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On Gardening: Make it a Double Play for 2023, the Year of the Spirea

Norman Winter, Tribune News Service on

Published in Gardening News

It's the Year of the Spirea, as designated by The National Garden Bureau, and The Garden Guy could not be happier. There is a spirea that is a landscape asset from spring through dormancy, but a lot of you simply do not know about it.

First, let’s delve into a little horticulture humor. Yes, the common name is spirea. The botanical name is Spiraea. No family wars here; simply use the name you wish or grew up with. You will have to learn how to pronounce the one you are using. Just kidding, they are the same.

The spirea is in the rose family and has the common name meadowsweet. Today, however, I am telling you about an incredible Spirea japonica, or Japanese Meadowsweet, called Double Play Candy Corn. This beauty will reach about inches tall and 30 inches wide.

The 8-foot-tall bridal wreath spirea, Spirea prunifolia, is the one most of us grew up with. It's thought of as a partner with rhododendrons, azaleas, forsythias and snowball viburnums. Once the gorgeous white blooms are gone, you forget about it until next spring.

The Double Play Candy Corn is different — holy wow is it different. In Georgia, the leaves emerge from winter dormancy in March as if they were on fire. Very few plants have this color intensity. If you look at the Proven Winners description it says the leaves are orange, red and yellow. That is spot on.

As the summer progresses, new growth is that color, while old leaves are bright gold (or as the tag says, pineapple yellow). If you have more shade, the leaves are chartreuse. This sounds funny to say, but you will always know where your Double Play Candy Corn spirea plants are located. They will never just blend in with a forest or sea of green.

When it made its debut, the conventional wisdom in my area of the South was that it wouldn’t grow well and that it would scorch. Don’t spend a nanosecond with that thought in your mind. Give it good fertile soil that drains well and just watch what happens. You can deadhead if you want, I do, and I also like to cut back hard in late winter, much like you do a rose.


You may be asking, what about the blooms? As if trying to outdo the leaves for color, the flowers are large and purple/red. Yes, you will see pollinators, no, you will not see a herd of deer eating them. Your fun challenge as a gardener is coming up with companion plants. The partnerships are only limited by your imagination.

If I had a suggestion in your planning, think of it like a coleus versus the shrub it is. This means any other herbaceous flower, or foliage partner, will work. The only prerequisite is whether you like the color combination. This is how easy it is to incorporate. Over the last four years I have seen drop-dead beautiful partnerships with pansies, Primo heuchera, Rockin salvias, Superbena verbenas, Supertunia petunias and Superbells calibrachoas. It stands to reason that shrubs like hydrangeas whether they are blue, pink, or white would work too.

Spring planting season is close at hand. When you see it for sale and the thought comes to mind that you don’t have room for a shrub, STOP. If you have room for a coleus, you have room for Double Play Candy Corn spirea. Better yet, it will also return year after year. It is a winner in the landscape or thriller in large mixed containers. Let the celebration begin!


(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)

(NOTE TO EDITORS: Norman Winter receives complimentary plants to review from the companies he covers.)

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