Wintercreeper: Fortune’s Spindle In The Garden

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Are you looking for a vining plant to provide vivid green foliage on your backyard pergola? It’s time to take a look at wintercreeper! This creeping, climbing vine can grow to create a living roof with ease. It’s also perfect for green fencing. And it’s great for ground cover too!

Euonymus fortunei comes in many colorations. Pure green, a mix of light and dark combined, creamy white, and even purple aren’t uncommon shades. Heavily cultivated, there is a variety which will suit nearly any location.

Today, we’ll tackle this striking vine. Let’s talk winter creeper!

Wintercreeper Care Products:

Winter Creeper Overview

Wintercreeper
Wintercreeper can grow as a vine, shrub, or ground cover plant. Source: vernon.hyde
Scientific Name: Euonymus fortunei
 Common Name(s): Winter creeper, wintercreeper, Fortune’s spindle
Family: Celastraceae
Height & Spread: 6″-12″ as ground cover, 2′-4′ as shrub, 20′ or more as vine
Sun: Full sun to full shade, but sun/partial sun preferred
Soil: Well-draining soil. Avoid heavy soils that drain poorly.
Water: 1x weekly in mild weather, more in hot weather
Pests & Diseases: Euonymus scale, Crown gall, leaf spots, mildew, aphids

All About Fortune’s Spindle

Purple wintercreeper lining a little garden bed cornered against a house
Purple wintercreeper lining a little garden bed cornered against a house. source

Pairs and triads of leaves are positioned opposite one another on this vine. Small rootlets also emerge from the vine to grasp onto supports. This enables the plant to grow upright.

With support, whether it be a trellis or a tree, it can easily reach extreme heights. 50 feet tall is not uncommon for wintercreeper! It can also be grown as a low ground cover. A short trellis can be used to encourage a shrub-like mounding habit.

Once it’s established and has plenty of light, the vine will start its flowering phase. These flowers aren’t showy. In fact, they’re easy to miss, as they’re only about 5mm in size. The petals of the flowers are yellowish-green in color and blend into the foliage.

As flowering subsides, the plant begins to fruit. These fruits are inedible pale green berries, each one containing an orange seed. Once the berries dry and split open, the seed escapes to potentially start a new plant.

The winter creeper has an extensive native range. It can be found throughout most Asiatic countries. China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and India are just a smattering. It prefers temperate climates where the vine can grow to its true potential.

Types of Winter Creeper

Euonymus fortunei 'Canadale Gold'
Canadale Gold is a popular cultivar of winter creeper. Source: wallygrom

There’s many cultivars of the Euonymus plant. While we can’t cover them all due to their diversity, I’ll showcase a few here. Don’t hesitate to look for other varieties!

Euonymus fortunei, ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’

Each Emerald ‘n’ Gold plant can reach 4-5 feet in width, and can mound to a height of nearly 4 feet. The leaves are a vivid, brilliant green color with wide golden margins. Full sun is best for developing bright coloration. As the seasons change, so does the foliage color… by winter, it has a reddish tint to the leaves.

Euonymus fortunei, ‘Canadale Gold’

Glossy leaves with golden margin streaks are a sign of Canadale Gold. This variety tends to mound as well, but it’s an irregular, uneven mound. Its stems will spread to fill the surrounding space. This is a good candidate for vine training.

Euonymus fortunei, ‘Minimus’

Referred to as “baby wintercreeper”, this cultivar tends to be 1-1.5 feet tall in its mounded form, and up to 6 feet wide. The “baby” reference comes from the leaves, which tend to be smaller than the rest of the species.

Euonymus fortunei, ‘Coloratus’

Commonly called the purple leaved wintercreeper. This cultivar tends to have a similar mounding habit to baby wintercreeper. Its spread as a ground cover is similar too. Where it diversifies is in its leaf color. The upper portion is glossy green, and beneath the leaves it’s purplish in color. In the late fall, the leaves shift to pure purple and last that way into the winter.

Euonymus fortunei, ‘Vegetus’

When mounded, the big-leaved winter creeper reaches 2-4 feet heights. It’s best used as a creeping form with brilliant green leaves. This cultivar is extremely cold-hardy, making it perfect for cooler climates. Unfortunately, it’s also quite susceptible to scale insects.

Winter Creeper Plant Care

The candy-cane appearance of wintercreeper is what gives it its festive name
The candy-cane appearance of wintercreeper is what gives it its festive name. source

Fast-growing, this euonymus plant isn’t super-picky. Yes, it has some preferences – don’t we all? – but those are easy to meet. So let’s discuss what it would love most for its perfect conditions.

Light & Temperature

Winter creeper tends to be hardy from zones 5-8, with some cultivars tolerating zone 9 as well. Its light requirements are just as variable. While it’s tolerant of all light conditions, it grows best in full to partial sunlight. This doesn’t mean it can’t take full shade, but it may try to climb to reach more light.

Depending on the amount of light the plant gets, the foliage itself will vary in coloration. Bicolored plants will get more distinctive markings in full sun. Pure green varieties will either become darker or lighter green, depending on cultivar.

In extremely hot regions like the boundary edges between zones 9 and 10, pick shadier spots. Partial to complete shade reduces the direct sun heat on your plant’s foliage.

