Virginia sweetspire is a deciduous shrub with arching stems and alternate simple leaves that are oval in shape and dark green in color. The shrub has a rounded habit and produces cylindrical drooping flowers (racemes) from late spring to mid-summer. Native to the woodlands of eastern North America, it is a good choice for woodland borders. In the right conditions, it can spread and fill in quickly via suckering roots, making it good for erosion control. It has a long period of good autumn color with leaves that turn shades of red, orange, and gold.
|Common Name||Virginia sweetspire and Virginia willow|
|Botanical Names||Itea virginica|
|Mature Size||4 to 8 ft. tall, with a similar spread|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained|
|Hardiness Zone||5a-9a USDA|
|Native Area||North America|
Virginia Sweetspire Care
This shrub is easy to grow in any average, well-drained soil that has medium to wet moisture levels. It grows well in both full sun and partial shade, though it will achieve the best shape, flower color, and fall color in full sun. It likes humusy soils, so mixing in compost before planting is a good idea. Although these bushes are considered plants tolerant of wet ground and clay soils, they will nonetheless perform best in well-drained soils.
Virginia sweetspire grows best full sun but will tolerate part shade. Shady conditions may limit the flower production and mute the autumn color. Warmer climates call for more shade.
Plant this shrub in humusy, well-drained soil that is somewhat on the moist side. It prefers a slightly acidic pH but grows well in a range of soils.
Water these shrubs quite often when they are young and getting established, then weekly when they mature (one inch per week). They will tolerate short periods of drought but perform best when they receive regular water. Hot climates call for more water.
Temperature and Humidity
Virginia sweetspire grows quite well in very hot conditions, provided it gets plenty of water. In such climates, plant it along woodland edges where it gets partial shade, which will help the plants stay cool and thrive. In the northern part of the hardiness range, winter cold may cause dieback of the branch tips.
Feed these plants each spring with a balanced granular fertilizer mixed into the soil. Additional feeding during the growing season is not necessary.
Types of Virginia Sweetspire
Several popular cultivars of Virginia Sweetspire are available, including:
- Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet': This option has larger flowers and better autumn color than the species variety.
- I. virginica 'Little Henry': This cultivar is a dwarf version, growing to only about two feet tall. It has better flower and fall foliage colors than the species.
- I. virginica 'Merlot': This is another dwarf, growing to about three feet. It has a very deep red autumn color.
- I. virginica 'Sarah Eve': The flowers have white petals with pink pedicels, giving the appearance of a pink flower. It has dark green foliage with a purplish cast and grows four to six feet tall and wide.
You can prune Virginia sweetspire to shape it or control its size, but pruning is not otherwise necessary. Because it blooms on old wood (previous year's growth), pruning should be done immediately after blooming so that the plant can develop the wood necessary for next year's blooms. Pruning in the spring risks removing the flower buds.
In USDA growing zone 5a (the northern end of its range), a bush will likely experience several inches of winter dieback on the tops of the branches (they turn a tan color). Such dieback in winter means the loss of some of the flower buds that produce blooms in spring.
Stay ahead of any root-suckering that may occur if you do not wish for the bushes to spread. Root suckering will be most prevalent with shrubs planted in wet ground.
Propagating Virginia Sweetspire
This shrub is the rare type that divides easily by cutting its root ball into sections, thanks to its prolific suckering habit. A sharp spade can be used to cut away a section of the root ball around the edge, which can be replanted wherever you want it.
How to Grow Virginia Sweetspire From Seed
During the late summer or early fall, collect the small brown seed pods from the plant. Open them up and remove the seeds. Store them in a sealed container, tucked away in the refrigerator until spring rolls around. Then use a good potting medium and seed trays to germinate the plants indoors. Bury the seed one inch in the soil and keep it moist. When the seedling is robust, plant it in a small container and let it establish a root system. Once the roots are in place, you can move it out to the landscape.
Potting and Repotting Virginia Sweetspire
Keeping a Virginia sweetspire in a container for the first season is entirely possible. When the root system is well-established and trying to fight its way out of the container, it's time to plant it in the landscape.
Virginia sweetspire does well during the winter, though those in colder climates might see some dieback of the tips of the shrub during the harsh cold. It will come back strong in the spring.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
This plant is quite hardy and doesn't have any serious pests to contend with. Even deer tend to leave it alone. However, it might develop flea beetles or leaf spot. Flea beetles can be handled with neem oil, while leaf spot is remedied through neem oil, baking soda solutions, copper fungicide, or copper and pyrethrins.
How to Get Virginia Sweetspire to Bloom
There could be several reasons why your Virginia sweetspire isn't blooming, and the first of those reasons is water—not nearly enough of it. Consistent moisture in well-draining soil is a must. Sunlight is also a requirement, as these shrubs need full sun as well as slightly acidic soil to achieve the best results.
Common Problems With Virginia Sweetspire
When the pH of the soil creeps above 7.0, Virginia sweetspire is prone to developing chlorosis. This results in a lack of chlorophyll, which in turn results in leaves that lose their color and fade. Eventually, the leaves turn yellow and die. Severe cases can kill the plant. To reverse this problem, it's important to make the soil more acidic. Work in a bit of pelleted sulfur or organic matter, such as sawdust or leaves.
How long can Virginia Sweetspire live?
Given ideal conditions, this plant can survive for up to 40 years.
Can Virginia Sweetspire grow indoors?
Though the plant can be started indoors, once a root system is established in the container, it needs to go into the ground to thrive.
What plants are similar to Virginia Sweetspire?
Burning Bush is a plant quite similar to this one, though it is more susceptible to disease and pests. For a much larger shrub, go with Hollyleaf Sweetspire which can grow up to 12 feet high.
Itea virginica. NC State Extension Service Plant Finder