Short and sweet sweetspire

Itea Bush: Tips On Growing Itea Sweetspire

The Itea sweetspire shrub is an attractive landscape addition in many areas of the United States. As a native to this area, attractive foliage and fragrant, drooping bottle brush blooms appear in spring, creating a dazzling display with little care from the gardener.

About Itea Shrubs

The Itea bush grows three to 6 feet in height, with a width of 4 to 6 feet when growing in the wild. Cultivated Itea sweetspire often does not reach this size. Cultivars such as the dwarf form ‘Shirley’s Compact’ reaches only 18 inches and ‘Merlot’ tops out at just 3 1/2 feet.

Itea plants have medium green leaves to 4 inches long, turning shades of yellow, orange, red and mahogany in the fall. The Itea spreads by underground runners, which

may be blocked to control the spread of the pleasing native Itea bush. Dig through runners of the Itea sweetspire and remove those growing in areas where the bush is not wanted.

The Itea shrub is also known as Virginia sweetspire and Virginia willow. It attracts butterflies and its berries provide food for passing birds.

How to Care for Itea Shrubs

Botanically named Itea virginica, Itea sweetspire has a rounded form when planted in sunny areas. Locate the Itea shrub in moist to wet soils in a part shade to full sun area for fragrant racemes of the 4-inch blooms in May.

The moderately growing Itea plant takes an erect form with arching branches. Although it is one of few shrubs that live in wet soil, the Itea bush is also drought tolerant. Attractive, reddish, autumn foliage makes the Itea sweetspire an excellent part of the fall display.

Of the Saxifragaceae family, the Itea bush, like most natives, can exist in many conditions with little maintenance. In its native conditions, the Itea plant is often found on shady river banks. Learning how to care for Itea includes keeping the soil moist and yearly fertilization for the most prolific show of blooms.

Now that you’ve learned how to care for the fragrant Itea bush, include it in a wet and shady area of the landscape where nothing would grow before.

Scentlandia® Sweetspire Itea virginica

Sweet summertime fragrance.

We sniffed dozens of different sweetspires in pursuit of the most fragrant variety, and we can say with confidence that we’ve found it in Scentlandia® itea. Though this native plant is much beloved for its sweetly scented summer blooms, not all plants exhibit equally strong fragrance, so it was our primary goal in introducing our next variety. We also wanted a smaller variety that works with any size landscape, and outstanding fall color so that the plant stays interesting beyond its bloom time. Scentlandia® sweetspire delivers on all three! The flowers aren’t just longer, larger, and more fragrant than other varieties – they’re also more cold tolerant, assuring a good display even in USDA zone 5 where flower buds are frequently damaged. Itea is one of the most shade tolerant flowering shrubs and thrives even in wet soils, making it an excellent problem solver.

Available in better garden centers in spring 2019.

Top reasons to grow Scentlandia® sweetspire:

– More fragrant than other sweetspire varieties

– Better bud hardiness means better performance in USDA zones 5 and 6

– One of the most shade tolerant flowering shrubs

Itea virginica

  • Attributes: Genus: Itea Species: virginica Family: Iteaceae Life Cycle: Woody Country Or Region Of Origin: Southeastern United States Fire Risk Rating: low flammability Wildlife Value: Flowers attract butterflies and other insects. Seeds are eaten by songbirds. Play Value: Attracts Pollinators Edible fruit Fragrance Textural Wildlife Food Source Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems): Resistant to fire in the landscape. This plant is moderately resistant to damage from deer. Dimensions: Height: 4 ft. 0 in. – 8 ft. 0 in. Width: 3 ft. 0 in. – 6 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits: Plant Type: Native Plant Shrub Leaf Characteristics: Deciduous Semi-evergreen Habit/Form: Arching Clumping Erect Rounded Growth Rate: Medium Texture: Medium
  • Fruit: Fruit Color: Brown/Copper Fruit Value To Gardener: Edible Good Dried Showy Display/Harvest Time: Summer Fruit Type: Capsule Fruit Length: < 1 inch Fruit Width: < 1 inch Fruit Description: Woody capsules arranged in racemes, showy in the fall. Fruits are slim, pubescent, have tiny seeds, are 1/3″ long, and are persistent into the following year.
  • Flowers: Flower Color: White Flower Inflorescence: Raceme Flower Value To Gardener: Fragrant Showy Flower Bloom Time: Spring Summer Flower Shape: Star Flower Petals: 4-5 petals/rays Flower Size: < 1 inch Flower Description: 3-6 inch long racemes of fragrant, tiny white flowers cover the shrub in late spring to early summer. The flowers open from base to tip, are lightly fragrant and are borne on previous season’s growth. Flowers are very showy.
  • Leaves: Leaf Characteristics: Deciduous Semi-evergreen Leaf Color: Brown/Copper Gold/Yellow Green Orange Leaf Feel: Smooth Leaf Value To Gardener: Long-lasting Showy Deciduous Leaf Fall Color: Orange Red/Burgundy Leaf Type: Simple Leaf Arrangement: Alternate Leaf Shape: Elliptical Leaf Margin: Serrate Hairs Present: Yes Leaf Length: 1-3 inches Leaf Width: 1-3 inches Leaf Description: Elliptical, alternate, simple dark green leaves (1-4″ long and 1 1/4″ wide) turn varying shades of red, orange and gold in autumn often persisting on the plants until early winter. Leaves have an acute apex and cuneate base, have a finely serrated margin, are glabrous above and can be slightly pubescent below. Pubescent petiole up to 1/4″ long with a groove on the upper side.
  • Stem: Stem Color: Green Red/Burgundy Stem Is Aromatic: No Stem Buds: Scaly Stem Leaf Scar Shape: C-shaped, Cresent shaped Stem Surface: Smooth (glabrous) Stem Description: Stems have a medium thickness, are green to reddish-purple in color on sun side, are glabrous, and have crescent-shaped leaf scars. Buds are superposed, imbricate, and reddish-green on short branches.
  • Landscape: Landscape Location: Pond Riparian Woodland Landscape Theme: Butterfly Garden Children’s Garden Edible Garden Native Garden Pollinator Garden Rain Garden Design Feature: Hedge Mass Planting Small groups Attracts: Butterflies Songbirds Resistance To Challenges: Deer Drought Fire Wet Soil Problems: Weedy

CarolynBF’s Journal: Little Henry Sweetspire Little Henry Itea virginica Flanking garage.

  • Member: CarolynBF
  • Journal: Our Florissant Garden
  • Category: Shrubs
  • Status: New in 2005

Initial Notes:

Awesome shrub! I love the furry “caterpillars” it gets in summer, and also the scarlet leaves in the fall! Very showy. Thrives well in part sun.
Various notes I’ve gathered:
From site: You could almost call Little Henry the “anywhere shrub.”
Itea virginica Little Henry is a small, deciduous shrub ideal for the home landscape. Among its attributes are its small stature, fall color and the fact that it’s an early-summer bloomer.
Its compact, low-mounding growth habit, reaching 2-3 feet tall, makes this little charmer perfect for use in mixed perennial borders and mass plantings. It can also be massed to serve as a taller groundcover.
Little Henry is covered with sweetly scented, pristine-white flowers that shoot off like sparklers in the early-summer garden.
During summer, its dark-green foliage becomes a crisp foil for other plantings. But in fall, Little Henry bursts into flaming-red foliage. Little Henry holds its leaves longer than burning bush and many other shrubs in the fall landscape.
Little Henry is a selection by Richard Feist at Hummingbird Nursery in Burlington, Ky. It was found as a branch sport of Itea virginica in 1987. The parent plant is 42 inches tall and has a spread of 60 inches.
Combinations using Little Henry provide fantastic color in the fall landscape. Companion plants such as Amsonia hubrechtii, Aster ‘Radon’s Favorite’ or many of the ornamental grasses provide color well into fall. To add texture and color, plant Little Henry in front of dwarf evergreens or a colorful shrub such as ‘Rose Glow’ barberry and skirt it with colorful sedges such as Carex ‘Bowles Golden.’ In shaded areas, the white flowers of Little Henry show off beautifully next to hostas such as ‘Little Aurora’ and ‘Halcyon.’ For real punch, add colorful bronze-colored heucheras like ‘Plum Pudding.’

Little Henry is a patented plant. Licensing can be obtained through Spring Meadow Nursery.
Little Henry is easily transplanted from containers. It makes a saleable container in 18 months. There are few plants that make this size container this fast and are still manageable in the landscape.
Provide a full-sun to partial-shade exposure. Little Henry prefers evenly moist to wet soils, preferably slightly acidic. On alkaline soils the leaves may yellow. This is corrected with the addition of magnesium sulfate, aluminum sulfate or elemental sulfur.
Once established, Little Henry is reasonably drought tolerant. And while it thrives in full sun, it will also strut its stuff in shady sites.
Little Henry requires no pruning to keep it in check. But if desired, give it a light shearing with hedge shears when the plant is young to encourage it to fill in faster.
These shrubs are rarely bothered by pests or disease.
Name: Itea virginica ‘Sprich’ Little Henry
Common name: Little Henry sweetspire.
Family: Grossulariaceae.
Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9.
Description: Deciduous shrub growing 24-30 inches tall by 3 feet wide; covered with sweetly scented white flowers in early summer; compact and low-mounding growth habit; dark-green foliage in summer, flaming red in fall.
Landscape uses: Large banks, beds, borders, groundcover.
Back to CarolynBF’s Journal homepage.