Water

When young, you should water your creeper a bit more frequently than when it’s established. It can be moderately drought-tolerant as an older plant.

Still, it prefers consistent and regular moisture in its soil. A weekly watering is good in cooler weather. In hot weather, increase the frequency of watering to prevent wilt.

Soil

Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald 'n Gaiety'
Emerald ‘n Gaiety is another popular wintercreeper cultivar. Source: pépiniériste 85

Moist, well-draining soil is ideal for your plant. It is tolerant of a variety of soil conditions, provided that drainage is good. Avoid heavy, wet soils, as this can promote root rot conditions.

Soil acidity is unimportant, but it tends to be a bit less tolerant of high alkalinity. Most lightly-acidic through lightly-alkaline soil pH is fine.

Fertilizer

In general, this plant won’t require fertilizing. It is tolerant of poor soil nutrients. In fact, over-fertilization will simply cause it to explode into rapid growth. Skip the fertilizer for this one, it just simply doesn’t need it.

Propagation

Cuttings or seed are the easiest methods of propagation for winter creepers.

For a cutting, select healthy, new growth. Using sterile shears, remove a 4-6 inch length that has at least four pairs of leaves. Make the cut just below the lowest set of leaves. Strip off that bottom set of leaves and place it into moist potting soil. Care for your plant cutting as you would any other type.

Roots will develop from the wounds left from stripping off the lower leaves. When these roots are at least an inch long, you can transplant into a larger pot. Harden the plant off to outdoor conditions before transplanting in the ground.

From seed, plant your seeds at least 1/4″ deep. Keep the soil consistently moist until the seeds germinate. Keep them indoors until you have at least 3-4″ of growth, then harden them off.

Pruning

Pruning your winter creeper should be done for one of two reasons. You can prune to avoid invasive spread, or prune for cosmetic appearance.

Clean pruning shears are necessary to prevent disease transmission from plant to plant. Sterilize your shears between cuts whenever possible.

Problems With Your Creepers

Wintercreeper berries
The berries of this ‘Sunspot’ variety creeper are distinctive in color. Source: vernon.hyde

No plant is truly problem-free. Let’s go over what difficulties you might be facing!

Growing Problems

Poorly drained soil is a liability for this plant. Standing water or overly-wet soil creates conditions which allow fungi to develop. These fungi may attack the plant’s roots.

Overwatering causes many of the same problems as poor drainage. Go for consistent moisture, but don’t water in excess.

Pests

Euonymus scale is a major risk for your wintercreeper. This armored scale insect can cause complete defoliation of your plant, and may even kill it. This form of scale can also attack other plants, including English ivy, pachysandra, holly, and more.

Horticultural oil sprays are effective at smothering young scale insects. You can remove small infestations by hand, as well. Ladybugs and parasitic wasps can be used as beneficial pest elimination options.

The dreaded aphid is also a potential issue. These irritating little pests will feed on anything with plant juices. I like to use neem oil sprays, but insecticidal soaps can also be effective. And of course, those ladybugs I mentioned above love to eat aphids!

Diseases

Bacterial crown gall is a potential risk for your creeper plants. This creates wart-like, round growths at the soil line. Galls can reach sizes of two or more inches in diameter. Over time, the galls can cause weakened, stunted growth. Young plants can be killed off entirely.

This soil-borne bacteria is hard to eliminate, so prevention is the best protection. It enters the plant through wounds at the plant’s base. Avoid damage from string trimmers to the plant’s base. If pruned areas are near the soil, use a pruning sealer to prevent infection.

Anthracnose and other leaf spots may occur. These are much easier to treat than the crown gall, thankfully! Use a biofungicidal spray, a copper-based fungicide, or a sulfur-based fungicidal dust. Neem oil can also be used to prevent its reappearance.

Powdery mildew may occur in humid locations. Ensure your plants have plenty of airflow around them. Spray neem oil on all leaf surfaces to prevent it from developing or to treat existing light patches. If the mildew is severe, use a biofungicidal spray.

Frequently Asked Questions

Euonymus fortunei 'Variegatus'
Some species of wintercreeper have variegated foliage. Source: klmontgomery

Here are some frequently asked questions about the winter creeper.

Q. What are the garden uses of winter creeper?

A. You can grow winter creeper as a ground cover, vine or a shrub, depending upon your preference. Shrub forms may require more consistent pruning to maintain their shape and size.

Q. Is wintercreeper invasive?

A: In much of the eastern US, Euonymus fortunei is indeed considered an invasive. This is especially true in forested areas or in the margins around them. As it grows across the soil, it displaces native herbaceous plants. Once it reaches a tree, it can climb up high into the tree’s canopy. The rootlets allow it to grasp onto the bark for stability.

Warmer regions, such as the south or southwestern US, do not have as much likelihood of invasion.

Q. Is winter creeper drought tolerant?

A. Winter creeper, once established, can develop better tolerance for dry conditions and require less watering. As a young plant, it needs consistent watering.


Wintercreeper can be used as a ground cover, as erosion control, or even as a living fence material. Its vines will easily climb up to create a green roof on a pergola, and it’s surprisingly easy to care for. No matter which use you plan for your creeper, it will rise to the task admirably!


The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:

Kevin Espiritu
Founder

Lorin Nielsen
Lifetime Gardener

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