- Growing Spirea Shrubs: Information On How To Care For Spirea Bushes
- How Do I Grow Spirea?
- Spirea Growing Conditions
- How to Care for Spirea Bushes
- Spiraeas: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties
- Plant Profile
- Mature Height/Spread
- Growth Rate
- Landscape Use
- Cultivars for SC Landscapes
- Japanese Spirea Cultivars
- Cultivation and History
- How to Grow
- Growing Tips
- Pruning and Maintenance
- Cultivars to Select
- Managing Pests and Disease
- Quick Reference Growing Chart
- Best Uses in the Garden
- For Every Garden
- Spiraea x vanhouttei
- Common Spirea Growing Mistakes to Avoid
Growing Spirea Shrubs: Information On How To Care For Spirea Bushes
Novice and experienced gardeners alike love spirea bushes (Spiraea) for their eye-catching beauty, fast growth rate, hardiness and ease of care. Spirea shrubs are deciduous shrubs that can be divided into two categories: spring blooming and summer blooming.
The spring blooming spirea has a delicate cascading habit with large clusters of white flowers poised on arching branches. The summer blooming spirea bush boasts beautiful pink, white or red flowers atop upright branches. Both varieties are prized for their shape and flowers.
How Do I Grow Spirea?
Growing spirea shrubs is extremely easy, and these flexible plants are hardy in just about any growing zone. Spirea bushes are available at most garden supply stores and greenhouses and should be planted during the
spring or fall for best results.
Depending on variety, spirea bushes grow from 2 to 6 feet tall. Be sure to place your bush in a location that will accommodate its mature size. Spirea bushes do very well as a focal plant in the landscape or as part of a larger grouping for a screen or border.
Spirea Growing Conditions
The spirea shrub does best when planted in full sun or light shade. Planting the shrub in full shade results in stunted growth, and a reduction in the number and size of blooms.
Position your spirea in an area with well-drained soil, as they do not like wet feet.
How to Care for Spirea Bushes
Once planted, the care of spirea requires a minimal time investment. Adding mulch around the plant will help retain moisture and regular summer watering will promote healthy blooms and growth.
Prune summer-blooming spirea bushes during the winter or in the spring. Spring bloomers can be pruned right after the flowers are gone. Remove dead wood and trim canes of spring varieties to the ground.
While aphids may become a problem, they are rarely serious enough to warrant treatment.
No matter which variety of spirea bush you choose, growing spirea shrubs is sure to add interest and lasting beauty to your landscape for many years to come.
Spiraeas: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties
Spireas are small to medium sized deciduous shrubs that produce cascades of flowers in spring and summer.
Among the easiest flowering shrubs to grow, spireas are often used in foundation plantings, as hedges, and in perennial gardens. Most spireas bloom in late spring to midsummer. Flower colors include pink, red, yellow, and white, depending on the variety. Some types have colorful fall foliage. Size depends on the species and variety, and can range from 2 to 10 feet tall and wide. Low-growing bumald spirea (S. bumalda) and medium-sized Japanese spirea (S. japonica) can be used throughout the landscape. Vanhoutte spirea (S. vanhouttei), the classic bridal wreath spirea, grows up to 10 feet tall and 20 feet wide, so give it plenty of elbow room. Masses of small, white flower clusters cover the plant in the spring.
Special features of spiraeas
Easy care/low maintenance
Plant in spring or fall. Space plants 2 to 15 feet apart, depending on the expected mature size of the plant. Dig a hole only as deep as the root ball and 2 to 3 times as wide. If your soil is in very poor condition, amend the soil you’ve removed from the hole with a small amount of compost. Otherwise don’t amend it at all. Carefully remove the plant from the container and set it in the hole. Fill in around the root ball with soil until the hole is about half filled. Then firm the soil and water thoroughly. Fill the hole with the remaining soil and water again. Form a raised ridge of soil around the perimeter of the hole so it acts like a berm to help hold in water.
Apply a layer of compost under the tree each spring, spreading it out to the dripline (the area under the outermost branches). Add a 2-inch layer of mulch to retain moisture and control weeds. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. Deadheading spent flowers will sometimes induce a second flowering. Most spireas can be pruned after flowering to reduce height and maintain the desired shape. However, Japanese and bumald spireas should be pruned in early spring to promote the best flowering. Remove dead, diseased, and broken branches anytime. Spireas can be severely pruned and will grow and flower again.
Spiraea is one of the most popular garden plants since it is almost the only one that does not require special care and planting location. It belongs to the Rosaceae family and it is native to the Northern Hemisphere. Every year, the various species of Spiraea surprise us with their abundance of flowers and colors and fit wonderfully into the garden scenery.
