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Showy Spireas Update the Heirloom Classic

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Spirea x bumalda 'Goldflame' Robert E. Lyons©

Spirea x bumalda ‘Goldflame’
Robert E. Lyons©

The old garden-variety Vanhoutte spirea must now take a bow to the compact, colorful Bumald spireas. Garden designers are getting the message out that contemporary landscapes are better served with showy foliage and myriad textures provided by interesting woody ornamentals.

The Bumald spirea hybrids, a cross between S. albiflora and S. japonica, have demonstrated that they are here to stay in our Carolina landscapes. These dwarf species comprise numerous cultivars that can light up a garden with golden yellow, bronze or lime-green foliage and contrasting pinkish or multi-colored flowers. Mainstream selections such as ‘Little Princess,’ ‘Goldflame,’ ‘Goldmound’ and ‘Limemound’ can now be found at most piedmont area nurseries.

The dwarf spireas are as tough as their heirloom cousins, but they offer color in the summer when most shrubs are showing the summer doldrums. Most cultivars will grow to 3 to 4 feet high with similar spread and are virtually carefree. You will find that this deciduous shrub is right at home in a low border or used en masse. The colorful varieties can be placed to draw attention to an entrance or garden gate.

Spirea 'Crispa' Robert E. Lyons©

Spirea ‘Crispa’
Robert E. Lyons©

Container grown plants are easy to transplant and are adapted to a wide range of soil types but avoid low, wet sites. Give them full sun in an open area and they will be delightful companions. Spireas have few pest problems and are considered drought tolerant when established. Keep plants low by pruning after they bloom. Creeping junipers are good companion plants.

The newest cultivars that can be used for botanical accents in the landscape include ‘Neon Flash,’ with reddish purple new growth and vivid red clusters of flowers, and ‘Golden Sunrise,’ with the brightest yellow foliage yet.

A stroll through the JC Raulston Arboretum (JCRA) in Raleigh will provide a firsthand look at many more selections.

Learn more about the JCRA and its plants and programs at jcra.ncsu.edu.