The autumn season is most definitely upon us with the low sun, nights drawing in and a chill in the air. It is a fantastic time of year – with faded flowerheads of perennials, and bleached stems of ornamental grasses often backlit by the afternoon sun. It is of course the trees and shrubs that dominate the autumn season by bearing fruit, while many display a range of fiery colours from earthy tones to brilliant reds.
There are two unfortunate downsides to reliable autumn colour and they are the weather – a blustery day may strip a tree of its fiery foliage - and the soil conditions that anchor our beloved tree or shrub.
It is a known fact that autumn colour is more intense in acidic soil, particularly for many acers and oaks. One shrub in particular – Euonymus carnosus ‘Red Wine’ – defies these rules to put on an amazing and reliable show of colour every autumn.
Deciduous Euonymus –
including our native spindle tree, Euonymus europaeus –
are well known for their fine display of fruit and autumn colour but do have a tendency to drop their leaves rather quickly.
Euonymus carnosus (often sold as Euonymus grandiflorus ‘Red Wine’) is a wide-spreading shrub reaching 2.5m by 2.5m (8ft x 8ft) with inconspicuous white flowers in summer followed by pale yellow seed pods, which split to reveal bright orange fruit.The glossy green foliage turns to a deep red with an almost metallic sheen – much befitting of its name.
When most other trees and shrubs have discarded their foliage and hunkered down for winter, this Euonymus comes alive.
One of the best things about this show of autumn colour is that the foliage holds on for a long time – in some instances almost until Christmas – and it isn’t fussy about soil pH, making it a good alternative to many Japanese maples.
Euonymus carnosus ‘Red Wine’ makes a fine shrub for the back of a border. Teamed with tall ornamental grasses such as miscanthus or panicums it makes for a great autumnal display. Alternatively, grown alongside other autumn-colouring shrubs such as the golden dogwood (Cornus alba 'Aurea') or yellow elder (Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’), it creates a satisfying seasonal display.
How to grow Euonymus ‘Red Wine’
This is an easy shrub, which can be grown in any fertile, moist but well-drained soil in sun or part shade. It will tolerate an exposed site and in a sheltered spot may prove to be semi evergreen. Give this plant space, as it grows as wide as it does tall. Occasionally, suckers may appear at the roots but these can easily be snipped off. Euonymus are shallow-rooted plants, so take the time to plant them correctly and avoid poking around in the roots once they are established. Pruning isn’t necessary other than to remove wayward or damaged shoots, and is best carried out between January and March. Propagation is best done by sowing seed in autumn or semi-ripe cuttings in late summer.
Read about Euonymus alatus 'Compactus' - Harlow Carr's plant of the month
Get RHS advice on growing shrubs