If you’re looking for a versatile blooming shrub, it’s hard to go wrong with spirea.
The many species within the Spiraea genus are easy to grow and hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 8, depending on the type.
They deliver three-season interest, with clusters of flowers appearing in either May to June or July to September, and eye-catching foliage that turns into a riot of colors in autumn.
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What’s not to love? Well, if you’re seeking year-round foliage, this shrub can’t give you that. Spirea plants are not evergreen.
These deciduous plants lose their leaves and go dormant in winter.
That may be a minor issue that you can easily work around, given all the positive traits of these plants.
Or maybe its lack of evergreen foliage will disqualify this woody shrub from a spot in your garden design.
Our guide to growing spirea covers how to cultivate these plants in your landscape.
But before you decide whether this shrub is right for you, let’s look at these topics:
Does Spirea Lose Leaves in the Winter?
Before you decide to grow spireas and then are disappointed in their winter appearance, it’s important to remember that while they are perennials, they are not evergreens.
What’s the difference? Perennials live year after year, though they may experience a period of dormancy in between seasons of growth.
Some live for a couple of years, others grow for decades.
Evergreens are perennials that keep most of their leaves (or needles) throughout the year. They may shed a portion of older foliage on occasion but never become bare.
Those plants that drop their leaves during the winter months are described as deciduous, and in many cases the foliage changes color in fall before it is shed, leaving behind bare branches.
Spirea are not evergreen, they lose their leaves in the winter. Read on to learn more about their life cycle.
The Spirea Life Cycle
The genus Spiraea includes about 80 different woody shrub species.
Their hardiness range is between USDA Zones 4 to 8. Depending on the species, they may be more or less cold hardy, but they can be grown as perennials in most of the US.
Their appeal begins in spring or early summer when they blossom with clusters of pink, purple, or white flowers. These are nectar-rich and will draw hummingbirds and pollinators.
Once the flowers fade, consistent deadheading might encourage more blooms, but eventually, only the green or yellow leaves will remain.
As summer gives way to autumn, the leaves change color while remaining on the plant.
Some varieties are considered a top choice for beautiful orange fall color, while others sport leaves patterned or edged with bronze, burgundy, yellow, or various other hues.
With the advent of winter cold, or merely the shorter days in warmer areas, these shrubs lose their leaves before going dormant.
They’re not evergreen, but some gardeners consider the stark branches with the dry seed heads attractive in the winter landscape.
Before deciding where, or if, to grow spirea in your garden, consider its winter appearance.
If your area doesn’t experience much snow in winter, for example, you may not want to plant a sprawling type somewhere it will be visible to all when it’s bare and the stems are brittle.
You may want to avoid growing it in the front garden, for example, or right outside a vast picture window.
If you’re already hooked on spirea, I get that. These plants offer so many advantages, from the three-season beauty to the appeal to pollinators and hummingbirds.
So, if you’d like to grow them but aren’t enthusiastic about having dead-looking, dry shrubs in the winter landscape, consider a few of these workarounds.
First, you can grow your spirea in containers and spirit them away to a protected but not conspicuous area for their dormant months.
Or, consider choosing one of the smaller varieties to grow so you can place it next to an evergreen in the landscape.
And don’t forget you can always plant the spirea where you want their blooms and colorful foliage during the growing season, then camouflage them with strategically placed container-grown evergreens in the cold months.
One Season of Rest
These plants are so beautiful and versatile that it seems reasonable they’d need one season to lie dormant.
After all, the shrubs bloom in spring, stay green and leafy throughout the summer, and then color up beautifully in autumn. Shouldn’t they be able to take the winter off?
Have you determined whether spirea will suit your garden design and growing needs, or do you still have questions about their winter dormancy? The comments section below awaits your input.
And if you are looking for more tips on selecting or caring for these deciduous ornamental shrubs, read these guides next: