Unless your garden sits in a cave or the middle of the ocean, you probably have room for a spirea. They are a varied lot, offering a number of sizes, forms, and flowering seasonsbut they can be broken down into two basic groups according to bloom time. Spring bloomers feature clusters of white flowers cascading down from arching branches; summer bloomers are compact and shrubby, with pink, red, or white flowers clustered at the branch ends. Both types look more effective when massed in sweeps and borders than when used singly. White-flowered spireas look better against a dark background. The cut branches of spring-flowering types are great for forcing into bloom for indoor arrangements.
All spireas are tough and easy to grow; with few exceptions, they are not fussy about soil. Deer don't favor them.
S. cantoniensis 'Flore Pleno' ('Lanceata'). DOUBLE REEVES SPIREA. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. From China, Japan. To 56 ft. tall, 10 ft. wide, with arching branches. Double white flowers wreathe the leafy branches in late spring to early summer. Lance-shaped, blue-green leaves to 212 in. long; they drop late, show no fall color. Plant is nearly evergreen in mildest climates. Prune as for spring bloomers.
S. japonica. JAPANESE SPIREA. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Native to Japan, China. Upright and shrubby to 46 ft. tall and wide, with flat, 8-in.-wide clusters of pink flowers carried above oval, toothed, 1- to 4-in.-long green leaves. Best known through its selections, which are typically lower than the species and bloom between summer and fall. They include plants formerly classified as hybrids of S. xbumalda, itself now considered merely a selection.
'Albiflora'. To 2 ft. tall, 3 ft. wide. Pale green leaves; white flowers.
'Anthony Waterer'. To 35 ft. tall and wide. Carmine-pink blossoms. Leaves are reddish purple when new, maturing to bright green.
'Bumalda'. To 3 ft. high and wide. Dark pink flowers; bronzy new growth.
'Candlelight'. To 23 ft. high and wide. Butter-yellow foliage; pink blooms.
'Coccinea'. To 23 ft. tall and wide. Maroon-tinged foliage; red flowers.
'Dart's Red'. To 2 ft. high and wide. A compact sport of 'Anthony Waterer', with redder flowers.
'Firelight'. To 23 ft. high, 4 ft. wide. Leaves emerge reddish orange and retain their color into summer, then turn fiery red in fall. Pink flowers.
'Golden Elf'. Dwarf to 69 in. high, 12 ft. wide. Golden leaves usually hold their color into autumn. Tiny pink blossoms.
'Goldflame'. To 212 ft. high and wide. Bronze new growth matures to yellowish green, turns dark reddish orange in fall. Red flowers.
'Limemound'. To 3 ft. tall, 6 ft. wide. Lemon-yellow new leaves mature to lime-green, then turn orange-red in fall. Light pink flowers.
'Little Bonnie'. To 23 ft. tall, 3 ft. wide. Blue-green foliage. Lavender-pink blooms over a long period.
'Little Princess'. To 3 ft. tall, 6 ft. wide. Rose-pink blossoms.
'Magic Carpet'. To 112212 ft. tall, slightly wider. Reddish bronze new leaves turn chartreuse to yellow as they mature. Pink flowers.
'Nana' ('Alpina'). ALPINE SPIREA. To 2 ft. tall, 5 ft. wide. Pink flowers. Good red fall foliage in some years.
'Neon Flash'. To 34 ft. tall, 45 ft. wide. Purple-tinted foliage; bright rose-pink flowers.
'Shirobana'. To 23 ft. high and wide. Red buds open to bicolored blossoms in white and deep pink.
S. nipponica 'Snowmound'. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. From Japan. Compact, spreading plant to 23 ft. tall, 35 ft. wide. Profusion of white flowers in late spring or early summer. Ovate to roundish, dark green leaves to 1 14 in. long; little autumn color. Prune as for spring bloomers.
S. prunifolia . BRIDAL WREATH SPIREA. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. From China, Taiwan. Graceful, arching branches on a suckering, clump-forming plant to 67 ft. tall and wide. In early to midspring, bare branches are lined with small, double white flowers resembling tiny roses. Small dark green leaves turn bright shades of red, orange, and yellow in autumn. An old Southern favorite.
S. thunbergii. BABY'S BREATH SPIREA. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. From China, Japan. Showy, billowy, graceful species 36 ft. or taller, 6 ft. wide, with many slender, arching branches. Round clusters of small white flowers appear all along the bare branches in early spring. Blue-green, extremely narrow leaves to 112 in. long turn soft reddish brown in fall. An old-time favorite in the South, with several outstanding selections. 'Fujino Pink' has dark pink buds that open to light pink flowers. 'Mount Fuji' bears the typical white blooms, but its leaves (some of them twisted and curled) are green striped with white. White-flowered 'Ogon' has soft yellow foliage.
S. trilobata 'Swan Lake'. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Selection of a species from Siberia and northern China. Like a small version of S. prunifolia. Grows 34 ft. tall and wide, with a massive show of tiny white flowers in mid- to late spring. Leaves are just 1 in. long, often three lobed. 'Fairy Queen' is similar but more compact, seldom exceeding 3 ft.
S. x vanhouttei. VAN HOUTTE SPIREA. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Hybrid between S. cantoniensis and S. trilobata. The classic spring-blooming spirea for Southern gardens. Arching branches form a fountain to about 6 ft. high by 8 ft. or wider. Leafy branches are covered with circular, flattened clusters of white blossoms in mid- to late spring. Dark green, diamond-shaped leaves to 112 in. long may turn purplish in fall.
Prune spring bloomers yearly in late spring after flowering, cutting one-third of the oldest branches to the ground. Prune summer bloomers in winter or earliest spring, before new growth begins; they generally need less pruning than spring bloomers. If you remove spent flower clusters in summer, plants will produce a second (but less lavish) bloom.