Birchleaf Spirea: A Must-Have Garden Shrub

Fall color on birchleaf spirea

More than once I’ve been proven wrong about my initial misconceptions of spirea. Once considered the dullest of shrubs, spirea, along with daylilies and hydrangeas, was part of the ubiquitous trio often found in every new subdivision. As a novice gardener, I vowed never to plant spirea, so unimpressed was I with this shrub.

But here’s the thing about gardening – it has a way of changing your mind. Over time, my perspective on spirea shifted dramatically, thanks to the introduction of exceptional varieties. Today, spirea is no longer an unremarkable shrub; it has become a must-have in any garden.

One particular spirea that has captivated me is the birchleaf spirea, especially the Glow Girl variety from Proven Winners. While there are other equally beautiful birchleaf spireas on the market (look for cultivars with ‘Tor’ in their name), I haven’t had the chance to grow them myself.

In the spring, birchleaf spirea dazzles with its bright chartreuse foliage. The oval leaves, delicately serrated at the tips, make the display even more appealing. As the season progresses, the buds transform into shades of red and pink, eventually giving way to frothy white flowers that persist for weeks. Although some birchleaf spireas have darker green foliage, the Glow Girl variety’s lime-green leaves steal the show.

However, it’s in the fall that birchleaf spirea truly shines. The once vibrant green foliage transforms into a breathtaking array of yellows, oranges, and reds. While other spireas offer fall color, none can match the vividness and vibrancy of the birchleaf variety. This is the season when these spireas truly enhance the aesthetics of any landscape.

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Of course, spireas are renowned for their low-maintenance nature, which is why they ended up in that oft-maligned landscaper’s trio. The main drawback of spireas is their tendency to grow large and develop bare lower branches if left unattended for too long.

To counteract this, I take a different approach with the spireas in my yard. Whenever I walk by, I prune them on a whim, giving them a little shaping. It’s important to note that pruning at the wrong time may result in sacrificing future flowers. Ideally, spireas should be pruned right after they finish flowering. However, if the foliage is more important to you than the blooms, you can prune them almost anytime.

While birchleaf spirea naturally has a rounded habit, you have the option to prune it into a more sculpted form if you prefer. Like other spireas, it may become sparse at the bottom over time. If this happens, consider doing some restorative pruning by selectively removing a few branches (not exceeding 25 percent) all the way to the ground. This will encourage fresh growth at the base and help the shrub regain its fullness. My Glow Girl variety is due for this treatment after many years in the ground.

A notable advantage of spireas is their unappealing taste to deer, making them a great addition to any garden. Moreover, they are relatively unaffected by common pests and diseases. Just ensure they receive at least partial sun, as spireas, like most plants, produce their best flowers in sunnier locations.

It’s incredible to think that I once considered spirea to be “van ordinaire.” Now, I can’t imagine my garden without it.

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Plant to know: Birchleaf spirea

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