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Spirea – Ultimate Growing and Care Guide

Some of the most popular and decorative flowering shrubs to grow in the Northern Hemisphere are the stunning Spirea plants. These hardy, deciduous-leaved shrubs are now widely planted and cultivated in many temperate regions throughout the world, offering novice and expert grows alike with highly ornamental appeal and application within their landscapes.

Here is your comprehensive guide to growing and caring for the Spirea bush.

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Spirea – Ultimate Growing and Care Guide

Spirea Plant Details

How to Grow Spirea

They feature narrowly-oval leaves that arrange themselves in a spiralling form, colorful and vibrant foliage, and above all, showy clusters of dense and colorful blooms that can add eye-catching beauty to any garden.

There are many fantastic species of Spirea available and many are commonly planted as ornamental features in temperate gardens. 

Maintenance and care can differ slightly depending on which species you grow but overall, these plants present an easy-going nature and highly attractive features.

The botanical genus Spiraea consists of roughly 80 to 100 different species of shrubs, all forming a part of the family Rosaceae. 

Native to North America and Europe, these plants now thrive in temperate regions across the Northern Hemisphere with most of its diversity occurring in eastern Asia.

Other common names include spirea, meadowsweets, steeplebush, spirea bush and spirea shrub.

Genus:

Spiraea spp

Species:

Several species are available

Common Names:

Spirea, meadowsweets, steeplebush, spirea bush, spirea shrub

Location:

Outdoor

Type: 

Perennial shrub

Growth:

1 to 20 ft. tall and wide (varies depending on species)

Sun Requirements:

Full sun to light shade

Foliage Color:

Green

Flower Color:

Depends on species grown

Flowering:

Spring to summer

Maintenance Level:

Low to medium (varies by species)

Hardiness Zones:

4 to 8

Poisonous for Pets:

Non-toxic to cats and dogs

Meadowsweets Growing Habits

Spirea is also know as meadowsweets, steeplebush, spirea bush and spirea shrub

In cultivation, these plants will usually reach between 1 to 10 feet tall and wide but there are many regions where they can grow up to 20 feet tall.

They are considered fast-growing in optimal conditions and with many species, varieties and cultivars to choose from, there’s an option for every garden size or setting. 

Spirea shrubs can be sorted into two categories, namely the spring blooming and the summer-blooming types. Spring-blooming spirea features an elegantly cascading habit with prolific clusters of white blooms atop bowing branches.

Summer-blooming species of spirea feature delicate white, pink or reddish flowers that sit upon more upright branches. Both types are widely adored for their blooms and attractive forms within landscapes. Both also produce 5-petalled flowers that are usually formed as dense panicles or grape-like clusters.

These shrubs are most commonly planted as focal plants in gardens, as part of larger groups to be used as screens or borders or finally, used as informal hedging.

It’s also good to know that they can be grown in large containers but might need to be overwintered indoors if you live in an area that experiences extremely cold harsh winters.


Popular Spirea Varieties

Here are some of the more popular spirea varieties to grow in North America. There are naturally many more available so be sure to chat to your local professionals for more tailored information on the best varieties for your area. 

Japanese spirea (Spirea japonica)


Commonly known as Japanese meadowsweet or Japanese spirea, this variety can grow between 4 to 7 feet tall and wide, producing delicate clusters of rosy-pink flowers.


Native to Japan, China and Korea, these deciduous perennial shrubs are now found in many gardens across the Northern Hemisphere. 

Spirea japonica is commonly known as Japanese meadowsweet or Japanese spirea

Bridal Wreath Spirea (Spirea prunifolia) 


Known as ‘Bridal Wreath Spirea’, this larger growing variety blooms in mid-spring and features drastic drapes of colorful foliage that produces some of the most striking white blooms of the genus.


This variety grows to about 4 to 8 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide.

