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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, March 24, 2018 1:00 am

Spiraea an easy, colorful option for outdoor decor

Ricky Kemery

Question: I am looking for some smaller flowering shrubs to plant in front of the house. Any thoughts?

Answer: A group of shrubs called spiraea come to mind. Spiraeas are among the easiest flowering shrubs to grow. The group sports flower colors of white, pink, or crimson. Spiraea prefers well-drained soils that have lots of organic matter, but can also do just fine in poor soils and city locations. Wet, boggy soils are not tolerated. Most spiraeas needs full sun to flower well. Spiraea is used in the landscape for hedges, shrub border, mass plantings and as a foundation plant.

Since spiraea is a spring blooming shrub, the best time to prune an establish plant is in late spring after the flowers have faded. Thinning older spiraea is also recommended. Cutting some of the older stems to the ground will keep the plants looking tidy.

The newest cultivars of spiraea belong to the Double Play line. They are called double play because not only do they sport flowers and colorful foliage in the spring, but members of this group also exhibit fall color.

Other tried and true cultivars are Anthony Watrerer with deep pink flowers, Gold flame with gold foliage and lavender flowers and Shirbori with pink, rose and white flowers, all on the same plant. Little Princess is a little cutie reaching 2 to 3 feet with lavender flowers. This one seems very adaptable to heat and drought.

Folks who own historic homes with higher foundations should consider Bridal Wreath Spirea (S. prunifolia). This shrub is an early blooming, deciduous shrub with white, double flowers that appear before the foliage in the spring. This spiraea grows to about 6 feet tall and wide. Fall color is red to orange. These are often found at old home sites and are hardy from USDA zones 5 to 8. Other species of spiraea, such as the Vanhoutte spiraea, are often sold as “bridal wreath spiraeas” in catalogs.

Vanhoutte spiraea (S. x vanhouttei) is a deciduous broadleaf shrub with an arching branch habit that can grow 5 to 8 feet high and spread as much as 7 to 10 feet wide. The small leaves are blue-green in summer with no appreciable fall color. Masses of small, white flower clusters cover the plant in the spring. Many older homes in Fort Wayne still have this species planted in the landscape.

Harder to find, Thunberg spiraea is a showy, graceful shrub from 3 to 5 feet high and wide, with many slender, arching branches. The small, narrow, toothed leaves turn orange in late fall. The tiny white flowers are clustered in the axils along the stems in spring. More than any other spiraea, it has a feathery appearance.

It should be mentioned that some spiraea are considered invasive in the southeastern U.S., and some landscape purists believe they are overused. Even though spiraeas are not native shrubs, they are extremely useful as foundation shrubs because they seem tolerant of our clay soils and have few insect or disease issues in our area.

The Plant Medic, written by Ricky Kemery, appears every other Saturday. Kemery retired as the extension educator for horticulture at the Allen County branch of the Purdue Extension Service.