- plant family: Rose family (Rosaceae)
- genus: Spiraea, the name derives from the Greek word speira meaning twisting, because the fruits of the shrub look like as if they are twisted
- species: there are 80 different species, from which the best known are Spiraea arguta (bridal-wreath), Spiraea billardii (Triumphans) as well as the different varieties of Spiraea japonica
- origin: Northern Hemisphere of Earth, very common in East Asia (China)
- it is generally a bushy and easy to clean plant
- height: Depending on its type it can reach from 25 centimeters up to 2 meters
- flowering season: it can either bloom in spring or in summer
- Spiraeas unfold their splendor from April to November
- the colors of the flowers vary from white to pink, purple and red tones, panicle and umbel type of inflorescence
- summer green, ovate-lanceolate, toothed and short-stalked leaves
- propagation by seeds
Spiraeas should not be missing from any garden; they harmonize best with Delphinium (larkspur), lavender, forsythia, peony, phlox, flowers and grass. It depends, of course, on the species, since Spiraea can be used as an ornamental shrub as tall as a person, as well as as a bushy ground cover.
Its characteristic is the robust adaptation to soil and climate. With a Spiraea you can never go wrong; every year it will always please the eye in the garden with its blossoming splendor. It can also be found in parks and, as a hedge, provides a good visual protection.
The many species and varieties of Spiraea make a consistent description difficult. However, the easy care and the ideal adaptation to soil and climate are typical for all species of Spiraea and that makes them really attractive, particularly for beginner gardeners. All species are also characterized by dense vegetation and a rampant, vibrant blooming.
The great variety of Spiraeas
There is always the right strain for every garden. The best known in Northern Europe is the so-called Bridal Wreath Spiraea with a height of 1-2 meters and widely overhanging branches. This bush can be perfectly used as a hedge plant and in April and May exudes a unique romance with its white blossoms. Similar is the newer variety of Spiraea cinerea ‘Grefsheim’. It also loves freestanding hedges landscaping so that it can show off its wide- arching branches.
From May to June blooms the unpretentious Astilbe, which can reach a height of up to 3 meters and with its white/pink blossoms it is often used as a hedge plant in parks. The bushy Spiraea densiflora, which blooms in May and is remarkably robust and healthy, can be often seen in gardens and along pathways. Dense pink flowers and long lasting foliage characterize this shrub.
A solitary plant, which can also bloom in plant pots, is Spiraea thunbergii with its magical white blossoms. Likewise, Spiraea vanhouttei can be used as a solitary or grouping shrub.
More spring flowers:
- Spiraea gemmata
- Spiraea arcuata
- Spiraea prunifolia
- Spiraea media
- Spiraea betulifolia Pall
A magnificent summer blooming shrub is the Spiraea billardii ’Triumphans’. It has cone-shaped and dark pink blossoms and it can be up to 1.5 meters high. It is used as deck or grouping shrub.
The Japanese meadowsweet (Spiraea japonica) with dense and lushly flowering umbel-like cymes counts among the summer blooming shrubs. All of its species are dwarf shrubs.
The most common varieties are:
- Sapho and Crispa with crimson flowers
- Anthony Waterer (Spiraea bumalda) with crimson flowers
- Dart’s Red Spiraea with dark crimson flowers
- Albiflora with white flowers
- Golden Princess and Goldflame with purple-pink flowers
- Nana with small pink flowers
- Little Princess with bright pink flowers
- Neon Flash with dark-pink flowers
- Shirobana with white, pink and pink-red flowers inside an umbel
- ‘Zigeunerblut’ with dark-purple flowers
A ground cover and vigorously sprouting plant is Spiraea decumbens. Spiraea cana is suitable especially for dry rock gardens. Spiraea japonica and Spiraea bumalda have more powerful colors, as well as Spiraea douglasii and Spiraea japonica ‘Anthony Waterer’.
Spiraea – How To Care
All species of Spiraea are among the most robust varieties in the garden, but some instructions should be followed in order to enjoy longer the richly flowering and winter-hardy ornamental shrubs.
Spiraea prefers either a sunny or a half-shady area. Some species, however, are also shade-tolerant, if the soil is humus rich or regularly fertilized. Depending on the species, the shrubs can be planted in garden beds, even in brownfields, in rock or roof gardens, as well as in plant pots for the balcony or the terrace. The sunnier the place is, the more the shrub sprouts. Spiraeas can be planted in almost any type of soil.
1 of 2 Spiraea media Spiraea media
Plants are adapted to poor soils and long dry seasons. But of course the shrubs should be watered regularly after planting. However, if they are deep-rooted, they also survive phases of aridity and should only be watered in case of unusual drought. In any case, waterlogging should be prevented.
Spiraeas generally do not need fertilizers. In a very humus-rich soil and in case of over- fertilization, they start to sprawl and if too much fertilizer is used, they can become really sensitive. Early flowering plants usually tolerate partial shade or shade, but in this case they should be fertilized from time to time with mature compost in order to ensure the usual flowering. Bark mulch is very suitable for ground covering and protection of all Spiraeas.
1 of 3 Spiraea salicifolia Spiraea salicifolia Spiraea salicifolia
Pruning the different species of Spiraeas requires skill and it is a ‘science of itself’. The pruning technique is generally the same for all Spiraeas; there are differences only in time for pruning. Dried and damaged plant parts as well as visibly weak shoots should be always removed immediately. The annual pruning is for rejuvenation, in order to prevent an ugly leaf loss.
