What if Your Burning Bush Isn't Burning...


     If a poll of "favorite autumn plants" was taken in southeast Idaho, I have no doubt dwarf burning bush (Euonymus alatus 'Compactus') would win hands down. It doesn't just get red in the fall, it gets fire engine red. That is, it gets fire engine red MOST of the time. But what about when it doesn't? Who wants a burning bush that doesn't burn?

     Look on line, and most sites will tell you that if a burning bush doesn't get red it probably isn't getting enough sunlight. In most places this might be true. But here in southeast Idaho we are at a high altitude with a thin atmosphere and very intense sunlight. I have seen burning bushes growing on the north side of buildings in about as shady of circumstances you can find, and they are still bright red in the fall. So what else could be the problem?
     As I was driving around the other day I noticed a row of burning bushes that seemed to be struggling to turn red. Their leaves had turned an autumnal color instead of staying green--which is what burning bush without enough sun do. But the color wasn't red. Well, it was kind of red, but not bright red. Instead it was a sickly pinkish color. I got out of my car and checked more closely. I found a few leaves that hadn't completely changed color yet, and this is what I saw:

     Notice that in the green part of the leaf, the veins are dark green but in between the veins is yellowish green. This is the tell tale sign of iron chlorosis. Ironically (is that a pun?) the soil around here has plenty of iron in it. But the soil is alkaline and that puts the iron into a form that is difficult for plants to take up. And lack of iron causes anemic looking color in plants.
     If your burning bush has this problem, it's too late to fix it for this year, but it's perfect time to start working to take care of it for next year. Chelated iron (iron in a form plants can use easily) can be added to the soil and watered in well. Additionally, anything you can do to lower the ph of the soil will help--adding organic matter or soil acidifier. This will not only result in better fall color for your burning bush, it will also give the bush better green color during the summer months.


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