How To Prune Euonymus ‘Emerald Gaiety and E. Gold’

How-To's, Landscape Care · Written by Roger


euonymus emerald gaietyEuonymus ‘Emerald Gaiety’ and ‘Emerald Gold’ are 2 very common shrubs.  In many ways the two are similar in form.  You’ll often see both used as a low, mounded shrub either at the front of a garden or as an area groundcover.

Euonymus ‘Emerald Gaiety’ has the distinct capability to climb when planted next to a structure.

In this first picture is ‘Emerald Gaiety’ and further down the stone wall   is ‘Emerald Gold’.

The loose, straggley growth on top is typical and perhaps in a larger open space this “wildness” would be OK.  For example, used on a slope as a groundcover this “rambling” habit would be great.

However, in other gardens  you may want to prune for a neater look.  In this situation the Euonymus ‘Emerald Gaiety’ is overpowering the azalea behind it.  Let’s bring it back to scale, but keep that natural form.

How To Prune

As always, the best method of pruning any plant to maintain a “natural” appearance is to prune “selectively” – that is, by hand, single cuts with hand pruners.

Some of you are probably saying, “Are you kidding, I have too many to prune selectively”.  I hear you.  There’s a point of practicality where you have to make a judgement call.  In this case it’s not the end of the world if you shear the plants to make a monstrous task more doable.

These next 2 pictures show selective pruning on the Euonymus ‘Emerald Gold’.  I pruned the ‘Emerald Gaiety’ the same way.

Select the longest growth that extends beyond the main body of the plant and follow it down into the plant.  There, among the denser growth make your cut just above a leaf or lateral branch.

This last picture shows the Euonymus ‘Emerald Gaiety’ after it was pruned selectively. Notice how the “natural” form was maintained, but the plant is neater and more in scale with the azalea behind it.euonymus 'emerald gaiety'

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    150 Responses to “How To Prune Euonymus ‘Emerald Gaiety and E. Gold’”

    1. Roger Says:

      I live in NJ too and I’m seeing winter damage on many broadleaf evergreens. Last winter we had similar damage.

      Whether or not they’ll recover, re-bud and push new growth depends on the extent of the winter damage. In other words, if damage goes beyond the leaves and into the stems the plant will not recover at those points.

      You’ll need to wait and see (into spring) if and where the plant is showing signs of new buds. If new buds appear further down the stems, but not towards the tips, simply cut back to those “living” points, i.e. just above the first new bud.

    2. Theresa Says:

      Thanks so much for your quick response. I will take your advice and see what happens in the spring.

    3. Gail Braun Says:

      I have a Emerald Gaiety and the leaves did not fall off through the winter. Do I cut it down or leave the old leaves and branches on? Will the new buds start with all last years leaves on?
      Thank you

    4. Roger Says:

      Emerald Gaiety is an evergreen, so it’s good the leaves are still on. If the plant looks OK, and it sounds like it is, simply let it be. New buds should form throughout the plant this spring (among the existing leaves) and give a new flush of growth.

    5. Nick Says:

      What is the best way to cut back a huge area of winter creeper ground cover?

    6. Roger Says:

      When you say “cut back” are you wanting to eliminate it from an area that it’s invading?

      If so, there are two approaches you could take.

      The first one I practice on my property. I have wintercreeper along a border planting that continually wants to invade further into the lawn area. To stop this expansion, every time I cut the grass I deliberately let the mower go over into the edge of the oncoming wintercreeper. If I sense the wintercreeper is “winning more lawn area,” I let the mower overlap further into the groundcover. This constant, low cutting (mower height) discourages the plant from expanding.

      The other approach would be to physically remove the invading plant — roots and all. As it spreads the running stems are rooting into the ground. So you would establish the point (or line) you want to cut back to and start removing the foliage, stems and roots from there.

