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Virginia Sweetspire, A Great Native Shrub

I am very pleased with Virginia Sweetspire, Itea virginica. Several of these shrubs grow on the outer edge of my woodland garden, farthest from the house. I almost forgot about them this year, until their abundant 4 inch long tassels of white blooms caught my attention.

How beautiful, I thought as I examined the mildly fragrant racemes of flowers. I have done little for these shrubs since I planted them a couple years ago. How nice that they rewarded me without any fuss. 

As lovely as the late spring to early summer flowers are, the most outstanding feature of this deciduous shrub is its fabulous autumn foliage. The names of several popular cultivars reflect that attribute, including 'Henry's Garnet' and 'Merlot.'Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet' grows in my woodland garden. I love the gorgeous colors of its fall foliage.

Itea virginica is native to the eastern part of North America, and it reminds me of how little maintenance is required of plants that are indigenous to a region. In the wild, Virginia Sweetspire naturalizes easily. It has an erect form with arching branches. My young Virginia Sweetspire is about three feet tall.It will spread by root suckers and can form thickets. It is an excellent plant for erosion control. The root-sucking habit is more pronounced in moist soil. If one doesn't want the plant to spread, the suckers can be removed easily.

Growing in planting zones 5 to 9, best color and blooms occur in full sun to light shade. It likes well drained soil rich in humus, but it adapts to clay soil and is tolerant of both wet and dry situations once established. Rootball division is the easiest form of propagation. Depending on the cultivar, Virginia Sweetspire will grow from about 2 to 6 feet tall and wide. For most prolific blooms, fertilize yearly. Pruning may be done for shaping or to control size but otherwise is not necessary. Because it blooms on old wood, or the previous year's growth, any pruning should done right after it blooms. Pruning earlier in the year will remove the flower buds. Of course, dead wood may be removed at any time.

Virginia Sweetspire is a great shrub for the woodland or wildlife garden. The flower nectar attracts butterflies and other pollinating insects, its seeds provide food for birds, and the dense mass of leaves offer cover for wildlife.


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Reader Comments (10)

Looks fab now but the autumn colour looks even better!

June 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

What a beautiful shrub, I'm not surprised you planted it, the flowers and autumn colours are beautiful!

June 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPauline

It's such a beautiful plant, especially in autumn. I wish I could grow it here!

June 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

I adore this plant as well and hope I find it in my white garden growing...so many shrubs are delayed, half dead or dead after this horrible winter.

That is one of the shrubs I'm thinking about to replace a couple of Spireas that just aren't doing well. But the spot is very shady, so I might have to pick a different shrub. I love the autumn foliage of this one!

June 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBeth @ PlantPostings

lovely plant, Deb. Interesting how it grew for you so easily because that is its home and ideal for that area. Really really special autumn foliage.

June 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercatmint

I planted two at my ex-house (we're now in the new one) because I heard it was wet-tolerant (it is) and that it attracted beneficial insects (it didn't - not in my yard). Nor did it have particularly nice fall color. But I had it at the edge of the wetlands behind my house and it looked like it belonged there. So that was a plus. And I like to think the beneficial insects visited while I wasn't looking.

I've avoided it for fear that it would not be drought tolerant enough to survive in Middle TN without lots of supplemental irrigation. (I don't have a stream, pond or any other naturally wet area on the property.)

Do you think it would be ok if I planted it in autumn and made sure it was well-watered its first year? Would it need partial shade to survive without irrigation?

June 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAaron Dalton

You are really proving the benefit of growing native plants Deb. We should all look first to the natives and then to plants adapted to our own climate and soil conditions. Growing plants that require a lot of care and attention is hard work and often not really rewarded as the plant doesn't thrive. Thanks for sharing this with us.

June 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

You have so many plants that are new to me Deb. I just put a buddleia (butterfly bush) on my balcony to attract butterflies. Had I known this Virginia Sweetspire, than I might have chosen it instead. Autumn color is always nice.

June 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

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