Double Play® ‘Gold’ (Spiraea japonica)
Photo by: Proven Winners

Like hydrangea, rhododendron, and lilac, spirea (or spiraea) has joined the ranks as one of the most popular flowering shrubs for the home garden. Their long-lasting blooms and ability to serve a variety of landscape functions — from mass plantings and perennial borders to groundcovers and informal hedges — have made them a staple in gardens of all sizes. If you’re only familiar with the traditional bridal wreath spirea, a large shrub that can become ungainly if not pruned, you’ll love the versatility and carefree nature of the newer spirea cultivars showcased here. They not only have tidier growth habits but also more vibrant foliage, so they provide seasonal interest even when not in bloom.

On this page: Spirea Basics | Types to Try | Planting Spirea | Spirea Care | Spirea Landscaping Tips

SPIREA BASICS

Zones:

Most are hardy from zones 4-8, but some varieties are more heat and cold tolerant.

Size range:

1 to 8 feet tall and up to 6 feet wide.

Light exposure:

For the best foliage color and flower production, give spirea full sun (at least 6 hours of direct light daily).

Soil preference:

Well-drained, neutral to slightly acidic soil (pH 6 to 7).

Bloom period:

Spirea bushes are classified as spring-blooming (budding out in May and June) or summer-blooming (budding out in July and August) varieties.

Growth rate:

Moderate to fast.

Wildlife benefits:

Attracts bees and butterflies; deer resistant.

Invasive:

Some species seed aggressively in parts of the country. Check with local experts for regionally appropriate spirea selections. New cultivars, such as Double Play Doozie® spirea have been developed to be seedless and non-invasive, or consider sweetspire or summersweet as alternatives.

Learn more: Where is this species invasive in the US?

TYPES TO TRY

Japanese spirea (Spiraea japonica):

Available in a wide array of cultivars, Japanese spirea offers the most variety in terms of size, flower color, and leaf color. It produces abundant clusters of white, light pink, rosy red or purple flowers that adorn the branches in late spring and summer. Sizes range from dwarf types, such as ‘Little Princess’, to larger shrubs that grow to 5 feet or taller. Most varieties have finely textured green or blue-green leaves, but some cultivars have yellow or chartreuse foliage that changes color throughout the season.

Bridal wreath spirea (Spiraea prunifolia):

This old-fashioned classic is instantly recognizable by its tiny carnation-like double white flowers that cover the bare branches in early spring. One of the largest of the spirea species, bridal wreath reaches 4 to 8 feet high and 6 to 8 feet wide and has loose, arching branches that give it a fountain-like effect. In fall, the finely serrated green leaves turn shades of yellow, red, and orange.

Nippon spirea (Spiraea nipponica):

Nippon spirea is an upright, mounded shrub reaching 4 to 5 feet tall and wide, with graceful overhanging branches. Bouquet-like clusters of small white flowers smother the branches in late spring. The deep blue-green leaves are a handsome attribute during the summer months.

Birchleaf spirea (Spiraea betulifolia):

A compact, rounded shrub growing 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. White flowers appear in early to midsummer, but this spirea is at its most colorful in autumn, when the dark green, birch-like leaves turn rich shades of red, orange, and purple

Early spirea (Spiraea thunbergii):

This 3- to 5-foot-tall spirea is one of the first to bloom in early spring. The white umbrella-shaped flowers emerge on slender, arching branches before the finely textured pale-green foliage, which takes on yellow and orange tones in fall.

PLANTING SPIREA

Double Play® Blue Kazoo® Spirea

When to plant:

Spring or fall

Where to plant:

Make sure you have chosen a site that drains well and receives at least 6 hours of sun each day.

How to plant:

Dig a hole that is twice as wide as the container and just as deep. Remove the plant from its container and gently loosen any tightly wound roots. Place the plant in the hole and backfill with the excavated soil. Water thoroughly to settle the soil. Cover with a 2-3” layer of mulch, keeping it away from the stems.

Spacing:

Space spirea plants 2 to 15 feet apart, depending on the expected mature width of the plant and the application. To create dense, full spirea hedges, you can space your plants more closely together as long as you give them some elbow room.

SPIREA CARE

Fertilizing:

Spireas are not heavy feeders, so they’ll do fine with an application of controlled-release fertilizer in early spring, which should provide enough sustenance for the entire growing season.

Watering:

Keep newly planted spireas well-watered until they become established. Mature spireas are drought tolerant and only need watering when the soil becomes dry. Spireas don’t like wet feet, so avoid oversaturating the soil.

Pruning spirea:

Don’t hesitate to give spireas a liberal pruning, if needed, to maintain their shape and to remove dead or broken branches. This is best done in late winter or early spring while your plants are dormant. Giving spireas another lighter pruning after they bloom in spring or early summer will promote new blooms and reinvigorate foliage growth. Because spireas are fast growers, they will recover quickly.

Pests and diseases:

Spirea generally aren't bothered by any serious pest or disease problems. However, they are related to roses and can be susceptible to the same pests and diseases as roses, such as leaf spot, powdery mildew and aphids.

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Photo by: Spring Meadow Nursery / Proven Winners

Double Play Doozie®Buy now from Proven Winners
Spiraea japonica

Zones:

3 to 8

Bloom time:

Late spring to fall

Height and spread:

2 to 3 feet tall & wide

This seedless,non-invasive variety blooms non-stop from spring until fall. Deep red foliage emerges in early spring, followed by purple-red flowers in late spring.