Spirea prunifolia is commonly known as Bridal Wreath Spirea

Spiraea japonica 'Gold Mound'


One of the most popular cultivars of the Japanese spirea. This cultivar features bright golden foliage that turns to a brilliant yellow in autumn and bright pink flowers. It normally grows to 2 to 3 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. 

Gold Mound Spirea is one of the most popular cultivars of the Japanese spirea

Spiraea japonica 'Goldflame'

Another brilliant variety of the Japanese spirea, this shrub grows more compact and is particularly adored for its colorful, variegated foliage that shimmers with hues of bronze, yellow-green and copper as the seasons progress.


This shrub will grow to around 3 to 4 feet tall and wide in cultivation.

Spirea Goldflame grow to around 3 to 4 feet tall and wide in cultivation

Spiraea japonica 'Little Princess'

This is yet another excellent cultivar of the Japanese spirea. It is more compact, usually growing to 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. It also features pink blooms that occur in summer.


These cultivars are extremely resistant to pests and diseases which is why they are so widely distributed today.

Little Princess Spirea features pink blooms that occur in summer

Vanhoutte Spirea (Spiraea vanhouttei)


Known as ‘Vanhoutte Spirea’, this variety is notorious for its spectacular springtime blossoms.


It produces abundant clusters of brilliant white flowers and attractive diamond-shaped blue-green leaves. It can create a gorgeous silhouette with its arching, pendulous branches. 


This is a hybrid spirea, sharing some of its characteristics with the Bridal Wreath spirea however, this particular spirea is considered by many to be one of the best introduced.

Spiraea vanhouttei produces abundant clusters of brilliant white flowers and attractive diamond-shaped blue-green leaves

Snowmound Spirea (Spirea nipponica) 


Commonly known as ‘Snowmound Spirea’, this very popular cultivar usually grows to 4 to 8 feet tall and wide.


It features graceful, spreading branches with dark-green foliage and an abundance of white flower clusters that bloom in mid to late spring.


Cut stems look fantastic in floral arrangements and this variety also makes for an excellent feature specimen in landscapes.

Spirea nipponica is commonly known as Snowmound Spirea

Japanese spirea (Spirea japonica)

Spirea japonica is commonly known as Japanese meadowsweet or Japanese spirea

Commonly known as Japanese meadowsweet or Japanese spirea, this variety can grow between 4 to 7 feet tall and wide, producing delicate clusters of rosy-pink flowers.

Native to Japan, China and Korea, these deciduous perennial shrubs are now found in many gardens across the Northern Hemisphere. 

Bridal Wreath Spirea (Spirea prunifolia) 

Spirea prunifolia is commonly known as Bridal Wreath Spirea

Known as ‘Bridal Wreath Spirea’, this larger growing variety blooms in mid-spring and features drastic drapes of colorful foliage that produces some of the most striking white blooms of the genus. This variety grows to about 4 to 8 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide.

Spiraea japonica 'Gold Mound'

Gold Mound Spirea is one of the most popular cultivars of the Japanese spirea

One of the most popular cultivars of the Japanese spirea. This cultivar features bright golden foliage that turns to a brilliant yellow in autumn and bright pink flowers. It normally grows to 2 to 3 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. 

Spiraea japonica 'Goldflame'

Spirea Goldflame grow to around 3 to 4 feet tall and wide in cultivation

Another brilliant variety of the Japanese spirea, this shrub grows more compact and is particularly adored for its colorful, variegated foliage that shimmers with hues of bronze, yellow-green and copper as the seasons progress. This shrub will grow to around 3 to 4 feet tall and wide in cultivation.

Spiraea japonica 'Little Princess'

Little Princess Spirea features pink blooms that occur in summer

This is yet another excellent cultivar of the Japanese spirea. It is more compact, usually growing to 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. It also features pink blooms that occur in summer.

These cultivars are extremely resistant to pests and diseases which is why they are so widely distributed today. 

