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Virginia sweetspire wins native award
It takes a special plant to be named a Mississippi Medallion winner, and the Mississippi native Virginia sweetspire was one of the plants that earned that honor this year.
The Mississippi Nursery and Landscape Association names Medallion winners based on their superior performance in gardens and landscapes across the state. In response to renewed interest in native plants, the association has begun choosing a Mississippi native each year for one of its awards.
This year’s selection is known botanically as Itea virginica. The shrub has an erect, densely branched stem when grown in full sun. In partial shade, it grows more open and loose. Virginia sweetspire typically grows 3 to 6 feet tall and wide in a landscape setting. Prune if needed to keep the plant neat and tidy.
Foliage is dark green and changes to a brilliant red in the fall. The plant is evergreen most years in coastal regions and semi-evergreen to deciduous in north Mississippi. In Biloxi this year, Virginia sweetspire held onto its gorgeous red foliage well into January. Plant in full sun for the best fall color production.
Use Virginia sweetspire as a shrub border or foundation planting, as its beautiful foliage will form a dense barrier.
Flowers are produced in groups on racemes that are up to 6 inches long and resemble fireworks. The individual, star-like flowers are small and fragrant.
The tiny flowers start to open from the base to the tip and have a prolonged bloom period. They are a nice addition to the landscape, especially when there are few shrubs and trees in bloom. Do any necessary pruning after flowering, as the flowers are produced on the previous year’s stems.
There are two commonly available selections that have a compact and uniform growth habit. Henry’s Garnet will grow to 4 feet tall and spread up to 6 feet. The fall color is a brilliant garnet red, and the flowering racemes are much larger and longer than those of other species.
Another noteworthy selection is Little Henry, which has a growth habit suitable for mass plantings. It grows mounded and compact, requiring little if any pruning to maintain shape. Summer foliage is bright green, and fall colors include a nice combination of vivid reds and oranges.
Virginia sweetspire has no serious pest or disease problems, and it is a good choice if deer are a problem in your landscape.
Although tolerant of wet soil, Virginia sweetspire grows best in amended soil with good drainage. Fertilize in the spring with a slow-release product formulated for trees and shrubs.
Virginia sweetspire is an understory plant in the wild and transplants well from container-grown stock. It can have a clumping growth habit, and the way it propagates itself from roots can be useful for erosion control on sloped areas.