Photo by: Spring Meadow Nursery / Proven Winners

Double Play® Big Bang™Buy now from Proven Winners
Spiraea japonica

Zones:

3 to 8

Bloom time:

Late spring to midsummer

Height and spread:

2 to 3 feet tall & wide

Giving you three seasons of show-stopping color and extra-large pink blooms, this spirea truly creates a big bang wherever it’s planted. The blast of color begins in the spring with the emergence of bright orange foliage that turns radiant yellow in the summer before transitioning back to golden orange in autumn. The giant clusters of pure pink blooms appear in late spring, creating a dazzling contrast with the yellow foliage.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Double Play® Candy Corn®Buy now from Proven Winners
Spiraea japonica

Zones:

4-7

Bloom time:

Late spring through midsummer

Height and spread:

1½ to 2½ feet tall & wide

This exquisite little spirea may have the most colorful foliage around, emerging candy-apple red in the spring and maturing to yellow and pumpkin orange as the season progresses. Adding to its eye-candy appeal are dark purple flowers that appear in late spring. Give it a light shearing after the first flush of blooms and enjoy an encore performance that lasts into fall. Otherwise, little pruning is needed to maintain this shrub’s compact, mounded shape.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Wedding Cake®Buy now from Proven Winners
Spiraea nipponica

Zones:

4-8

Bloom time:

Late spring through early summer

Height and spread:

3 to 4 feet tall & wide

Growing no taller than waist level, this elegant white-flowering spirea takes the cake over its taller cousin ‘Snowmound’, maintaining a neat, rounded shape well suited for smaller gardens, especially as a hedge plant or dramatic focal point. A profusion of lily white flowers in late spring creates a striking contrast with the dark blue-green foliage.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Double Play® Blue Kazoo®Buy now from Proven Winners
Spiraea media

Zones:

3-8

Bloom time:

Spring, Summer & Fall

Height and spread:

2 to 3 feet tall & wide

Blue foliage shifts colors through the year through shades of red, purple and green. This variety does well in partly shady conditions and isn't fussy about watering or soil conditions either. Blooms with crisp white flowers starting in late spring. A great non-invasive choice for eastern U.S.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Glow Girl® ('Tor Gold')Buy now from Proven Winners
Spiraea betulifolia

Zones:

3-9

Bloom time:

Early to late spring

Height and spread:

3 to 4 feet tall & wide

This gold-leafed version of birchleaf spirea provides a longer season of interest, with sunny yellow spring foliage that matures to chartreuse in summer and turns warm shades of red, orange, and purple in fall. In early spring, flower buds with hints of red open into clusters of pure white flowers. Extremely cold hardy and heat tolerant.

Photo by: Anna Gratys / Shutterstock.com

'Goldflame'
Spiraea japonica

Zones:

4-8

Bloom time:

Early to midsummer

Height and spread:

3 to 4 feet tall & wide

If your garden needs some color to offset one-note green-leafed shrubs and evergreens, the striking foliage of spirea ‘Goldflame’ provides the perfect counterpoint. In spring, the leaves are bronze-red, shifting to bright yellow-green in the summer and rich coppery orange in the fall. An explosion of rosy pink flowers in early summer stands out in vivid contrast. Also try S. japonica 'Goldmound', which has similar color-shifting foliage that emerges bright golden yellow in the spring and transitions to chartreuse in the summer and an attractive orange-red in the fall.

Photo by: Anna Gratys / Shutterstock.com

'Little Princess'
Spiraea japonica

Zones:

4-8

Bloom time:

May to July

Height and spread:

2 feet tall and 3 feet wide

Completely enrobed in dainty clusters of light pink flowers from late spring through early summer, ‘Little Princess’ reigns supreme as a showy low-maintenance accent shrub for gardens with limited space. A dense, tight growth habit keeps it looking neat and tidy without pruning. The finely textured mint-green leaves turn a striking coppery bronze in fall.

Photo by: Erika Kirkpatrick / Shutterstock.com

'Magic Carpet’
Spiraea japonica

Zones:

3-8

Bloom time:

Early summer through fall

Height and spread:

1 to 2 feet tall, 2 feet wide

This low-growing mounded spirea shrub is ideal for creating eye-catching borders that provide continual interest. In spring, the new leaves are vibrant red, gradually maturing to gold while retaining red tips at the ends of the branches. In summer, clusters of deep pink flowers set off the bright gold foliage and continue sporadically well into fall.

Photo by: Anna Gratys / Shutterstock.com

'Anthony Waterer'
Spiraea japonica

Zones:

4-8

Bloom time:

May to August

Height and spread:

2 to 3 feet tall, 3 to 4 feet wide

One of the oldest and most popular of the Japanese spireas, 'Anthony Waterer' has set the bar high for other cultivars to follow. From late spring through midsummer, it flaunts frilly 6-inch clusters of carmine-pink flowers set against a backdrop of attractive blue-green foliage. In autumn, the leaves turn attractive shades of red.

SPIREA LANDSCAPING TIPS

  • Low-growing mounded varieties work nicely in smaller gardens and can be used to form shrub borders, groundcovers, low hedges along pathways, and fillers in the perennial garden.
  • Spireas are also attractive additions to butterfly and cottage gardens.
  • Dwarf varieties can be grown in containers on a patio or balcony.
  • Mix in landscape beds with other flowering shrubs like abelia and weigela.

RELATED:
Best Flowering Shrubs for Season-Long Color
The Best Deer Resistant Plants for Your Garden
21 Low-Maintenance Plants

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