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Virginia sweetspire is a perfect shrub
If you’re like me and most other home gardeners, you want shrubs to have multiseason interest and be versatile, beautiful AND low maintenance. This is no small list to consider when looking for shrubs at the garden center or nursery.
I may know the ideal shrub that has all these traits and is also a Mississippi native. Virginia sweetspire is perfect for the shrub border or woodland setting. In fact, Virginia sweetspire was selected as a Mississippi Medallion winner for 2011.
This Mississippi native shrub has an erect, densely branched stem when grown in full sun and a looser, more open habit when grown in partial shade. The native Virginia sweetspire typically grows from 3 to 4 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide in landscape settings. You may have to prune it to keep the plant neat and tidy.
Plant Virginia sweetspire in shrub borders or foundation plantings because the foliage will form a dense barrier.
The foliage is dark green and changes to a brilliant red in the fall. Virginia sweetspire is evergreen most years in the coastal region and semi-evergreen to deciduous in northern Mississippi. In coastal counties, Virginia sweetspire holds its gorgeous red foliage well into the winter months, depending on frosts and freezes. Plant in full sun to experience the best fall color production.
The flowers are produced in groups on racemes that are up to 6 inches longs and resemble fireworks. 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. These flowers are a nice addition to the landscape when there are few shrubs and trees in bloom. Perform any pruning after flowering because the flowers are produced on the previous year’s stems.
Two commonly available selections have a compact and uniform growth habit. Henry’s Garnet will grow to 4 feet tall and spreads up to 6 feet wide. Fall color is a brilliant garnet red, and the flowering racemes are much larger and longer than those on other species.
Little Henry has a mounded and compact growth habit that is suitable for mass plantings. It requires little, if any, pruning to maintain shape. The summer foliage color is bright green, and fall colors include a nice combination of vivid reds and oranges.
Sarah’s Eve is an interesting selection with flowers described as having a soft tinge of orangey-red on the stems. I have this selection growing in my garden and find it to be a fine landscape plant. Maybe it’s because my landscape is in the southern coastal zone, but I don’t really see the interesting coloration it is supposed to have.
There are no serious pests or diseases of Virginia sweetspire, making these shrubs wonderful, low-maintenance plants. It is also a good choice for protecting your landscape from deer if they cause problems in your area.
Virginia sweetspire is described as tolerating wet soil, but for optimum growth, you should always plant in amended landscape soil that has good drainage. Fertilize in the spring and fall using 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. This shrub can have a clumping growth habit, and suckering from the roots can be useful for erosion control on sloped areas.