How to Grow and Care for Spirea Bushes

Spiraea

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.

Close up of delicate pink clustered flowers of a spirea bush.

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.

A mass of tiny white flowers on a spirea bush.

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.

A spirea bush in the autumn displaying dark read leaves and woody stems.

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.

Propagation

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.

Close up of dark, rich pink purple flowers of Spirea billardii.

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.

Growing Tips

  • 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.

A pair of clippers remove spen spirea flowers.

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.

A pair of human hands prunes branches of Spirea Japanoica.

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 of 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.

Various shades of pink flowers of Spiraea japonica in bloom.

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.

Close up photo of the white flowers of Spiraea prunifolia.

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.

Spring flowers of Bridalwreath Spiraea prunifolia in bloom.

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.

White flower clusters of Spiraea betulifolia in bloom in the summer.

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, or white flowers with bright to dark green leaves that turn orange, purple, or red in autumn
Native to: Temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere Maintenance: Deadheading 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 in May and June, summer blooming varieties from July to September Soil pH: 6-7, neutral to slightly acidic soil
Exposure: Full sun Soil Drainage: Well-drained
Spacing: 2 to 15 feet apart, depending on species, cultivar, and mature size 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 species cultivar Family: Rosaceae
Spread: Up to 8 feet; depending on species cultivar Subfamily: Amygdaloideae
Water Needs: Average Genus: Spiraea
Tolerance: Drought tolerant once established, deer resistant
Attracts: Bees and butterflies
Pests & Diseases: Aphids, spider mites, and powdery mildew, though rarely problematic

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.

Spirea forming two living walls surrounding a series of stone terraced steps.

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:

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

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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)!

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