      Wintercreeper will continually want to reclaim that space. So you’ll need to have a steady method of containment, like with the lawn mower, to keep the plant in-check. Even a with a physical border like brick or plastic edging, wintercreeper will eventually grow over it.

    7. karie Says:

      My euonymus gold isn’t looking so good this spring. It only has a few greens on the bottom of the plant. The rest is dry branches. Should I cut right back to the base of the plant? If so there will not be much left to it. But hoping it will bud. Any advice? Thank you.

    8. Roger Says:

      You’re doing the right thing, i.e. pruning out any of the deadwood.

      You could fertilize the plant to help it along. And, of course, make sure it gets watered occasionally. Not too much though – euonymus do not like it wet.

      I think it will recover. The fact that it’s budding is a good sign.

    9. Christine Says:

      Hi Roger,

      I have 4 large euonymus plants climbing up trellis, used as a privacy screen. The NJ winter was not kind to them this year and I found a lot of small branches in the inner part of the plant died. The plant seems to be coming back, but much of the new buds and leaves are at the end of the branches, so the plant is looking quite leggy. Is there anything I can do to stimulate new growth more towards the inner part of the plant, rather than the ends?

      Thank you!

    10. Roger Says:

      It’s still early, and the plant will continue to recover.

      Later on in the season, if the plant still looks thin, you could selectively tip prune the longer shoots throughout the plant. I know, that’s a big job!. :-) You can always do it in stages; a little bit at a time. As you might expect, the plant will then direct energy to lower and lateral shoots.

    11. Jean Says:

      When is the best time to prune euonymous?

    12. Roger Says:

      I would prune euonymus in mid to late spring, especially if I was making aggressive cuts to reduce the size of the plant or renovate it.

      For general maintenance and light pruning, we’ll do that now, i.e. mid to late summer.

    13. Sharon Says:

      I planted a little emerald gaity in my front yard in a soil that has a lot of clay. We may have over watered in an attempt to help establish it. Now the leaves are over 50% dead. Is there a way to rescue this poor plant?

    14. Roger Says:

      If it is over-watering, and it sounds like it is, you’ll want to raise the plant out of the wet conditions — maybe one third out of the ground. Use available mulch or top soil (that drains well) to mound around the exposed root-ball.

      It’s never a guaranteed thing to reverse damage from over-watering or too wet ground. This condition deprives the root system of oxygen.

      Elevating the euonymus out of this wet, clay ground will give it the best chance of recovery. It’s OK to moisten the surrounding top soil or mulch you’ve mounded around the root-ball. But also let it dry out once in awhile, i.e. a more natural watering cycle.

      If the plant does recover I would not expect to see new buds or re-growth until next spring. If there is new buds and growth, you could then prune out the deadwood. Perhaps then you could even lower the plant (root-ball) a bit more into the native ground. But I would still favor keeping the top of the root-ball higher than the surrounding ground. You would have to judge how much that would be — I can’t give an amount without seeing the situation.

    15. Larry Says:

      I have a winter creeper emerald gaiety and it not growing upward but side ways or wide. Should I put a steak in the ground to prompt it?

    16. Roger Says:

      It’s not unusual that growth habits vary within the variety ‘Emerald Gaiety’. Frankly, I think variations just occur when plants are propagated and mass produced.

      It’s possible that a stake or two will help direct some of the growth upward — especially if you’re helping things along with monitoring and affixing stems to each stake with a twist-tie (or similar). But if the overall growth habit of that particular plant is more sideways, it’s likely you’ll never get “the look” you’re after.

    17. Ryan Craner Says:

      Hi Roger, I have a type of Golden Euonymus and am unsure exactly what type. I’m planting them in my yard as a privacy hedge. I transplanted them from my grandparents house they are small now. I planted them in late august. I live in Delaware. Just wanted some info on taking care of them for winter. They are starting to produce new growth. Also my these hedges are pretty tall at my grandparents house. I’d say over 6ft but from what I’ve been reading the golden euonymus isn’t suppost to get to that height? Well I want them to be tall and I figured they’d get just as tall as they are at my grandma’s since they are the same hedge. So what type of Golden Euonymus do I have? Also can I spray them with miracle grow to help growth and if so what time of year should I?

    18. Jennifer Says:

      I have 2 of these – one with green and yellow leaves, and one with green and white. We live in Canada in Saskatchewan so have very cold winters. I read that the leaves might go pink – which has happened previously. I am wondering if I should “winterize” these plants to better protect them from the harshness of our winter conditions. Any advice??

    19. Roger Says:

      It looks like Saskatchewan covers Planting Zones 2, 3 & 4. And Eunoymus fortunei varieties are listed as hardy to Zone 4. So you’re definitely “testing” that plant in your area.

      In short, “winter protection methods” protect the plant from exposure (sun & wind). The damage occurs when the ground freezes and moisture can no longer be brought up into the plant. Sun & wind causes the leaves to transpire (give off moisture) and the plant cannot replace it.

      I think it’s smart you give some winter protection to your euonymus. In that sense I still like the traditional methods such as surrounding or wrapping in burlap.

      To “wrap” the plants in burlap, first tie them up. Then use burlap to wrap around the plant, like a mummy. :-) You’ll have to shop around for burlap — I would try a local garden center or nursery.

      To “surround” the plants with burlap you would first drive a few stakes into the ground around the plant, and then attach the burlap to the stakes.

      Make sure the plants are adequately watered through the fall. Not that they should be over-watered and the soil too wet, but sufficiently moist so they are not stressed due to dryness.

      It’s also a good idea to have the plants mulched. This insulates the ground somewhat and helps prevent freeze/thaw events, which harm the plant.

    20. Roger Says:

      It’s hard to say exactly what variety of euonymus you have without seeing it. And at that, even then it can be difficult because there are so many cultivars.

      My guess it’s a cultivar of Euonymus japonicus — perhaps ‘Chollipo’.

      I would not feed them now (late summer fall) with Miracle Gro. I would feed with an organic, granular fertilizer in spring (like Espoma’s Plant-Tone).

      Also, you might want to winter-protect the euonymus with an anti-transpirant or put a burlap screen around them.

    21. Sue Says:

      I have a eunonymous shrub (silver and green). It is healthy and happy has grown over many years into and through a massive Hebe. The Hebe has just been removed and the eunonymous is now looking very strange. It has leaves at the base and again at the ends of it’s long branches but the middle sections of the stems are bare and woody. These sections were previously growing under and in amongst the Hebe. Shall I cut it back or will the bare woody sections produce leaves now they are exposed to the light?

    22. Roger Says:

      The fact that there’s foliage above and below the bare stems tells me it’s likely new buds should form there.

      You could trim the ends, which would encourage lower growth and budding.

    23. sarah Says:

      Please advice if these shrubs need to be pruned before frost/snow. I am in southern Ontario. Thanks

    24. Roger Says:

      Hi Sarah,
      I’m afraid the link you gave does not show your image — only the website.

      If you use Dropbox or your Goggle Drive account you can share an image/file.

    25. Mark Says:

      I have a olant that has similar leaves. Do these things grow in a shrub shape as well? Looks like more of a ground covering from the pics

    26. Roger Says:

      Most of the larger Euonymus ‘Gaiety’ I’ve seen fall in the 2 to 3′ high range. Their form is mounded and will typically grow wider than tall. This plant is versatile in that it can be used as a low, mounded shrub form — or grouped together as a ground cover.

    27. Peg Says:

      Hi Roger
      Last year I planted a golden Euonymus and now that it has survived our surprisingly mild winter in NJ, I notice that some of the outer parts of the leaves have turned beige. There are buds all over it, including the branches with the beige on the outer leaves. So what to do? Pluck off the beige leaves or cut it back ? Thank you for your help.