photo by James Robbins

Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) is an East Coast native that is adaptable to a wide variety of environmental conditions and to almost any garden style except the very formal. This loosely arching deciduous shrub offers attractive reddish new growth in early spring, drooping racemes of bottlebrush-like flowers in late spring, healthy green summer foliage, spectacularly colored leaves in fall, and attractive reddish branches and a contorted form in winter. Good looking and easy to grow is a combination made in garden heaven.

Virginia sweetspire grows to about 4 to 5 feet in height and slightly more in width. It suckers, however, so expect wider growth than that over the years, especially in rich, moist soil. Some of the newer cultivars are advertised as being less likely to sucker than the species. Of the three I have grown, ‘Henry’s Garnet’, ‘Sarah Eve’ and Little Henry, only ‘Henry’s Garnet’ suckered extensively in my garden – but it was in an area receiving the most water. At the very worst, the suckering leads to a modest grove of beauty that does not overtake other plantings and often blends well with them. In a semi-wild garden setting, Louisiana irises make good companions, especially when some daylilies are added into the edges of the planting bed.

The flowering spires range from 3 to 6 inches long, although the cultivar ‘Longspires’ is reported to have much longer blooms. The flowers are slightly fragrant and a real magnet for bees and butterflies. The flowers of all cultivars are a soft white, but ‘Sarah Eve’ has a tinge of soft orange-red that comes from the individual flower and bud stems yet suffuses the entire flower with warmth and makes it especially attractive with orange-toned irises or other flowers.

Sweetspire will grow well in both light shade and full sun. Higher sun exposure results in better fall color and a fuller form. In hotter climates, partial shade such as that found at woodland edges is excellent. Full sun exposure in very hot climates should be coupled with more moisture. In nature, sweetspire is often found growing along creek banks and in low-lying places with more than usual moisture. If you are looking for a good shrub to plant close to air-conditioner runoff, this is an ideal choice. However, the shrub adapts well to most garden situations and is even relatively drought tolerant.

Several cultivars are available in garden centers. These include the fairly common ‘Henry’s Garnet’ and ‘Sarah Eve’. Little Henry is supposed to be smaller in stature and less prone to suckering. ‘Saturnalia’ is characterized by brilliant fall color that includes orange and yellow as opposed to the more typical scarlet. ‘Longspire’ has exceptionally long bloom spires, and ‘Beppu’ is one of the newest introductions with an ultimate height of less than 3 feet. For all-season interest plus food for the birds and bees, it’s hard to beat Virginia sweetspire.

photo by Margaret Gratz
photo by James Robbins

Common Name: Virginia sweetspire

Botanical Name: Itea virginica

Varieties To Look For: ‘Henry’s Garnet’, Little Henry, ‘Sarah Eve’, ‘Longspire’, ‘Saturnalia’ and ‘Beppu’

Color: White to blush white

Blooming Period: Spring

Type: Deciduous shrub

Size: 2 to 5 feet, depending on variety

Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

When to Plant: Fall or very early spring

Soil: Any good garden soil that is acidic

Watering: Water well first year until established.

When to Prune: Prune after flowering as necessary, usually just to remove damaged or very old shoots.

Fertilizing: Overfertilization can damage plants so mulch or use compost.

In Your Landscape: Excellent for informal, woodland, marsh or wild gardens. Good screening for drainage areas or air-conditioner runoff spots.

(From Tennessee Gardener Volume III Issue VIII.)

Posted February 2012 Anita Stamper is a retired professor of family and consumer sciences from Lambuth University and now lives and gardens in Paducah.

Sweet Spire: Itea virginica

So fall color is variable, we get that. The weather is a big factor, soil chemistry and insect predation enter in and of course genetics have a say as well. Just as paper will not refuse ink, the ether will not refuse data: this means that you will find claims made about the fall coloration of plants that are hard to put your money on reliably. Terms such as ‘electric’ and ‘glowing’ are very hard to quantify, and even the colors mentioned in some catalogs and on line could be disappointing in reality. Questions arise: Did I plant it in enough sun for it to color up? Did I fertilize/water/prune it correctly? Is this really the plant that I thought I was getting? The lesson that I, the Guide on the Side as opposed to the Sage on the Stage, would give you is this: If you want fall color and it’s that important to you, go to your local nursery in the fall and buy one that you see there with the autumn coloration that suits you, whether it’s to match your curtains, your budget or your roadster. Or all three.

