January 08, 2012

Plant of the month:
Purple Wintercreeper

Some plants in my garden confound me—perhaps none more so than Euonymus fortunei coloratus, commonly called Purple Wintercreeper. Not every “plant of the month” is a happy-go-lucky, go-out-and-plant-this recommendation. I can’t recommend this one with a clear conscience.


Then again I personally am not particularly frustrated with Purple Wintercreeper. In fact, it’s a lovely, carefree groundcover confined to just one section of my garden—spilling over the stone wall of a raised bed.



It’s one of those fun chameleon-like plants that changes with the seasons and the lighting.




According to Ohio State University, Purple Wintercreeper:

* Is native to China;
* Grows well in zones 5 to 9;
* Thrives in full sun to part shade; and
* Prefers moist, well-drained soils, yet tolerates poor soils.

But it’s a non-native invasive in this part of the world. So I feel guilty about allowing it to continue growing in my garden. I posted about a year ago regarding my personal philosophies on non-natives and garden zones. I’m comfortable planting some non-native perennials in select areas of the garden.

But reading that Purple Wintercreeper, left unchecked, crowds out native plants in the eastern U.S., gives me pause. I didn’t plant it here, but does that make me any less responsible for its growth?

With my busy family and work schedule up to this point in my life, I haven’t had time to deal with it. But maybe this spring is the time to dig it up. I have two problems with this challenge, though. Purple Wintercreeper is:

1. Extremely difficult to eradicate, according to many sources; and
2. One of the most carefree and interesting four-season plants in my garden.

Various botanical institutions weigh in on the merits and drawbacks of Euonymus fortunei coloratus, including:


I haven’t decided yet what I’ll do with the Purple Wintercreeper in my garden. But during this mild, brown/gray winter, I’m enjoying its many colors.







19 comments:

  1. I'll let you decide on whether to keep it, but I used to have this plant and finally got rid of it -- for other reasons, though. I had to cut it back several times a year to keep it from growing over everything. And then it got infested with scale and that was the last straw. I did not want a plant that I had to spray with insecticide to keep it healthy. So I dug and dug and dug, and got rid of it. I planted 'Big Blue' liriope in its place. I whack it back to the ground every February and don't touch it again. It is easy to rake out if leaves fall into it. I am so happy that I got rid of the wintercreeper! I am actually surprised that it survives your cold winters. Our local garden guru down here loves the stuff, though. I've never heard of it referred to as invasive.

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  2. Oh to see it again...when I moved here it was all over and a real bear to eradicate completely. Finally did, and hope it does not slip in from a neighbors property.

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  3. Tough decision. I do not have this but others that are invasive and am trying to rid my garden as I can...before I get rid of invasives I have a plan of plants at the ready to replace them with...it has made it easier.

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  4. That is a tough decision. I have (mostly) eliminated invasive non-natives from my garden, including eleagnus that provided a screen from the neighbors' driveway. I still regret the loss of a screen, but I think it was the right decision. It's a hard call when you have invasives you didn't plant but are performing a function in the garden. And especially when the neighbors have the same plant and are not interested in getting rid of it. I still am working on developing the courage to convince neighbors to remove invasive plants.

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  5. I must say 'happy-go-lucky' Purple Wintercreeper is a bit too happy in my rock garden and choking out my more beloved myrtle. It has really taken hold after over 30 years and must rip it out ... yet never get it all!

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  6. The winter color is pretty but euonymous is used in front of every house built after 1995 in our area and ends up choppped and pruned into the weirdest shapes. Or it's left alone and turns into a massive green beast. I think it's best enjoyed in colder climates that can restrain its growth.

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  7. I will let you reach your own decision, but be warned when you finally decide to get rid of it, you may not be able to. It was "naturalized" (what a misnomer)when we moved in, and we have been pulling it out for years to no avail. We garden organically and do not use herbicides. In the mid-Atlantic---AWFUL PLANT.

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  8. I don't know this plant and thank you for the fulsome introduction.

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  9. Your photos are lovely and certainly make this plant look appealing. But thanks for the warning--I don't think I need another overly happy plant like this trying to take over my garden. I've got enough other aggressive spreaders I'm still trying to get rid of:)

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  10. Well, I don't have any of this in my garden, but I do have a few invasives, planted with that knowledge. I keep them confined, and enjoy them for their nature of taking over where nothing else would grow. So, it seems like no one else likes it, but I think it could be the right plant - if it's in the right place! But, maybe I'm just overly optimistic because I've never grown it!

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  11. @Toni: Thanks for the suggestions. This will be a tough decision. I'll have to do it when I have a little more time to make the change. Yeah, it survives, but it hasn't spread beyond the rock wall.

    @Donna: Yikes, it sounds like you had a real battle! I'm sure I'd feel the same way after all that. I'll have to check back with you for some more tips on this one!

    @Donna: You are so wise to have plants all read to plug into the spots where you pull the invasives. I'm not looking forward to the project, but that would make it easier.

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  12. @Sheila: So true! I don't think the neighbors have Wintercreeper, but I'll have to check. Because that would make it a much more challenging project!

    @Joey: Sorry to hear you're dealing with some of the same challenges. So sad to lose your Myrtle! I guess the garden projects keep us busy--but sometimes too much!

    @TS: I think we must be on the edge for this one. It doesn't grow out of control, but it takes a little work to keep it that way. It's a dominant ground cover where it's planted here, though.

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  13. @Carolyn: Wow, you're still dealing with it, huh?! I'm glad it's only in one small plot here! It's pretty, but I'm starting to see that if/when I pull it out, it will be the bane of my existence!

    @Catharine: Certainly. It's a tough call, and I'm clearly not ready for the challenge yet.

    @Rose: Thanks. Maybe I should have made it look all scruffy and overgrown. I know, dealing with persistent spreaders can be so frustrating!

    @Holley: Thanks for that perspective. I know I'm not ready to tackle it yet, so for now I'll just have to keep it under control.

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  14. Amazing colors for a hard plant. I didn't know it before.

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    1. Yes, it's really an amazing plant! I only wish it wasn't quite so invasive and that it had a better reputation. I'm really having a dilemma with this one. It is beautiful.

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  15. Gardening is never dull, is it? I don't have Purple Wintercreeper in my garden. After reading your post, and the many insightful comments, I think I never will. Thank you for this offering this enlightening read.

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    1. That is the truth--gardening is never dull! I wouldn't plant it if it wasn't already here. Or maybe in a very small, very contained area. It is a fascinating plant and it looks good in all seasons, but it sounds like it's near impossible to eradicate once established.

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  16. I have never thought of photographing this vine in the various colors it dresses in during each season...All I usually do is chop and cut and pull! It's invasive here, too...and unfortunately, I am to blame for planting it in the first place. I planted it on the sides, the back and the front of my house, in areas near the fence and by trees. I wanted something that would be a ground cover...whoops! Little did I know in 1996 that it would smother other plants I'm trying to grow. It is darn hard to keep under control, but we try! We can't take it all out, as it's just too difficult and 'embedded'. Each spring we chop it back as far as possible to allow my other plants to have room. If I were to try to dig it up by the roots, in some areas, I would also be digging up other perennials and I don't want to do that. I agree, it looks pretty in your photos, but I would tell anyone who is considering planting it: 'DON'T'!!!!

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    1. Hi Jan: I know, I'm just starting to realize that the best I'll probably be able to do is limit its growth. I would try to burn it out, but then I'd destroy other desirable plants. So I guess I'll just try to keep it contained. I agree--don't plant it if you don't have it in your garden already.

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