Vanhoutte Spirea (Spiraea vanhouttei)

Spiraea vanhouttei produces abundant clusters of brilliant white flowers and attractive diamond-shaped blue-green leaves

Known as ‘Vanhoutte Spirea’, this variety is notorious for its spectacular springtime blossoms. It produces abundant clusters of brilliant white flowers and attractive diamond-shaped blue-green leaves.

It can create a gorgeous silhouette with its arching, pendulous branches. This is a hybrid spirea, sharing some of its characteristics with the Bridal Wreath spirea however, this particular spirea is considered by many to be one of the best introduced. 

Snowmound Spirea (Spirea nipponica) 

Spirea nipponica is commonly known as Snowmound Spirea

Commonly known as ‘Snowmound Spirea’, this very popular cultivar usually grows to 4 to 8 feet tall and wide. It features graceful, spreading branches with dark-green foliage and an abundance of white flower clusters that bloom in mid to late spring.

Cut stems look fantastic in floral arrangements and this variety also makes for an excellent feature specimen in landscapes.


How to Grow Spirea 

These days, many nurseries and garden centres will stock healthy young bushes that can be transplanted into the desired location in your garden. Alternatively, these shrubs can be grown from seeds or propagated using soft or hardwood cuttings

Ideal Conditions for Planting Spirea Bush

Plant spirea between spring and fall for the best results. These shrubs are hardy and can tolerate cooler environments with some frost. For areas that experience very cold and harsh winters, consider container growing so you can move your plants indoors over winter.

Lighting for Meadowsweets

This shrub will perform best when grown in full sun. It can tolerate some light shade but needs at least 6 hours of full sun each day to look its best and flower prolifically.

The more full shade they get, the more stunted the growth and the fewer the blooms they produce.

Best Soil for Spirea Plant

The soil must be well-draining as these shrubs hate sitting with wet feet. This can also quickly lead to root rot issues, especially when combined with overwatering.

Soil that is neutral to slightly acidic with a pH of around 6 to 7 tends to work best for these plants. If you’re worried about your soil, you can always regularly test to see if any amendments are needed. See our in-depth article on how soil amendments can benefit your garden.

Propagating Spirea

What are Spirea Shrubs

Growing Steeplebush from Seed

  • It is best to germinate seeds during early spring. 
  • Place your seeds in a damp paper towel and keep them in a dark room or area until the healthy seeds begin to sprout. 
  • Thereafter, plant each sprouted seed into 12-inch pots filled with a quality potting or seedling mix. 
  • Water lightly after sowing then cover each pot with some plastic wrap and place them outside in the sun. 
  • The added humidity should lead to the seedlings sprouting with new growth in only a couple of weeks. 
  • Keep your young spirea plants growing in these containers for about a full year to allow them to mature and develop before transplanting them into their forever home in the garden. 

Spirea Propagation Using Softwood Cuttings

  • In springtime, use sharpened and sterilized shears to cut away healthy stems that are 10 to 12 inches long. 
  • Remove the bottom leaves from each cutting then dip them into rooting hormone and plant 4 to 5 cuttings into a 6-inch container filled with moist, well-draining soil. 
  • Cover the cuttings with some plastic wrap and place them in a warm location with dappled light. 
  • Occasionally check to make sure the soil is moist. 
  • Expect new growth within about a month. 
  • Allow the plant to establish itself for a few more months before moving in later in summer. 

Propagating Spirea Using Hardwood Cuttings

  • Take your hardwood cuttings in winter when the plant is dormant. 
  • Trim the top and bottom of your stems just above the leaf nodes. 
  • Plant each cutting into 4 to 6 inches of well-draining soil and keep moist.
  • Expect new growth next spring where you can further establish your cuttings and eventually move them to their permanent positions in your landscape.

Tips on How and When to Prune Spirea

Are you wondering how and when to prune your spirea that is growing in your beautiful garden? If this is your first time pruning them, then knowing how and when to do this is essential.