    28. Roger Says:

      The new buds are a good sign. And this is not unusual for euonymus to react this way.

      Let the plant continue to grow and recover through April. Soon you’ll see clearly the stems and tips of branches that are not living. You can then prune out the dead ones and cut back those that have dieback on the ends.

      You could also tip-prune the completely healthy branches just to encourage the plant to push lateral growth. This will make the plant fuller.

    29. Phoebe Says:

      We just took up some of our Emerald Gold. Evidence of rabbits during the winter. One looked completely eaten. We have them in pots in the south facing area of our porch here in TN. I’ve watered them all week in their pots, and the one that I thought was gone because of the rabbits, is coming back. They also look much healthier, then others we have in our yard. But very straggly. I wonder if it’s the clay soil? We always plant with peat moss or soil conditioner depending on what we are planting. Everything else has done well. I’m thinking I may trade them for potted plants and put them on our north facing porch where we have discovered our boxwoods that are in pots may have blight disease.

    30. Bozena Says:

      Hi Roger, I use to have 6 beautiful emerald and green euonymus plants in the raised flowerbed. Two of them died in 2013/2014 winter and the rest in 2014/2015. I had to remove them. They were 15 year old and were growing very well. I would like to replace them but because I do not know what killed them I am hesitant. I can see in my area other dead euonymus plans. Was it because of the harsh winter (I live in Ontario, Canada) and the fact that they were in the raised bed? I did not notice any pests or disease before they died except the wholes in their leaves which looked like something was eating them. I thought these were snails but I am not sure. Do you know what could cause my plants to die?
      I appreciate your help.

    31. Roger Says:

      It’s hard to diagnose without being on-site and seeing all the conditions. Certainly the clay soil could play a part as euonymus prefer well-drained soil. Amending the soil like you do probably helps, although there are still arguments/debates in the field about the merits of amending soil when planting. I, for one, believe it is a good practice to amend conservatively — meaning the native soil should always be the dominant material in the mix.

      Take care not to over-water. That can do more harm than good. In the pots it’s less likely you will, but those that are in the ground can easily get too wet with regimented watering.

      I’m familiar with the boxwood blight. We have it here too in the northeast. When I suspect that a plant may have it, I send a sample to Rutgers University for diagnosis. It takes a qualified plant diagnostic lab to properly identify that pathogen. Unfortunately, there is not too much that can be done. Here’s a list of boxwood and their degree of susceptibility (and tolerance) to the disease.

    32. Roger Says:

      It’s difficult to diagnose plant problems without being there to look at all the conditions. Yes, it’s possible the severe winters have had an affect on them. Being in a raised bed would increase the chances of winter damage too.

      You mentioned holes in the leaves. There is an insect called black vine weevil that can affect euonymus. Again, this would have to be diagnosed on the site. This insect does create noticeable chew marks on the foliage in its adult stage. But its the larvae stage that feeds on the roots that causes the most damage to the plant.

    33. Bridget Says:

      Hi, Roger! I planted 3 a couplenof years ago and they are doing great..this year they really wann crawl up my brick wall and thoufht it would add some charm to my home!! How does it do on a morter and brick?? The morter is in good shape no cracks..but woud it cause bug problems or moistur problems?? I prune it often and feed it twice in the summer…its growing more flat and im actually mulching less too!!-yay! Yoir thoughts??

    34. Roger Says:

      In my experience I’ve never had a problem growing either of these two varieties next to or up a brick wall. You mention the brick wall is in good shape and the mortar solid without any cracks — that’s important, so you’re good there.

      I don’t consider these euonymus real aggressive climbers compared to other plants.

      Nice that you’re mulching less too!

    35. Gerri Says:

      How To Prune Euonymus ‘Emerald Gaiety and E. Gold’

      I purchase two Emerald Gaiety in Oct 2015. Planted into the ground in Nov 2015.
      Winter in the greater Boston area was not too harsh compared to previous winter when we had over 100 inches of snow. The two plants were planted side by side in the same hole. The leaves did turn pink during the winter. In the spring of 2016 the color returned to the original green with white leaves. The plants have grown in height, but more in width. I have not fertilized them yet. I read in an email that appeared earlier in this column that I should use Plant Tone in the spring. Today is 7/14/16. Is it too late to fertilize with Plant Tone? How many times per year should these plants be fertilized? In April 2016 I fertilized three YEW shrubs that were planted in Oct 1015, and it produced new growth on the YEWS. Please advise. Thank you for this column, I’ve read all the messages and found them to be helpful and informative.

    36. Roger Says:

      I’m not an advocate of regimented fertilizing on trees and shrubs unless there’s a particular condition you’re addressing. Of course a soil test is the best way to determine if and what nutrients are needed.

      Having said that, it should be safe to fertilize the shrubs with Plant-tone once a year. I would not recommend feeding now (in the summer). I’d wait until fall — or next spring.

    37. Bonnie Ostler Says:

      My beautiful big thick Golden Euonymus was planted 31 years ago at the sunny south-west corner of our house located on a hill. It has attached itself to the brick wall and spread ten feet along the west side of the house under a window and five feet along the south wall. We live in Ottawa, Canada where it is not common for winter temperatures to dip below -30F. The plant has never been protected. A few leaves curl by spring and some drop off but always grow back. The only pruning that has been done is to keep it away from the house windows and prevent it from climbing too high (above step-ladder reach) on the corner brick. It is in sandy soil and is never fertilized and rarely watered. I love this plant.

    38. Roger Says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience with gold euonymus.

      It’s amazing it does so well in that zone and with that exposure. I see (and hear) examples of plants defying their “normal” growing conditions all the time. It just goes to show that these are living things that can adapt and thrive in unusual circumstances. I think this is just one of the things that makes plant life so interesting.

    39. Lisa Says:

      I did a very hard prune on a couple gold euonymus bushes that had become overgrown in anticipation of painting this summer. I did the prune in late spring, and right afterward it turned HOT. Since then there has been almost no growth – just a few buds here and there, some of which turned into leaves and some of which died off. The bushes are basically skeletons. Do you think they’ll fill in next spring, or is it likely I’ve killed them?

    40. Roger Says:

      It’s hard to say if they’ll recover. If you can leave them until next spring that would be the determining point. If they don’t show signs of budding next spring, then they’re not going to recover at all.

    41. Tom Says:

      I live in New Jersey and have 12 year old golden euonymus along my driveway. They have gotten too tall and I would like to lower them at least 12 inches. Can I use a hedge trimmer to do that without harming them? If I can, when would be the best time to do it?

    42. Roger Says:

      I’d have to see the particular plant(s) to give specific advice because there are quite a few types and varieties of golden euonymus. The article is about Euonymus fortunei, which is typically a low, mounded form with trailing branches. There are other popular golden euonymus of another specie: Euonymus japonicus. These tend to be more upright and “shrub-like”.

      Both can be pruned to reduce their height — and this should ideally be done in spring. I hesitate to recommend a universal cut of 12″ with a hedge trimmer, and would prefer to using hand-pruners. Question: Is there foliage below 12″ or bare stems? With hand-pruners you can reduce the height in stages. I’d select the heaviest stems (perhaps 1 out of every 3 stems) and cut them back 12″ (or slightly below 12″). This will reduce the heaviest of branching and get more light and air into the body of the plant so that it can adjust and produce newer growth below. Do the same thing the following season and perhaps a third season to get the plants where you want them.

      Again, depending on the particular euonymus and its condition, it could tolerate a universal cut with the hedge trimmers and recover. But I do think the approach of reducing it in size over time (stages) with hand-pruners is the safest way to go.