Please keep in mind that the shoots should be pruned and not squeezed, with normal sharp pruning shears. This kind of pruning can be done several times a year until October. Some gardeners just trim and do not do the rejuvenation pruning. Depending on shrub and location, a rejuvenation pruning is required every 3 to 4 years.
Spring and summer blooming shrubs pruning
Every year a pruning takes place, but it is important to make sure if Spiraeas bloom on the previous or this year’s wood. Spring blossoms grow on the previous year’s wood and are therefore pruned directly after the flowering. Summer blossoms, on the other hand, grow mostly on the new wood, so they are pruned the following year before flowering.
However, this should not happen too early, but it is better to wait for the frost period, so that the shrub does not suffer any damage. Also a high summer heat is not very good for pruning. The best time to do rejuvenation pruning is in March. Pruning is always diagonal and no more than around 5 millimeters above the bud.
Hedge plants pruning
Hedge plants can be pruned freely. This can be usually done by the so-called trapezoidal trim, whereby it is taken into account that the hedge is wider at the bottom than at the top and thus the sunlight can also radiate inwards.
In the case of a radical hedge pruning, one must first be informed about the non-cutting period of the individual federal states, because in the dense branches animals could nest or spend the winter. According to the nature conservation regulations, no radical pruning is allowed; only gentle pruning.
Spiraeas are usually frost resistant plants, which do not require any special effort for the cold season. Of course, solitary plants in pots should be in a sheltered place and protected with a fleece, so that the root balls do not suffer frost damage. Likewise, young bushes planted in late summer require special protection through a fleece or a burlap sack.
1 of 7 Spiraea Spiraea Spiraea Spiraea Spiraea Spiraea Spiraea
In case of heavy snowfall, the wide-arching branches and twigs of Spiraeas can be carefully cleaned from the snow, so that a breaking will be prevented. This is, however, necessary only when the snow is wet; a light powder snow usually does not harm the shrub.
The safest method of propagation and cultivation is by cuttings. These will gain approximately 10-15 centimeters long shoots, which they get rid of leaves and they should be put in a vase with water so that they produce roots. If, finally, the roots are long and strong enough, they can be plant into the potting compost and taken cared of afterwards.
Alternatively, the cuttings can also be planted immediately after pruning in the potting compost, where they must be protected in a moist and warm environment by a plastic cover. As soon as the cuttings are well rooted with the soil, the cover can be removed and the young plants can be in the open ground. This can happen to early flowering plants during the summer; for summer plants is preferable the breeding to be done in winter and an exposure of the plant should take place only in spring, when no more frost is expected.
Another method is the ground layering. In this case, a shoot of the shrub, which is nearest to the ground, is pressed into a groove, where only a part of the shoot is covered with soil and only the top of the other end is visible. After a while, the shoot produces roots underground and can be separated from the mother plant. If no shoot is long enough for this, it can also be earthed up, so that it is planted on a pile of soil.
The robust Spiraeas are usually not affected by diseases and pests. Only an improper pruning of the shoots can cause putrefaction and penetration of fungi or bacteria. Therefore, make sure not to squeeze the shoot but to prune it nicely and diagonally.
If Spiraea has in spring rolled and brown leaves then it is obviously infested with mildew. A radical pruning is, after flowering, the best solution. At least half the size of the shrub should be reduced in order to be able to sprout again fresh and healthy.
Use and advantages of Spiraea
The fully bloomed branches of the early or summer blooming Spiraeas are excellent for the vase, especially because pruning is beneficial for them, so that they can sprout again.
Spiraea fits to every park and garden because it harmonizes wonderfully with other shrub borders and does not need any special care. Another advantage is the green summery, bushy foliage, which brings until autumn a dash of green among the summer blooming flowers and by being planted in the shade conserves the soil moisture. A further advantage is the reduction of wild plants because of the groundcover Spiraea.
1 of 6 Spiraea japonica Spiraea japonica Spiraea Spiraea Spiraea thunbergii Spiraea thunbergii
Vanhoutte spirea (S. x vanhouttei) in full bloom.
Photo by Joey Williamson, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension
Spireas (Spiraea species) are among the easiest flowering shrubs to grow. These attractive shrubs are fast growing and should be grown in full sun for best flowering. They can, however, tolerate partial shade. Some are spring bloomers; whereas others bloom in the summer. Plant sizes vary by species and cultivar, and they range from 1½ to 8 feet tall. There are many species of spireas (greater than 80), but only the most commonly encountered species and cultivars are included here.
Baby’s breath spirea (S. thunbergii), also called thunberg spirea, is a showy, graceful shrub from 3 to 5 feet high and wide, with many slender, arching branches. The small, narrow, toothed leaves turn orange in late fall. The tiny white flowers are clustered in the axils along the stems in spring. More than any other spirea, it has a feathery appearance. These are some of the earliest bloomers. Prune soon after flowering if needed. For USDA zones 4 to 8.
Vanhoutte spirea (S. x vanhouttei) is a deciduous broadleaf shrub with an arching branch habit that can grow 5 to 8 feet high and spread as much as 7 to 10 feet wide. The Vanhoutte hybrids are crosses of S. trilobata and S. cantoniensis. The small leaves are blue-green in summer with no appreciable fall color. Masses of small, white flower clusters cover the plant in the spring. For USDA zones 3 to 8.
Flower clusters of Vanhoutte spirea (S>. x vanhouttei</em).
Photo by Karen Russ, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension
Reeves spirea (S. cantoniensis) is a white, single-flowered shrub with a white bridal wreath growth habit. The straight species is rarely encountered, whereas double-flowered cultivars are more common in South Carolina landscapes. The shrub grows 5 to 6 feet tall. In the Upper South the small green leaves may turn red in fall. In the Deep South they remain on the plant without changing color. Prune after flowering if needed. For USDA zones 5 to 8.
Bridal wreath spirea (S. prunifolia) is an early blooming, deciduous shrub with white, double flowers that appear before the foliage in the spring. This spirea grows to about 6 feet tall and wide. Prune, if necessary, soon after flowering. Fall color is red to orange. These are often found at old home sites and are hardy from USDA zones 5 to 8. Other species of spirea, such as the Vanhoutte spirea, are often sold as “bridal wreath spireas” in catalogs.
Although spireas are typically not large plants, they do grow quickly.
Spireas are valued for their form and flowers. They are used as a specimen plant or as a hedge, screen, or border. Smaller cultivars can make nice accent plants for a border perennial garden. Most spireas are deciduous shrubs, and some have colorful fall foliage. Spirea flowers are often visited by butterflies. Spireas are generally deer resistant.
Fall is the best planting time, as it is for most shrubs. Spireas are also easy to dig and transplant to new sites, and late fall after leaf drop is the best time for moving these shrubs. These shrubs grow best, more dense, and produce more blooms in full sun. Spireas are tolerant of many soils except those that are extremely wet. The plant also responds well to applied mulch and summer watering.
After flowering has finished, prune the mostly spring-blooming spireas. Thin out old and weak canes to the ground annually. Prune the summer-blooming, bumalda spireas in winter or early spring. The bumaldas generally need less severe pruning than other species of spireas. After flowers on any spirea cultivar fade, remove them and a second flush of growth is stimulated, which will result in additional flowers.
Like other members of the rose family, spireas are susceptible to various pests and diseases, but most are not serious.
Diseases: Phytophthora or Pythium root rots could occur in poorly drained, wet soils, but these soils should be avoided for almost any type of shrub.
Phyllosticta and Cylindrocladium leaf spots have been reported on S. x bumalda cultivars, but are uncommon. Any shrub watered by over-head irrigation is more apt to contract a foliar fungal disease, so drip irrigation is always the best choice. Sprays with chlorothalonil (such as Daconil) will help control fungal leaf spot diseases. Rake or blow out fallen diseased leaves during the late winter and dispose of them to aid in disease control.
Insect Pests: Aphids are occasionally a problem in the spring. Spray in the early evening with an insecticidal soap solution for aphid control, and repeat sprays as needed.
Invasiveness: Japanese spirea (Spiraea japonica) is considered invasive in the Southeast US. Because of this potential, Japanese spirea and its cultivars are not recommended as suggested landscape plants*. Bumalda spireas (S. x bumalda) are crosses between S. japonica var. albiflora and S. japonica. These are also Japanese spireas and may be invasive. The most commonly produced cultivars, and there are many, are included last for purely educational purposes, so that if cultivar names only are listed in a catalog or in a nursery, SC residents will realize that these are Japanese spireas.
Reference: *The Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council
Cultivars for SC Landscapes
- S. cantoniensis ‘Lanceolata’: This cultivar is a double-flowered Reeves spirea. Blooms are made as many-petaled, miniature roses. Plants grow to 4 to 6 feet tall and 6 feet wide. For USDA zones 5 to 9b.
- S. thunbergii Gold Thread™ (‘Ogon’): (by Garden Debut® Plant Collection). Gold Thread grows to 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. It has chartreuse, willow-like leaves and blooms in the spring with white flowers before the foliage appears For USDA zones 3 to 8.
- S. x vanhouttei ‘Renaissance’: This cultivar grows to 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide with graceful, arching branches. Bred for increased foliar disease resistance It has a massive display of pure white flowers, and its fall color is orange-red. For USDA zones 3 to 8.
- S. media Blue Kazoo® Double Play® Series (‘SMSMBK’ PPAF): (by Proven Winners). This cultivar grows to 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. New growth appears burgundy and changes at maturity to blue-green. Fall color is red. Blooms in spring with white flowers. For USDA zones 3 to 8b.
- S. media Snow Storm™ (‘Darsnorm’): (by Proven Winners). Plants grow 3 to 5 feet tall and wide. Foliage is blue-green during the summer, with orange and red colors in fall. Tiny white flowers make dome-shaped clusters that appear in late spring through early summer. For USDA zones 4 to 8.
- S. x cinerea First Snow® (‘Grefsheim’): Plants are a hybrid of (S. hypericifolia × S. cana), and grow 4 to 5 feet tall and wide with dense arching stems. This cultivar is an early bloomer – before the soft green foliage appears. The flowers are white and fragrant. For USDA zones 4 to 7.
- S. nipponica ‘Snowmound’: This white flowered cultivar grows 2 to 4 feet tall and wide in late spring with attractive arching stems. Foliage is a dark, blue-green. Prune after flowering. For USDA zones 3 to 8.
- S. betulifolia ‘Tor’: This birchleaf spirea grows as a dense, rounded mound to 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. It has tiny white flowers in clusters over the foliage in late spring. The dark green, oval leaves turn orange, red and purple in fall. Prune in late winter if needed. For USDA zones 4 to 8.
- S. betulifolia ‘Tor Gold’ Glow Girl® PPAF: (by Proven Winners). This birchleaf spirea grows to 3 to 4 feet tall and wide with a compact habit. It has white flowers in late spring, and lemon-lime foliage. For USDA zones 3 to 8.
- S. x ‘NCSX2’ Double Play Doozie® PPAF: (by Proven Winners). This mounding spirea is a sterile cultivar that is remontant, which means it repeat blooms. It blooms with red to purplish-red flowers in late spring and repeat blooms in waves during the summer and fall. The shrub grows to 2 to 3 feet tall by 2 to 3 feet wide and can be useful for a small hedge, in mass, or in mixed planting.
Japanese Spirea Cultivars
- S. x bumalda ‘Anthony Waterer’: Grows to 2 to 3 feet tall by 3 to 4 feet wide and is a low maintenance plant. Flowers are carmine-red in flat-topped clusters, and flowers on new growth. Fall color of foliage is purple. For USDA zones 4 to 8.
- S. x bumalda ‘Dolchia’: New growth is purplish-red and leaves have frilly serrated margins. Plants grow to 2 to 3 feet tall and 2 to 4 feet wide. Flowers are bright pink in late spring. Fall foliage is a rich red. For USDA zones 5 to 9.
- S. x bumalda ‘Goldflame’: Blooms in the summer with bright pink flowers. Grows to 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. New foliage is orange-gold and matures in summer to light green. Fall foliage color is copper-orange. For USDA zones 4 to 8.
- S. x bumalda Golden Sunrise™ (‘Monhud’): This cultivar is a branch sport of ‘Goldflame’, and has bright yellow new growth that changes to a yellow green in summer. Fall color of foliage is coppery orange. Blooms during the summer with pink flowers. Plants grow 3 feet tall by 4 feet wide.
- S. x bumalda Limemound® (‘Monhub’): This cultivar is a branch sport of ‘Goldflame’. New growth is a bright lemon-yellow that matures to lime green. Grows to 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Hot pink flowers appear in early summer. Fall color is orange red with red stems. For USDA zones 3 to 8.
- S. x bumalda Little Bonnie™ (‘BL0601’): (Southern Living Plant Collection): Plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Flowers are lavender-pink during the summer. Foliage emerges bronze-red and matures to a bluish-green. For USDA zones 4 to 9.
- S. x bumalda Sundrop™ First Editions® Series (‘Bailcarol’): Plant grows to 12 to 15 inches tall by 2 to 3 feet wide. Pink flowers during the summer are accented by golden yellow foliage. For USDA zones 3 to 8.
- S. x bumalda ‘Fire Light’: Orange new growth matures to golden yellow. Flowers are produced in the summer and are pink. Has fiery red fall color. Plants grow to 2 to 3 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide. For USDA zones 4 to 7 (8).
- S. x Big Bang™ Double Play® Series (‘Tracy’ PP2158): Plants grow to 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. New foliage growth is a bright pumpkin orange and matures to a yellow-gold for summer and fall. Flowers are pink. For USDA zones 3 to 9b.
- S. x Solar Flare (‘Zelda’ PP21976): New leaves are orange-red and mature to a bright yellow with orange tips. It has large clusters of pink flowers in summer. For USDA zones 4 to 8.
- S. x bumalda Little Bonnie™ Dwarf Spirea (‘BL0601’): Plants grow to 2 to 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Has profuse lavender-pink blooms in spring and sporadically in summer.
Woody shrubs give wonderful structure to gardens and landscapes. And ones that add pretty flowers, luminous foliage, and multi-season color give even greater value – like spirea.
Beloved by greenhorn and green thumb gardeners alike, their multi-season beauty, easy care, and fast growth make it one of the most popular of flowering shrubs.
With a long-lasting bloom time, fine-textured foliage, and variable sizes, they’re suitable for any landscape, and can be used as groundcovers, hedging, in mass plantings, or in perennial beds. And newer cultivars are even more versatile with tidier growth and spectacular multi-season color.
Join us now for a look at the best way to grow beautiful spirea.
Cultivation and History
Spiraea, commonly spelled spirea, is a genus of over 80 woody shrubs in the Rosaceae (rose) family. Native to temperate zones in the Northern Hemisphere, the greatest diversity of species is found in eastern China.
Named from the Greek word speira, which means spiral, it refers to their wreath-like display of showy, small flowers. Growing in grouped panicles, flat-topped corymbs, or clusters in colors of mauve, pink, red, rose, and white, each tiny flower looks like a mini apple blossom with five petals and numerous stamens.
