How to Grow Celastrus — Bittersweet

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Bittersweet, botanical name Celastrus, is shrub or twining woody climber found in temperate woodland thickets. Its attraction as a garden plant lies in its ornamental autumn fruits which split when ripe and reveal colorful seeds.

Get to know Bittersweet

  • Plant type: Deciduous fall-interest vine
  • Growing Zones and range: 3-8
  • Hardiness: Half-hardy
  • Height and width: 15’- 20’ tall; the vine climbs by twining and needs a large, heavy arbor, sturdy fence, or pergola. The full size is 15 to 25 feet across.
  • Foliage: Simple toothed leaves
  • Flowers: Insignificant flowers produce orange and scarlet berries. Both a male and a female plant is necessary for berry production.
  • Uses: Train against a wall, fence, or pergola, or up a tree.
  • Botanical name: Celastrus scandens
  • Common name: Bittersweet

Where to plant Bittersweet

  • Plant bittersweet in full sun to produce berries but tolerates light shade.
  • Grow bittersweet in average to poor sbitteroil.
Bittersweet flowers, Celastrus
Bittersweet flowers, Celastrus

When to plant Bittersweet

  • Set bittersweet in spring or fall.

Planting and spacing Bittersweet

  • Space bittersweet 15 feet or more apart.

How to water and feed Bittersweet

  • Bittersweet needs ample moisture. Established bittersweet is drought tolerant.
  • Bittersweet does not need fertilizer.

Bittersweet care

  • Prune bittersweet heavily each spring to control size.
  • Colorful bittersweet berries are poisonous.
  • Powdery mildew and fungal leaf spot can be problems.

Bittersweet propagation

  • Insert root cuttings in winter, or semi-ripe cutting in summer.

Bittersweet varieties to grow

  • Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is invasive; it is often spread by birds who ingest berries.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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