slow-growing, so you will need to exercise patience to gain substantial height of the topiary. It will max out around 3 to 4 feet. Starting with a five-gallon plant from the nursery will give you a good start!
Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the desert’s potted garden expert. Marylee’s book, Getting Potted in the Desert, has just been released. Buy it online at potteddesert.com. Email her with comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert.