Plant Spotlight on Spirea
February 17, 2023
Spirea (AKA meadowsweet) is a deciduous woody shrub that’s low-maintenance, long-blooming, and deer-resistant. Most people are familiar with the old-fashioned spirea ‘Bridal veil’ or ‘Bridal wreath’ that features upright, arching branches with their profusion of white spring blooms. As lovely as Bridal veil is there are other spirea species and current cultivars that are well worth seeking out.
With about a hundred species (and cultivars within those species) varying in form, color, and blooms, there’s a spirea for everyone. From the low-growing mounded types to those with fountain-like branches that drape with elegant arches. They may have green, green-blue, or chartreuse leaves, some changing color throughout the seasons with leaves turning to yellow, orange, red and even purple before the drop for the winter. Spirea shrubs fall into spring-blooming or summer-blooming categories. The blossoms may show up as tiny clusters along the length of a branch, as umbel-shaped bouquets, or as cheerful cones of fluff.
Spirea is unfussy and versatile, making it ideal for the home landscape. Planted in rows, meadowsweet makes a lovely hedge or privacy screen. Planted en masse on a hillside, they double as erosion control and the compact cultivars are well-suited for containers.
Sun/Shade: Full sun to light shade.
Height: 2’-10’ feet tall depending on species and variety.
Width: 2’-10’ feet tall depending on species and variety.
Bloom Time: Spring or summer depending on variety.
Bloom Color: White, pink, purple, mauve, or rose-red
Wildlife: Flowers are a nectar source for hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Shrubs provide good cover for birds and small mammals.
Choose a spot that has six hours or more of sun if possible. Spireas bloom reliably and have more vibrant flower and foliage color when they receive full sun. Spring blooming types tolerate light shade better than their summer blooming counterparts. Plant them 2’- 15’ feet apart (check tag for specific variety requirements). Spireas aren’t picky about soil type, however, they do prefer that the soil is well-draining.
Dig a hole that’s twice as wide as the container and a little deeper than the container. Slide the plant from the containers and gently loosen the plant roots. Place the plant into the hole so the top of the root ball sits just above the soil line. This will ensure that once the hole is filled back in and watered, that the plant will be sitting at the soil line. Fill in the newly planted hole, tamp it down a bit, and water it well.
A layer of mulch around the plant will help keep moisture in the soil and suppress weeds. The soil should be kept damp (but not soggy) while it’s becoming rooted in its permanent spot. Once established, spirea shrubs are drought tolerant. In early spring, sprinkle an organic fertilizer around the base of the plant a few inches away from the trunk. Be careful not to over fertilize these plants or you’ll sacrifice blooms for leaves. Dead or broken branches should be removed (pruned) in the winter while the plant is dormant.
- ‘Bridal Veil’ or ‘Bridal Wreath’ (Spiraea prunifolia) is probably the most popular spirea. It’s spreading, arching habit makes a glorious statement when the blooms arrive in the spring.
- ‘Anthony Waterer’ (Spiraea x bumalda) has lance-shaped leaves that change color seasonally. Leaves start out a red-purple, deep blue-green in the summer, then burgundy to purple, and finally yellow in the fall. Blooms are umbels of crimson red.
- ‘Double Play® Candy Corn®’ (Spirea japonica ‘NCSX1’) brings color to the yard in spades! Spring leaves show up in bright red, turning to pineapple yellow, and subsequent leaves coming in orange throughout the season. Late spring or early summer, dark purple flowers sit on top of the yellow leaves.
- 'Crispa' (Spiraea japonica) is a compact 2’-3’ tall shrub that blooms in pink clusters in the summer. The serrated leaves make this spirea stand out.
- ‘Tor’ (Spiraea betulifolia) In May, dome-shaped white flower clusters nest on dark green foliage. One of the showiest spireas for fall, as the leaves turn to gold, red, and bronze.
Generally, spireas bounce back from challenging conditions such as heat, drought, humidity, cold, and poor soils. Another fine quality is that most of them are also deer resistant.