These hardy deciduous plants have simple, lanceolate leaves, typically with toothed margins, that are arranged alternately along the stems.
Plants are classified as either spring or summer flowering, and both types are prized for their carefree growth, abundant flowers, and reliable form.
Spring blooming species, like bridalwreath, have a graceful cascading habit with masses of white flowers that bloom in April and May perched along bowing branches.
Summer flowering plants display flowers of pink, red, or white that perch atop upright stems and bloom from June to August.
And the color doesn’t stop in the autumn, spirea displays beautiful red foliage in the fall.
Shrubs are mostly deer resistant and attract butterflies and other pollinators. Typically, plants are hardy in Zones 4-9 although some are more heat or cold tolerant.
The most reliable methods of propagation are by hardwood or softwood cuttings and ground layering.
Read our detailed guide to spirea propagation here.
How to Grow
Spirea are wonderfully carefree and easy to grow.
They do best when planted in soil of average fertility with a neutral or slightly acidic pH.
Generally, they’re not heavy feeders and over-fertilizing should be avoided to prevent sprawl. A light application of a balanced, time release fertilizer (10-10-10) applied in the spring provides enough nutrition for the year.
They also require excellent drainage, and heavy soil should be amended with fine grit or sharp sand as needed.
Plants require a full sun to light shade location, with spring flowering specimens better suited to partial shade than summer flowering ones.
To plant, dig a hole twice as wide and just as deep as the root ball. Sprinkle the planting hole with bone meal.
Gently loosen any twisted roots and place the root ball in the hole then backfill with the removed soil and firm in place. Water gently to settle and cover with a 2 to 3-inch layer of compost.
Spirea are drought tolerant but need to be watered regularly until established.
- Spirea are tolerant of some shade, but full sun produces more flowers with more vibrant colors and brighter fall color.
- Ensure your shrubs are spaced properly with adequate room to grow to maturity.
- Avoid overfertilizing. A single feed of a balanced fertilizer in spring is enough for the entire growing season.
- Deadhead flowers after blooming to tidy up plants and encourage reblooming.
- Ensure your plant has excellent drainage as standing in wet feet can cause fatal damage.
Pruning and Maintenance
Spirea will benefit from yearly maintenance as well as the occasional hard pruning. And because they’re fast growers, a liberal pruning has negligible impact to flowering – if done at the right time.
Spring flowering varieties bloom on old growth from the previous year and need to be pruned right after flowering.
Spring canes can be cut right to the ground or trimmed back to any length to keep growth compact.
Summer flowering varieties bloom mostly on new wood from this year’s growth, so these are pruned in the winter following flowering.
Remove any dead wood and trim lightly to shape.
If summer bloomers become overgrown, a more vigorous pruning may be needed. Cut back by as much as two-thirds in winter when plants are dormant.
And both categories will also enjoy a light shear after flowering to remove spent blooms, encourage reblooming, and invigorate foliage.
Frost resistant, established plants don’t require any special winter care. However, new shrubs planted in late summer or fall should be mulched to protect roots from the cold.
And any container plants should be moved to a sheltered location or wrapped with insulation to protect roots from freezing temperatures.
Cultivars to Select
There are many spirea cultivars to choose from, but here’s a few of our favorites.
Japanese (Spiraea japonica)
Japanese spirea is a garden favorite and it offers the largest variety in terms of cultivars, flower color, leaf color, and size. They feature large clusters of pink, purple, rosy red, or white flowers in late spring to mid-summer with fine textured foliage that adds excellent fall color.
Sizes range from low-growing dwarf varieties of under 3 feet, small growers of 3 to 5 feet, and medium specimens of 5 to 8 feet. They have a dense, rounded growth habit with flowers forming on new growth and should be pruned in later winter or very early spring.
Hardy in Zones 3 to 8, they’re deer resistant and attract butterflies. Japanese spirea make a reliable foundation or specimen plant, and are attractive in beds, large containers, mixed-shrub landscapes, as a low border or hedge, and when planted in groups.
You can find a good selection of Japanese spirea at Nature Hills.
Bridalwreath, (Spiraea prunifolia)
Bridalwreath spirea is an old-fashioned classic that’s quickly recognized by its cascades of tiny, double-petaled white flowers on upright, arching branches. Flowers appear in profuse clusters on bare branches before foliage appears in early spring.
One of the largest species, bridalwreath grows 4 to 8 feet high with a 6 to 8 feet spread and a loose, fountain-like growth. In fall, the finely serrated foliage turns shades of orange, red, and yellow for extended interest. Hardy in Zones 3-8, they flower on old wood and should be pruned immediately after flowering.
Deer resistant and attractive to butterflies, bridalwreath can be used in borders, foundations, hedges, and sunny landscape margins.
Buy plants online from Direct Gardening.
Birchleaf (Spiraea betulifolia)
Birchleaf spirea has clusters of small white flowers that cover the foliage in late spring to early summer. A compact, rounded shrub, it grows 3 to 4 feet tall and has a similar spread. Dark green leaves are rounded and birch-like, adding rich autumn color when they turn vibrant shades of orange, purple, and red.
Birchleaf blooms in summer and should be pruned in late winter or early spring. Shear lightly after flowering to encourage reblooming. Hardy in Zones 4-8.
Deer resistant and attractive to butterflies, birchleaf spirea makes a striking foundation or specimen plant and is attractive planted in beds, groups, and rockeries.
You can find birchleaf spirea online at Nature Hills.
Managing Pests and Disease
Spirea rarely suffer from any serious disease or pest problems.
However, being in the rose family, they are occasionally susceptible to some of the same afflictions such as aphids and spider mites as well as powdery mildew.
Both aphids and spider mites can be controlled with a strong jet of water to the top and undersides of leaves and stems. Or, an insecticidal soap or spray of neem oil is also effective against problem insects. Reapply both methods as needed.
You can also add beneficial insects to your garden, like lacewings or ladybugs, for a natural way to control pesky insects.
A fungus that attacks many plants, powdery mildew is easy to spot from its pale dusting of spores on leaves and flowers that causes stunted growth and leaf drop.
Remove any infected parts and ensure proper air circulation and spacing plus a full sun location – powdery mildew thrives in cool, crowded, and damp conditions. If persistent, a fungicide application may be needed.
Quick Reference Growing Chart
|Plant Type:||Woody shrub||Flower / Foliage Color:||Pink, purple, rosy red, white flowers with bright to dark green leaves that turn orange, purple, red in autumn|
|Native to:||Temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere||Maintenance:||Deadhead spent flowers, annual pruning|
|Hardiness (USDA Zone):||4-8, with some more heat and cold tolerant||Soil Type:||Moderate fertility|
|Bloom Time:||Spring blooming varieties flower May-June, summer blooming varieties July-September||Soil pH:||6-7, neutral to slightly acidic|
|Exposure:||Full sun||Soil Drainage:||Well-drained|
|Spacing:||2-15 feet, depending on variety||Companion Planting:||Desert agave, firecracker penstemon|
|Planting Depth:||As deep as the root ball and twice as wide||Uses:||Mixed beds, containers, edging, hedges, rockeries|
|Height:||2-8 feet, depending on variety||Family:||Rosaceae|
|Spread:||Up to 8 feet; depending on variety||Subfamily:||Amygdaloideae|
|Tolerance:||Drought once established, deer|
|Attracts:||Bees and butterflies|
|Pests & Diseases:||Aphids, spider mites, powdery mildew|
Best Uses in the Garden
Spirea makes an excellent foundation or specimen plant in the landscape, in mixed perennial beds, in larger groupings for edging or hedges, or planted en masse for a screen.
Low-growing varieties make a nice addition to smaller gardens and are well-suited to borders, containers, groundcovers, low hedges along pathways and sidewalks, and rockeries.
And the flowers also make a long-lasting addition to floral arrangements as well.
For Every Garden
After learning about this versatile garden shrub, are you inclined to add some to your landscape?
Large or small, spring or summer flowering, there’s a spirea suitable for every garden. Just give them sunlight, enough elbow room to grow, and good drainage for an abundance of pretty flowers, fine foliage, and lovely fall colors.
And if spirea is your thing, don’t miss out on our other care and growing guides such as:
- How to Grow Mellow Yellow ‘Ogon’ Spirea: a Shrub for All Seasons
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About Lorna Kring
A writer, artist, and entrepreneur, Lorna is also a long-time gardener who got hooked on organic and natural gardening methods at an early age. These days, her vegetable garden is smaller to make room for decorative landscapes filled with color, fragrance, art, and hidden treasures. Cultivating and designing the ideal garden spot is one of her favorite activities – especially for gathering with family and friends for good times and good food (straight from the garden, of course)!
Vanhoutte Spirea in bloom
Vanhoutte Spirea in bloom
(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)
Vanhoutte Spirea flowers
Vanhoutte Spirea flowers
(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)
Height: 8 feet
Spread: 10 feet
Hardiness Zone: 3a
Other Names: Bridalwreath Spirea
An old-fashioned favorite, featuring creamy white flowers held along loosely arching branches in spring; large, bushy and spreading habit, best used as a specimen shrub; a garden classic that needs well-drained soil
Vanhoutte Spirea is smothered in stunning white flowers held atop the branches from mid to late spring. It has bluish-green foliage throughout the season. The small serrated lobed leaves do not develop any appreciable fall color. The fruit is not ornamentally significant.
Vanhoutte Spirea is a multi-stemmed deciduous shrub with a shapely form and gracefully arching branches. Its relatively fine texture sets it apart from other landscape plants with less refined foliage.
This shrub will require occasional maintenance and upkeep, and should only be pruned after flowering to avoid removing any of the current season’s flowers. It is a good choice for attracting butterflies to your yard, but is not particularly attractive to deer who tend to leave it alone in favor of tastier treats. Gardeners should be aware of the following characteristic(s) that may warrant special consideration;
Vanhoutte Spirea is recommended for the following landscape applications;
- General Garden Use
Planting & Growing
Vanhoutte Spirea will grow to be about 8 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 10 feet. It tends to be a little leggy, with a typical clearance of 1 foot from the ground, and is suitable for planting under power lines. It grows at a fast rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 20 years.
