Wintercreeper: Fortune’s Spindle In The Garden

Wonderful wintercreeper can be a fantastic climbing vine, a low ground cover, or anything between. Learn care techniques in our full guide!

Wintercreeper

Contents

Are you looking for a vining plant type 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!

However, it’s an invasive species in most of the eastern part of the United States. In those areas, it’s better to grow your wintercreeper euonymus in containers so it doesn’t escape and cause ecological damage.

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:

Quick Care Guide

Wintercreeper
Wintercreeper euonymus 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
Light 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 euonymus 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, or aerial roots 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 euonymus! 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 in early spring. 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 in early summer, 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 in early fall, the seed escapes to potentially start a new plant.

The winter creeper has an extensive native range. It can be found throughout most countries in east Asia. 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.

This adaptability has made the wintercreeper vine an invasive species in the eastern half of the US, where it tends to spread and take over relatively undisturbed forests and forest openings. If you know this vigorous vining plant is an invasive plant in your region, grow it in containers with a trellis attached. It’s just as lovely there and it won’t cause problems due to escape.

Types of Winter Creeper Plants

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 all similar species due to their diversity, I’ll showcase a few here. Don’t hesitate to look for other varieties!

Euonymus fortunei, ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’, ‘Emerald Gaiety

Each Emerald ‘n’ Gold (or Emerald Gaiety) 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 to dark green 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 dark green 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 light to dark green leaves, which tend to be smaller than the rest of the species.

Euonymus fortunei, ‘Coloratus’

Commonly called the purple leaved wintercreeper euonymus. This cultivar tends to have a similar mounding habit to baby wintercreeper. Its spread as an ornamental groundcover 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 garden plant isn’t super-picky, but it can get quite out of hand. Yes, it has some preferences, 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 heavy 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.

Ideal temperatures for wintercreeper are 55° to 68°F (12° to 22°C) during the day, and 40° to 55°F (4° to 12°C) at night. As mentioned, the plant is not as tolerant of heat as it is of freezing temperatures or general winter temperatures — which tend to be no problem at all.

Water and Humidity

When in juvenile form, 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. Humidity is no problem at all for wintercreeper. Both low and high percentages are tolerated as long as there is adequate moisture.

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 most soils, provided that drainage is good. Avoid heavy, wet soils, as this can promote root rot conditions. Moist soil is needed for good growth, but extremely wet soil is no good.

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.

Fertilizing Wintercreeper Plants

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.

Especially because these are invasive plants, avoid fertilizing. You don’t want them taking over your garden and other plants, cracking a container, or escaping into surrounding natural areas. They can also cause damage other structures if planted nearby.

Wintercreeper 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.

While propagation will be easy in the eastern United States, you probably won’t have to as these are invasive plants. In fact, it may be best just to stick with one plant and avoid spreading it into sensitive ecosystems.

Pruning Wintercreeper Plants

Pruning your winter creeper should be done for one of two reasons. You can prune to avoid invasive spread, or prune for cosmetic appearance. Remove the flowers on the plant before they fruit and develop seed. This will prevent it from spreading and killing native plants.

Clean pruning shears are necessary to prevent disease transmission from plant to plant. Sterilize your shears between cuts whenever possible. Because the vine is so vigorous, don’t prune in winter, and instead prune when growth is active. This helps contain the plant.

Another important way to control the spread of wintercreeper euonymus, is to pull any plants that grow from seeds you missed in the pruning process. You don’t want a wintercreeper infestation in your garden, or in surrounding wildlife. Prune during the growing season for best results.

Problems With Your Wintercreeper Plants

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!

wintercreeper Euonymus 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 euonymus. 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 and similar species, 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. You can plant to attract these to your garden.

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 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 euonymus have variegated foliage. Source: klmontgomery

Q: What are the garden uses of winter creeper?

A: You can grow wintercreeper plants as a ground cover, climbing 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 plant. This is especially true in forested areas or in the margins around them. As the vine grows across the soil, it displaces native species of 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 garden plant, it needs consistent watering.

Q: Is wintercreeper a good ground cover?

A: Yes. It’s almost too good in the eastern half of the US where it’s considered and invasive species.

Q: What damage does wintercreeper do?

A: Wintercreeper vines girdle shrubs and each tendril climbs trees (and native plants in general). The vines can deplete nutrients and moisture for existing native species. This effectively kills them and pushes them out of their foothold in the ecosystem.

Q: Does wintercreeper stay green in winter?

A: It does. Wintercreeper euonymus has evergreen leaves that remain through winter!

Q: Where should I plant a wintercreeper?

A: It’s highly adaptable, and can be planted in most places. You’ll want to keep it in an area where you can access and prune it regularly, especially as it produces its white flowers. This will prevent its spread. You also don’t want to plant it near other plants that are slower growing.

Q: How do I stop my wintercreeper from spreading?

A: Prune it and pull it as needed so it doesn’t overtake other plants! Any fruit should be removed before they can drop to the ground and grow new plants. The suckers that form from this process should be pulled as soon as possible.

Q: How fast does wintercreeper spread?

A: It depends on the cultivar. Faster-growing vines can spread up to a foot per year, while slower-growing vines can grow 4 inches per year.

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