This diverse group of flowering shrubs comes in a range of sizes, colors, and forms. Plus they're easy-to-grow plants that are hardy in most regions of the country. Some of the old-fashioned varieties of spirea such as bridal wreath, with its timeless elegance and delicate cascading branches covered in frothy white blooms, have been a landscape favorite for decades. However, these older varieties can take up a lot of space and look best when not pruned. Newer varieties work well in suburban yards where colors and size are important.
Spirea japonica is probably the most common member of this group of shrubs. It has a much more manageable size and comes in an assortment of colored foliage and even has a variety of bloom colors. The shape of this spirea is much more dense and short. It forms almost perfectly round mounds that can easily be pruned back to the ground each year to encourage a fresh new spurt of growth. This also helps to prevent them from getting a hollow center, where most of the old growth in the middle of the plant no longer puts out growth and just the tips leaf out.
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The foliage colors are also much more interesting in this group. Some varieties have orange and gold leaves, often with a purple cast to the bottoms of the leaves, which creates a nice multi-color effect. Blooms tend to be a bright, glowing pink that pops against the light gold foliage.
Betulifolia spirea has leaves that resemble miniature birch leaves. This is a great multi-season shrub. Its foliage is covered in white flowers in the spring, with an occasional off-season bloom. Then the best show comes in the fall when the foliage glows with fiery colors of autumn; orange, purples, and yellows look as though they are lit from within as the nights cool down. Much like the japonicas, this spirea can also be sheared to keep them looking neat and tidy; this should be done just after the blooms fade.
Spirea Care Must-Knows
All of the different spireas have fairly similar site requirements. They will ultimately be happiest in full sun with good drainage, but if pushed, they can manage in some shade. They don't need much extra watering once they have become established in your yard (usually after the first year after planting).
More Varieties of Spirea
This variety of Spiraea japonica grows into a 3-foot-tall mound with deep rosy pink flowers in spring. Zones 4-9.
This type of Spiraea japonica forms a dense mound 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Rose pink flowers in spring. Zones 4-9.
Spiraea japonica 'Goldflame' is a small shrub to 2 to 3 feet high, with orange-gold tinted new growth that softens to light green in summer, then copper-orange in fall. It bears pink flowers in early summer. Zones 4-9.
Spiraea nipponica 'Snowmound' bears white flowers that almost smother the branches in early summer. It forms a fast-growing, mounding shrub 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Zones 4-8.
Spirea x vanhouttei 'Van Houtte' forms a vase-shaped shrub to 6 feet tall and wide, bearing white flowers in mid-spring. Zones 4-8.
This Spiraea japonica selection bears bright pink spring flowers and grows 5 feet tall and wide. Zones 4-9.