    43. Alison Says:

      We recently bought a house with a very large Emerald Gaiety wintercreeper. It is about 10ft tall. I would like to severely prune it down to about 4 feet and it will look like sticks once pruned back.
      1. Can this be successfully done?
      2. When should it be done?
      3. What is the best method to do this?
      We live in Georgia
      Thank you

    44. Roger Says:

      I’m not sure that’s an ‘Emerald Gaiety’ if it’s 10′ tall — unless it’s growing as a climber. There are so many variations (deliberate and mutations) of euonymus that it can be sometimes difficult to ID some of them.

      In “most” cases Euonymus fortunei (aka Wintercreeper) and its many related forms (like Emerald Gaiety) can be pruned back aggressively to rejuvenate the plant. You would do this with hand pruners and loppers (if necessary). Once you get the plant to a universal height of 4′, you could then prune out (to the base) some of the older, thicker stems. This will leave the younger stems to rejuvenate. The plant should also push new growth from the base after a hard pruning back.

      Pruning like this should be done in the early spring. Down in Georgia that might be late February or early March. Use your judgement here — ideally you want to prune comfortably before the new growth starts.

    45. Aimee Says:

      Hi there,
      I have a Euonymus gaiety planted next to a wall and want it to climb the wall and help cover it. How do I encourage it to climb? It was only planted last autumn but has not really grown at all as yet.
      Thank you

    46. Roger Says:

      It’s hard to comment on the health of the plant without seeing it and the conditions it’s planted in. But I’m presuming it’s OK — just not growing much.

      It can take some time for the plant to just establish and before you see any “climbing growth”. I would focus on the general health of the plant right now. Be careful not to over-water. Fertilize in the spring. Here is a good description of the the plant and its preferences.

      When the plant begins to grow prune the growth that heads away from the wall — this will encourage the growth towards and up the wall.

    47. Ryan Craner Says:

      Hey Rodger, I’ve planted some golden euonymus in my yard for a privacy hedge. I’ve read all different types of plant tags for this shrub and some say it only grows 3-4ft wide and 6ft tall, others say it grows anywhere from 4-6ft wide and 6-10ft tall. I’ve spaced them out at 5ft. I’m hoping for a nice dense formal hedge someday no shorter than 6ft. Should i move them closer together or do you think I’m good? Also any tips u can provide on fertilization or pruning will be greatly appreciated. Thank you

    48. Roger Says:

      It sounds like you have a Eunoymus japonicus variety — probably ‘Aureomarginatus’.

      I like the 5′ (center-to-center) spacing you have because the plant can grow to maturity without being cramped with another. Air circulation is important with this plant. They can be susceptible to scale (insect), and poor air circulation can contribute to that.

      Here in the northeast I can’t remember seeing this particular plant over 6′.

      To get the size plant you’re looking for you can pretty much let it grow to its full maturity. Any pruning might be to selectively tip-prune any aggressive stems or branches. This will keep it neat looking without making it smaller.

      In terms of fertilizing, I wouldn’t get too crazy with that. Perhaps once a year feed with Espoma Plant-tone.

    49. becky Says:

      Hi Roger,
      Last fall and spring we planted many euonymus plants around the yard. During the late winter and up until now, something has been cutting off the branches and leaving them on the ground. Some of the cuts are through some pretty thick stems. By eye, they look as though they were cut clean with a knife at an angle, though the area of the cut is slightly rough to the feel. We do have deer in the area but they tend to just eat leaves and soft twigs right on the plant, not remove whole branches and then leave them on the ground. Our next door neighbor said he also had the same thing going on and found some of the chewed off debris had been pulled through the crevices of his rock wall. We have a lot of other shrubs and plants but only the euonymus are being affected. Any idea what critter this could be?

    50. Roger Says:

      I’m not sure what that could be — certainly a “critter” of some kind. I would think if it were deer they’d eat whatever they nibbled on and not leave pieces on the ground. Probably more like a groundhog or similar. Sorry I can’t be more helpful.

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