One plant that I have had color up every year as reliably as a Southern belle in a room full of smooth talkin’ Yankees is Virginia Sweetspire . I love the plant for its fall color, but it also has a distinctly sweet summer bloom and it is also a problem-solver. No, it won’t bring your electricity back on after Sandy blew through. You just have to wait till all the customers in Fairfield County get taken care of, THEN us folks in Hamden, Bridgeport and East Haven will get our lights back on. Oh, and after Branford, Guilford and Madison. Probably Cheshire too. On Tuesday, there were 3 UI trucks and a supervisor’s vehicle on St. Ronan’s Street, and those in New Haven will know exactly what I’m getting at. But anyway, by problem solving in the plant world, I mean a plant that will serve several purposes in a difficult environment.

Itea is native to wet woodlands, swamps and along streams in the southeastern United States, from the Pine Barrens of New Jersey to the piney woods of Texas, with all the states in between, including the swamps of Florida. Do you get the impression that this plant likes water? Like a prospector back in town from months on the claim, Itea relishes a good drink, and therein lies part of its problem-solving charm.

If you have a wet spot (and we here at Marsh Botanical Gardens have several), you can’t find a better denizen to fill in beneath the River Birch, nestle amongst the skunk cabbage or tower over the cress. Itea’s height, depending on variety, will be three to six or maybe eight feet tall. It’s habit is a suckering shrub, as it sends new shoots out from the root mass, creating a colony that slowly enlarges to cover an area about four to six feet wide. It does this in what I view as a restrained sort of ‘playing nice’ sort of way, without actually running around like a crazed bamboo with its hair on fire. It will eventually achieve a nice drooping countenance as the branches swoop towards the ground.

Itea blooms in late June into July, sending up three to six inch (perhaps eight in some cultivars) racemes. These are clusters of small flowers in a spike arrangement with each flower held aloft by a short stem called a pedicel, for you Scrabble players. The flowers are white and beloved by bees and other pollinators. They appear on the end of short leafy twigs, and are borne on one-year old wood. This means that you prune Itea after blooming, lest you prune off the coming flower-set.

There is nothing like a nicely placed Itea for fall color. As with most plants, full sun is best for full flowering, as well as good fall color. Itea will tolerate and look quite good in light to moderate shade, but sun is best for full effect. There are many varieties of the plant to choose from, most having to do with size of plant (some are smaller than type), size of flower (some have larger flower spikes) or fall color. From deep wine red to orange sunset, (there I go doing it myself: I never said I wasn’t guilty of hyperbole, says the kettle about the pot) the late October/early November color stands out in the garden.

As an accent planted for summer and fall interest, included in the bog garden, planted en masse to hold a stream bank or hillside, as a front-of-shrub-border beauty or just near the beehives, you can’t go wrong with Itea. Available usually as a small plant in a container, you can find them at most garden stores, and I just happen to notice some nice ones at Van Wilgen’s when I was there recently, and of course Broken Arrow Nursery in Hamden has extended their fall sale. Can’t wait to get up there myself.

Plant in full sun to light shade, wet to dry soil (for a water loving plant, just like that prospector mentioned above, Itea is surprisingly drought tolerant), and enjoy many years of summer bloom (when not much is going on in the shrub border by the way) and a great autumn show.

Till next week,

Your friend,


Captions and Disclaimer: Below are the original captions and the disclaimer that I published and sent out as an e-mail.

Plant of the Week and Liquid Sunshine are my way of ignoring the dark cold house that awaits me tonight, many thanks to the ‘lectric comp’ny. Please send electrons to help those in need. Good wishes and a warm shower would be just as welcome. Neither Yale University, Marsh Botanical Garden nor the guys wearing tweed jackets with leather patches on the elbows have any connection, implicit or explicit to the views and opinions expressed within.

This Itea was supposed to be ‘Henry’s Garnet,’ but it hasn’t shown the truly claret coloring during the fall that the variety is supposed to exhibit. It is quite possible that fertilizing the rose nearby had something to do with this, but who knows?

Itea ‘Saturnalia,’ which of course I purchased based on the name alone. If it had been named ‘Bacchanalia’ I would have bought seven of them. More orange, yellow and rose in the fall are part of the charm of this variety, as well as the fact that it is supposed to be somewhat smaller than type.

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