This shrub should only be grown in full sunlight. It prefers to grow in average to moist conditions, and shouldn’t be allowed to dry out. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments. This particular variety is an interspecific hybrid.
Spiraea x vanhouttei
- Attributes: Genus: Spiraea Family: Rosaceae Life Cycle: Perennial Recommended Propagation Strategy: Division Seed Stem Cutting Country Or Region Of Origin: Canada, China, United States Wildlife Value: Attracts butterflies Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems): deer and drought resistant Dimensions: Height: 5 ft. 0 in. – 8 ft. 0 in. Width: 7 ft. 0 in. – 12 ft. 0 in.
- Whole Plant Traits: Plant Type: Shrub Leaf Characteristics: Deciduous Habit/Form: Arching Broad Mounding Rounded Vase Growth Rate: Rapid Maintenance: Low Texture: Fine
- Cultural Conditions: Light: Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day) Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours) Soil Texture: Clay High Organic Matter Loam (Silt) Shallow Rocky Soil Drainage: Good Drainage Moist NC Region: Coastal Mountains Piedmont Usda Plant Hardiness Zone: 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b
- Fruit: Fruit Color: Brown/Copper Fruit Type: Follicle
- Flowers: Flower Color: White Flower Inflorescence: Umbel Flower Value To Gardener: Showy Flower Bloom Time: Spring Flower Petals: 4-5 petals/rays Flower Size: < 1 inch Flower Description: Infloresenes is in umbellate clusters of 2 inches wide, borne on pins, bloom in April and May. Numerous single white flowers, to 1/3 of an inch diameter form bouquets on pins. Five petals.
- Leaves: Leaf Characteristics: Deciduous Leaf Color: Green Deciduous Leaf Fall Color: Insignificant Leaf Type: Simple Leaf Arrangement: Alternate Leaf Shape: Obovate Rhomboidal Hairs Present: No Leaf Length: 1-3 inches Leaf Description: Leaves 3/4 to 1 3/4 inches long, acute, and cuneate. Apical half is irregularly toothed or incised at the apex half, and sometimes 3-5 lobed. They are dark blue-green above, glaucous below, glabrous.
- Stem: Stem Color: Brown/Copper Stem Is Aromatic: No Stem Surface: Smooth (glabrous) Stem Description: Stems are slender, form at the base, and arch gracefully toward the ground.
- Landscape: Landscape Location: Slope/Bank Walkways Landscape Theme: Drought Tolerant Garden Design Feature: Accent Barrier Border Hedge Mass Planting Attracts: Butterflies Resistance To Challenges: Deer Drought
Common Spirea Growing Mistakes to Avoid
The spirea is a common flowering shrub that is a favorite among landscapers. It comes in multiple varieties with leaf colors that range between green and red. The flowers of the plant include white, pink, and other variations.
Spirea is easy to grow and maintain. However, even though it is easy to cultivate a spirea plant there are several common spirea growing mistakes that you will want to avoid. These mistakes include planting your spirea in an area of your yard that is in full shade, improper spacing, over fertilizing, over watering, and forgetting to deadhead spent flowers.
1. Too Much Shade
The first growing mistake that you can make with your spirea shrub is planting it in full shade. While the spirea will tolerate partial shade it is better to plant it in full sun. Full sun plantings will produce more flowers and these flowers will have more vibrant colors.
2. Improper Spacing
Another mistake that is common when growing spirea is not providing the plants with enough space to spread out. Spirea comes in a variety of sizes and spreads. The smaller varieties tend to have spreads that range between 18 to 24 inches, while the larger varieties can have spreads as wide as four to six feet. If you plant your spirea too close together you will impede their ability to grow and to produce flowers. Always give your spirea enough space to grow without colliding with their neighbor.
3. Over Fertilizing
Over fertilizing is one of the most common growing mistakes made for spirea plants. The spirea does not require a lot of food to grow healthy. They only require an annual feeding of granular all-purpose fertilizer. This feeding can be done either in the fall or in early spring. To apply the fertilizer just sprinkle the granules around the base of your spirea. If you overfeed your spirea you can end up burning the plant, which can kill it.
4. Failing to Deadhead Your Spirea
Deadheading is the process of cutting off flowers that have faded. This process isn’t a requirement for the spirea, but it can be very beneficial.
Deadheading will prevent the production of seeds in the fall and can save you a lot of cleanup work. Also, it will encourage your spirea to produce a second batch of flowers later in the season.
If you fail to deadhead your spirea it will contain both new blooms and wilted blooms which can severely impact its beauty.
5. Over Watering
The most common growing mistake that people make when growing spirea in their yards is over watering it. The spirea can thrive under most conditions; however, it does not tolerate soggy soil. It is because of this that you do not want to give your spirea too much water during the year. Spirea plants generally only need a little extra water during the summer months. The rest of the year it will be able to get the water that it needs from its natural environment.