What's wrong with my burning bush?
April 15, 2017 4:53 PM   Subscribe

I planted a burning bush about three years ago, and except for one branch, I don't think it has grown at all. The one branch is about four feet long. The rest of it is maybe a foot tall. From a distance the branches look dead, but up close, it does have very tiny green leaves on it. Even the branch that has grown looks mostly dead and has just a few tiny leaves on the end.

Over the course of the summers I've had it, the leaves have always stayed a very tiny size. The plant continues to look almost dead, though it clearly isn't dead. I have added fertilizer. I haven't watered it recently, but we've been getting lots of rain. And I don't understand why one branch would grow longer, while most of it doesn't change. I'm in southeast Michigan and am about ready to dig the damn thing up and plant something else. Assume I know nothing. Can this plant be saved?
posted by FencingGal to Home & Garden (2 answers total)
God knows what's wrong with it, just thank your stars that something is and yank it! https://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/pubs/midatlantic/eual.htm I wish the chinaberry tree in my yard had been so obliging as to fail to thrive. Instead it's refusing to die no matter what and trying to take over the world.
posted by Don Pepino at 5:16 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]

I am sorry. Don Pepino is right. They are really invasive. American Cranberry bush is a good alternative. (I have a burning bush, and it's beautiful, but I have also six other burning bush volunteers in my yard. The seeds get eaten, birds poop them out anywhere, but birds and native fauna can't survive on it the way that they can with native species.

But to answer your essential question: One, it takes a while for things to establish. You see what's happening above ground, but root systems sustain growth and sometimes that's why you're drumming your fingers going 'dude, become a tree or something'. And secondly, sometimes cutting a thin new tree (a whip) by a third in late winter pushes out new lateral growth.

I think burning bushes are gorgeous and I've heard you can coppice them--cut them to the ground, let them grow a season, get beautiful, cut them again, without letting the berries form which are what makes them invasive. I can't speak to it; I haven't done it, but if anyone else has....well, they're a gorgeous shrub and if you can get around the invasiveness I think they are beautiful enough to be worth the effort. I have never seen anything like ours when the colors set in in the fall.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:29 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]

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