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How to Grow: Spirea
Learn about how to grow spirea shrubs including information on varieties.
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full sun, part sun
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Midsummer in colors of pink, rose, and white
Mature Height x Spread
3 to 8 feet x 3 to 5 feet
drought tolerant, fall color, deer resistant
Spirea is a broad group of durable, deciduous plants that are well adapted to our New England climate. There are a number of different species available to purchase and grow, but they all feature small leaves on thin stems with colorful pink, red or white flower clusters. Depending on the species, the stems can be long and cascading creating a stunning visual when in full bloom. There is nothing like the look of a bridalwreath spirea in full bloom. Other species have more compact growth and are able to fit neatly into a foundation planting or perennial flower border in the landscape. Newer varieties have yellow-green colored leaves that offer a nice contrast to the flower colors. Some varieties have nice fall color as well.
When, Where and How to Plant
Spirea is hardy throughout New England. Purchase plants from your local garden center and plant from spring to early fall in full sun in well-drained soil. Spireas aren’t picky about the type of soil as long as it’s well drained. Space plants 3 to 6 feet apart.
Keep young plants well watered. Once established, spireas are drought tolerant. Add a layer of wood chips or bark mulch in spring to maintain soil moisture and prevent weed growth. Add a layer of compost and an organic plant food in spring to promote new growth.
Regional Advice and Care
Since spirea blooms on new wood, prune the tips of the stems in spring to promote more flowering. Some spireas sucker freely so should be thinned vigorously. Because of this aggressive growth, they can become invasive. Prune after flowering, removing individual stems to the ground. Spirea can also be pruned severely to rejuvenate the shrub. Deadhead spent flowers to keep the plant looking tidy. Spireas can get powdery mildew disease on the leaves. Space plants further apart and spray Serenade organic fungicide to control it.
Companion Planting and Design
Plant large, cascading spireas where they won’t block a view from a window, such as along the side of a garage or on the corner of your foundation. Shorter, more compact varieties fit well in a mixed shrub border with other deciduous shrubs such as forsythia, daphne, and clethra. Compact varieties with attractive foliage also make good anchoring shrubs in a perennial flower border providing visual interest all summer.
‘Bridalwreath’ or ‘Vanhoutte’ spirea is the classic, large, flowing, white flowered spirea with cascading branches. ‘Snowmound’ is a 7-foot tall version that has less disease. ‘Anthony Waterer’ is a popular 4 to 5 feet tall and wide spirea with pink-rose colored blooms and reddish fall foliage color. ‘Goldflame’ is a gold leaf spirea with light pink blooms. It grows 3 feet tall and wide. ‘Goldmound’ is a similar gold leaf version, however the leaves are less likely to fade in full sun and during hot weather.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.
There is one spring blooming shrub that can look magnificent when cared for properly or horrendous when it’s not. It’s the spirea. When allowed to grow into its normal form, a spirea in full flower is breath taking. Unfortunately, so many gardeners plant them in the wrong location and they get too big blocking windows and walkways. They resort to pruning then into little geometric shapes. What a shame.
We mostly know spirea as a colorful ornamental shrub that’s native to Northern climates. However, it’s related to herbaceous perennials, such as filipendula, therefore you’ll sometimes see those plants referred to as spirea as well. The word aspirin, actually, is derived from spirea because the active ingredient, salicylic acid, was first extracted from a filipendula plant.
Spirea shrubs can either be spring or summer blooming, depending on the selection. Many gardeners are familiar with the classic bridalwreath or Vanhouttei spirea. It’s a 6 foot tall shrub with cascading, white flowers in spring. Tor birch leaf spirea is more tame than the bridalwreath, while still having beautiful white spring flowers with great fall foliage color. There are many summer blooming spireas too. One of my favorites is ‘Gold Flame’. It has golden leaves that contrast beautifully with pink flowers on a compact shrub. Deadhead the flowers faithfully and it will rebloom in late summer. ‘Anthony Waterer’ is a common rose-pink flowering spirea that grows only 2 to 3 feet tall. Spireas are also favorites of butterflies and their larvae and make nice, small shrubs in a butterfly garden.
Grow spireas in full sun on well-drained, fertile soil. Most are hardy to zone 3 and 4. Prune spring bloomers after flowering and summer bloomers now. Remove dead, diseased and broken branches and prune to open up crowded centers. Mulch to keep the soil consistently moist.