In this way, you won’t be able to damage it and you can easily keep it looking as good as possible.

Why is Pruning Spirea Needed?

Spirea shrubs are one of the gorgeous bushes that can produce flowers and can help brighten up your garden

Before we get to it, it would be best to understand the reasons why pruning spirea is so important. One is it will help you maintain the height that it has and spread the shrub evenly, giving it a coherent appearance.

The shape will also be preserved, which means that it will remain attractive for a long time. Another reason for pruning is to remove the damaged or diseased branches or any growth that is already dead.

If you see any of these problems, you need to make sure to prune them no matter what time of the year it is. Pruning will also encourage the growth of more blooms and lastly, it will remove and prevent any unwanted spreading of the plant.


When to Prune Spirea Shrubs?

When to Prune Spirea Shrubs

Depending on the type of Spirea, most types of Spirea can be pruned once they start flowering. Some of the varieties of Spirea that can be pruned after the flowering process are Spirea Japonica, Spirea Little Princess, Spirea Snowmound and Spirea Arguta. 

The best way that you can trim Spirea is towards the end of its growing season. You can start choosing the oldest one to help open the shrub up. Some should be pruned at the start of the growing season, typically, during the spring season.

If you want to have a lot of new growth and prolific flowering, then it would be best to trim the Spirea during the early days of spring. You can start removing a lot of the old growth.

Typically, some Spirea varieties can handle severe trimming, being able to rejuvenate themselves during the early spring as this is the time when the buds are already swelling.


How to Trim Spirea

How to Trim Spirea

1. Prepare Your Cutting Tools

When trimming, the shears that will be used for cutting should be cleaned, and they need to be sharpened as well. The reason behind this is that diseases might spread along the plant, which you don’t want to happen.

The shears should be cleaned using a solution of bleach and water as this will offer superior disinfection. 

2. Trimming the Tips

The first thing that you need to do is to cut the tip of the Spirea after you see the flowers. It would be best to trim the tips of the stem, which is usually at the topmost part of the bud on each of the stems.

As you are trimming, it would be best to maintain the shrub’s shape. You also need to make sure to trim the ones that are already dead, as this will help encourage the growth of new buds.

3. Trimming Shoots that are Overgrown

The next thing that you need to do is to start trimming the shoots that are overgrown during the summer season to ensure that the shape of the shrub will be maintained and tidiness will be supported.

If possible, it would be best to trim within one-fourth of an inch from the bud or the leaf. Another step that you need to do is to start trimming your Spirea which has become overgrown. You also need to trim the stems that are lower on the shrub or are starting to fall.

Each stem should be cut back by 8 to 12 inches off of the ground. During the spring season, the trimmed Spirea can grow a new stem, which will be capable of flowering back.

4. Trim Dead or Damaged Wood

Lastly, it would be best to check your Spirea during the winter season to see if there are damaged or dead stems. Once you see one, it would be best to trim them immediately.

These are the tips on when to trim and how you can trim your Spirea bushes. Of course, it would be best to know how you can take care of them as well. Below are a few tips on how you can do this.


Caring for Spirea

Caring for Spirea

Adding Mulch Around Spirea

Once you have planted your Spirea, you need to add some mulch around it as this will help your plant retain moisture. You can use different types of mulch and the more natural the mulch, the better.

Watering Spirea

Of course, it would be best to water your Spirea regularly, especially during the summer season. This will encourage your Spirea to promote growth and blooms that are healthy.

Watch Out for Aphids

There will always be insects lurking around and knowing how you can get rid of aphids is important. Though they rarely cause serious enough damage to warrant treatment, there are many different treatments to choose from like insecticides, neem oils or other horticultural sprays. 

Alternatively, spraying them with water and knocking them off the plant can also be effective.

How to Prune Spirea

Don’t Worry About Cutting Your Spirea

First-timers are usually nervous when it comes to pruning, and you shouldn’t be. The reason behind this is that Spirea can cope with pruning even if you prune them vigorously since they can grow back no matter how severe the pruning is.

If you have newly planted shrubs, you don’t need to worry about pruning them that much. All you have to do is to give them a light trimming or reshaping during their first year.

Keep a Few Buds per Stem

When cutting the stem of the Spirea, it would be best to cut them back so that there will be a few buds left on it. For you to successfully do this, make sure that your pruning shears or gardening shears are sharp. 

If you don't have one yet, be sure to check out our buyer's guide on the best rated secateurs for 2022

If you see any decaying or diseased growth, it would be best to remove them immediately. Weak-looking stems and growth should also be removed.

Start Thinning the Spirea Out

Now for you to ensure that the bush of the Spirea will not become too dense, you need to ensure that the branches that are located in the middle will be thinned out.

This will help the congestion to be removed. To do this, cut some of the branches that are making your Spirea bush thick from the central area of your shrub.

How to Grow Spirea

Removing the Suckers from Spirea

The next thing that you need to do is to ensure that any suckers that are undesired should be removed. The suckers are the shoots that are growing out of the rootstock of the plant. 

You can do this by scraping some of the soil around your roots and start tearing the suckers off. It would always be best to just scrape them instead of cutting them to prevent the suckers from growing back.

Provide Post-Pruning Care

Now, once you are done pruning your Spirea, it would be best to give them some care. Provide them with some fertilizer, water and a new batch of mulch to boost their nutrient intake after pruning. Find out how much mulch you need in your garden here. 

When choosing a fertilizer, it would be best to choose a slow-release fertilizer. Bone, fish and blood are known to be good options. Start scattering the fertilizer under the Spirea and gently rake it into your soil.

When it comes to watering, try to avoid overwatering as doing this, especially if your soil can’t be drained easily, can ruin the leaves and turn them into a yellow color.

It is also ideal to add 2 inches of well-rotted, leaf mould or compost (learn how to make your own compost here) around the Spirea plant as these things can perfectly act as the mulch. Another thing that you can do with your Spirea besides pruning is dividing them.

The reason behind this is that after growing your Spirea they tend to become clustered and dividing them is a good way to keep each plant healthy and thriving.  

To do this, you can divide the plant at their roots, which will not only help them be revived but will also help to remove any old growth. You can do this during the late fall season when they are dormant.

Also read: Common Pruning Mistakes | What to Look Out For and Avoid

Here are more tips on pruning Spirea:


Meadowsweets Frequently Asked Questions

Is spirea an invasive plant? 

Japanese spirea is considered an invasive species in many states, growing rapidly and interfering with our native plants. Be sure to always first check with your local authorities if you’re permitted to plant any specific species of plant in your area if you’re concerned. 

Does spirea stay green in winter?

Being a deciduous genus of shrubs, they will lose their leaves in winter and enter a dormant stage. They are hardy and will come back the following growing season. 

What plants go well with spirea?

The best plants to use around spirea shrubs are other sun-loving shrubs, perennials and annuals. Some companion plants may include:


Add Spectacle to Your Outdoor Spaces with Spirea

Regardless of which stunning spirea you choose to establish, they can easily add long-lasting beauty, spectacle and interest to any garden.

Requiring only basic maintenance and being perfectly suited to our endemic conditions in North America, these shrubs are an easy pick for any gardener looking to establish a flowering shrub in their landscapes.

Whether used as a feature, planted alongside other shrubs, used as an informal hedge or used to fill borders and beds, spirea shrubs are truly fantastic options regardless of the size or setting of your garden.

About the Author Mabel Vasquez

Mabel has enjoyed a long career as a horticulturist, working in nurseries and greenhouses for many years. Although she loves all plants, Mabel has developed a particular passion over the years for herb gardens and indoor plants. Mabel has since retired from her horticulture career and loves sharing her many years of experience with our audience here at Sumo Gardener.

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