spindle tree with red and yellow berries

Spindle Tree: Everything To Plant And Care For The Euonymus

We clarify how the spindle shrub is properly planted and tended and whether it is poisonous. We also answer the question of whether the spindle shrub is hardy.

The spindle tree (Euonymus) is a versatile plant for the garden. It provides privacy, the greening of facades, and true explosions of color. It also convinces with its robustness. In the past, the resistant wood of the shrubs was used to make various everyday objects such as knitting needles or spindles, which gave the spindle shrub its name.

Spindle Tree: Origin And Characteristics

Spindle trees can be found throughout the northern hemisphere, mostly in East Asia. But also here in Europe there are native species, which are however rather known under the synonym Pfaffenhütchen. Name-giving is the notably colorful quadruple fruits, whose pink capsules with the orange fruit-bodies probably reminded the people once of the headgear of a cardinal.

According to type, the color of the capsule can also go more into brown or gray. As its second name Spindelstrauch betrays it, the growth-form is shrubby or at most comparable with the small trees. Thus spindle trees reach a maximum height of five meters. Some of them even grow only crawling or even climbing. The shrubs are densely branched and form a spreading crown.

Many species can also be recognized by their square stems. Whether they are evergreen or deciduous differs depending on the species. While the evergreen species often come up with golden or white variegated leaves, deciduous spindle trees turn red in autumn.spindle shrub red-blossom

Is The Spindle Shrub Poisonous?

All parts of the spindle shrub are poisonous. Especially the fruits contain harmful glycosides and alkaloids. When consumed, this leads to vomiting and diarrhea and, if the dose is too high, can even lead to cramps, collapse, and even death. However, the symptoms of poisoning occur at the earliest twelve hours after consumption.

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The toxic effect is not only limited to us humans but also many animal species, for example, horses or sheep. Only Singvögeln seems to be able to not harm the spindle-shrub because robins, magpies, and thrushes see the shining fruits as welcome food-source in the winter.spindle shrub-fruit-hanging

Popular spindle shrub species

About 170 species of spindle shrubs are known at present. Most of them come from Southeast Asia, some even from the Himalayan region. Three species are native to Central Europe, which are also called Pfaffenhütchen, and shed their leaf in autumn.

Japanese spindle tree (Euonymus japonica)

This species, which originates from Asia, is evergreen and can theoretically grow several meters high. However, since the Japanese spindle shrub is not hardy, it must be kept in a tub or pot, where it remains somewhat smaller. The shrub has lefse about 5 cm in size in a variety of colors, depending on the variety.

  • Mareike: The golden yellow leaf’s edge of this variety forms a beautiful contrast to the deep green interior of the leaves.
  • Microphylla Variegata: This variety is characterized by small leaves of about 3 cm in size with a white edge.
  • Grey Beauty: This variety has a green-grey-white variegated leaf dress.

Japanese spindle tree

Large-fruited spindle tree (Euonymus planipes)

This plant, also known as the flat stem spindle shrub, originally comes from Asia. It reaches heights between 3 and 5 m and is often planted as an ornamental shrub in this country. Its winter buds are comparatively large, pointed, and strikingly purple-red.Euonymus planipes

Creeping spindle or climbing spindle bush (Euonymus fortunei)

The crawling spindle belongs to the evergreen spindle trees. As its name suggests, it does not grow upright, but creeps or climbs and is, therefore, an ideal ground cover in flower beds or a pretty facade greening. This species is often used for grave plantings or small hedges due to its low maintenance requirements. Even though the creeper is not native to Europe, it is winter-hardy to about -20 °C.The crawling spindle belongs to the evergreen spindle trees

Emerald Gold: This popular variety has golden yellow variegated leaves

Coloratus: The leaves are dark green, between 3 and 7 cm in size, and turn bright red in autumn and winter.
Harlequin’: The ‘Harlequin’ variety is conspicuous with its almost white shoot tips and lightly speckled leaves.

Common spindle shrub (Euonymus europaeus)

The common spindle shrub, also known as the common parson’s cap, is the most common native species of spindle bushes. The shrub grows densely branched and upright. In autumn its leaves turn a deep red. After they have fallen, the colorful fruits decorate the shrub over the gray winter.Euonymus europaeus

Broad-leaved spindle tree (Euonymus latifolius)

Very similar to the common Pfaffenhütchen, the broad-leaved Pfaffenhütchen is distinguished primarily by its broader leaves. The species is indigenous, but its natural occurrence is limited to the Alps and the foothills of the Alps, which is why it is also called a pre-alpine spindle shrub.Euonymus latifolius

Winged spindle bush (Euonymus alatus)

The winged spindle bush originates from Japan and China and is hardy. Due to its intense autumn coloring, the deciduous plant is also called a burning bush in English. The shrub grows about 2 to 3 m high and just as wide. The cork strips on the shoots are conspicuous, especially in winter.
Winged spindle bush


A spindle shrub in your own garden is quite something: for example, a winged spindle shrub standing alone as an eye-catcher, an ordinary or broad-leaved Pfaffenhütchen in a wild hedge, or the creeping spindle as a ground cover.

As far as its habitat is concerned, the plant is not so demanding, because it is extremely robust. In nature, spindle trees are often found at the edge of forests, where they may be bright, but can also be partially shady. A sunny to the semi-shady location is therefore just the right thing. The shrubs are quite competitive concerning their roots and do not interfere with strong neighbors and their root pressure.

The soil should generally be rather fresh, nutrient-rich, and neutral, but the common and broad-leaved Pfaffenhütchen prefer it rather dry and slightly calcareous. Damp soils are also appealing to both species, but they grow faster and more uncontrollably.spindle shrubs

Maintain Spindle Shrub

Spindle trees have made a name for themselves as easy-care shrubs. Their care is therefore very uncomplicated. Planted-out specimens actually only need watering at the beginning. As soon as they have grown, they develop an extensive root system and can take care of themselves. Only in dry summers, a portion of water is needed now and then when the leaf starts to hang. Potted spindle trees must of course be watered, as their root system cannot spread. You should water them regularly so that the root ball does not dry out. However, let the soil above ground dry out.

Cutting spindle trees

Spindle trees do not need to be cut, because they develop a beautifully shaped crown of their own accord. In the case of evergreen species that are kept as hedges or ground cover, you can simply use garden shears. The plants are very tolerant of pruning. Just make sure that you cut back your shrubs in early spring or late autumn so as not to disturb nesting birds. A frost-free and cloudy day in early spring or late autumn is best suited for pruning. This way the cuts are not strained and birds and other animals are not disturbed during nesting. However, minor operations can of course also be carried out over the summer.

Fertilizing a spindle shrub

If your spindle tree grows in humusy and nutrient-rich soil, no fertilization is necessary. Only on very poor sites is it worthwhile to incorporate a load of compost or organic universal fertilizer into the soil around the plant in spring. Even plants kept in tubs should be provided with fresh nutrients in this way.Fertilizing a spindle shrub

Propagating a spindle shrub

You can easily propagate spindle trees using cuttings. In spring, cut a shoot with about three to four pairs of leaves and remove the bottom one. Now place about one-third of the cuttings in the soil and keep them moist. After some time the cuttings will develop their own roots.

Spindle shrub hibernate

Domestic spindle trees are hardy, as is the popular creeper spindle. The Japanese spindle tree, however, can only survive temperatures as low as -5 °C and should therefore be protected during the cold season. Winterize the evergreen shrub in a place with temperatures between 6 and 10 °C.

The wintering grounds need not be excessively bright, but should have a natural light source – if not, a plant lamp will help. During the winter, the plant needs very little water, so that the substrate is always only slightly moist. Fertilization should not be used in winter quarters.spindle bush snow

Spindle shrub loses leaves: What to do?

There can be various causes of leaf loss. Often it is either too moist, which leads to root rot, or too dry. You can change this by changing your watering behavior or by draining the soil. An incorrect pH value can also be the cause. If the soil is too acid, the spindle shrub will not feel well. In this case, a portion of lime helps to increase the pH value.

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