Sweetspire Shrub Growing: Planting, ID and Care Tips for 5 Sweetspire Varieties

Person watering a sweetspire shrub after learning how to identify types of sweetspire plants, how to grow sweet-spire landscaping and care tips.

One of the outstanding features of the Virginia Sweetspire shrub is the fragrant flowers that bloom in late spring or early summer.

Even though these types of trees, which grow no more than eight feet tall and are more shrublike than treelike, do their best in moist foundations, they can surprisingly be very drought-tolerant trees.

To grow a tree, such as the Sweetspire in your front yard, is effortless and it will grow well in areas prone to flooding or in soils that don’t drain well.

In fact, there are many ways this very ornamental shrub can transform your front yard into something special.

Virginia Sweetspire

(Itea vrginica)

Sweetspire in oval frame on green background.
  • Family: Iteaceae
  • Genus: Itea
  • Leaf: The leaves alternate and change color in the fall from green to yellow, orange, red, and purple, depending on the cultivar
  • Bark: The bark is brown and almost smooth, with just a few wrinkles to add texture
  • Seed: The seeds are tiny and can be extracted from the capsules
  • Blossoms: White, three- to six-inch flowers blooming in May to June
  • Fruit: The brown fruits are edible and in the shape of a capsule
  • Native Habitat: Southeastern United States
  • Height: Four to eight feet tall
  • Canopy: Three to six feet wide
  • Type: Deciduous
  • Native Growing Zone: USDA Hardiness Zones five to nine in moist soils such as in stream banks, moist forest floors, woodland floodplains, and swamps

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Least Concern


How To Identify Sweetspire Plant or Virginia Willow (Itea virginica)

The ideal planting zones in the United States are five to nine, and as a shrub, it tends to grow wider than it does tall. In a controlled environment rather than in the wild, the height can be pruned to fit so it can be planted around and under other landscaping trees to cover areas that would normally be left devoid of plant life.

This shrub is also known as the Virginia willow and is recognizable from its narrow upright branches that have a tendency to droop under the weight of the clusters of fragrant, drooping, creamy white blossoms that form in the spring. But they grow differently than the other flowers in your bushes.

Sweetspire Flowers

The white flowers on the Virginia sweetspire bush are called racemes.1

This formation is basically a collection of tiny flowers that grow along a core stem and a number of shorter, uniform stalks spaced at regular intervals and grow from two to six inches in length.

Sweetspire identification graphic showing a full-grown Sweetspire plant along with images of Sweetspire seeds, Sweetspire flower, and Sweetspire leaves inside circle frames on a green background.

(Seed Image by: Salicyna9)

The blossoms near the base of the main stem are the first to emerge, and the white, five-petaled star-shaped blooms open in a clockwise motion, creating a long, continuous show of color that lasts for weeks.

You will quickly discover that these plants that attract hummingbirds will bring the best of nature to your home and will entice pollinators like bees and all types of butterflies with their nectar to entertain you during the spring and summer months.

Sweetspire Seeds

Although encased in brown to purple capsules, the seeds are instrumental in the tree pollination process as they are a firm favorite of local birds who snack on them and contribute to spreading them to other areas.

Sweetspire Leaves

The leaves on your Sweetspire tree will become a feature all on their own as the dark green coloring morphs into a crimson red in the autumn and stays that way for quite a long time. Strategically incorporate this shrub into your garden, and you will be entertained for months by the way it transforms itself to change the entire look of your landscape.

Which Is Best, Growing a Sweetspire From a Seed, Cutting, or Seedling?

Apart from the fact that sweet spire shrubs are very adaptable to a variety of environments, they are also easy to grow when the requirements of the best growing conditions for sweetspire are met.

From seeds, they can be planted with no scarification or stratification needed, and from cuttings, just a quick dip in a rooting hormone and the shrubs will be good to start growing.2

Whether you decide to buy a seedling in a container from your local nursery and just transplant it into your landscape, you can be assured that whichever method you choose, the plant is low-maintenance and will basically grow itself with a bare minimum of TLC.

The Sweetspire Growth Rate And When To Prune Sweetspire Shrubs

There is no doubt that, like most gardeners who are remodeling their landscape, your first thought about the shrub is going to be how long it takes to grow sweetspire, so you can time the growing stages with your other plants.

Between May and June will be the best time when to plant sweetspire for the best yield, and as long as you cater to the watering needs for sweetspire plants in your yard, the growth rate will be medium to fast, and they will be fully mature before you know it.

If you want to control the height or width, the plant reacts well to pruning, and the best time to do it is just after the flowering.

Itea Sweetspire Planting and Care Tips

Understanding how long does it take for a tree to grow is not something you have to be concerned with when growing a sweetspire plant. Once they are established, there are no common pests of the Sweetspire plant that are going to cause you any problems apart from the occasional flea beetle.

If you’re looking for natural pest control for Sweetspire Flea beetles, if they do pop up, a quick squirt with some neem oil mixed with water will see them off.

Despite their slight differences in size or shape, the care they all require revolves around watering. A tree species such as this survives on copious amounts of water, but to ensure its continued survival, follow these 5 top tips.

  1. If you intend to grow in a container, ensure that you are exposing the plant to enough sunlight, even if you have to change locations during the day.
  2. Short dry periods will not pose any health hazards, but add water if you notice the top layer is becoming too dry.
  3. Adding liquid fertilizer is probably the only bit of regular maintenance required three or four times a year.4
  4. Regular pruning should be scheduled to remove any dead branches to encourage fresh growth.
  5. Sweetspire disease prevention starts with proper watering methods. If you must water the foliage, do it early enough in the day so the leaves have time to dry before dark to reduce any risks of fungal infections.

5 Virginia Sweetspire Varieties

In total, there are approximately 10 species of sweetspires, with about the same number of cultivars.

Here are just five of them, with planting tips for sweetspire and how to care for them.

1. Little Henry Sweetspire

Growing to no more than three feet, it thrives in both full sun and full shade and needs very little in the way of upkeep, not even trimming, to maintain a compact, mounded shape.

The pure white blooms have a faint perfume scent, and Little Henry is a delight year-round thanks to the transformation of its foliage into a kaleidoscope of vibrant oranges and reds in the autumn.

Closeup of a Little Henry Virginia Sweetspire shrub showing a foliage of green and red leaves.

(Image by: David J. Stang6)

Closeup of Henry's Garnet Sweetspire shrub showcasing a foliage of striking reddish-purple leaves and stems.

(Image by: Peter Stevens7)

2. Henry’s Garnet

If you’re looking for an attractive plant to insert next to your rock pool or pond, this cultivar will fit nicely into the wet ground without any fear of it developing Phytophthora root rot.3

It only needs about 4 hours of sun a day, the flowers grow a little larger on its robust five-foot frame, and the seeds are a lure for songbirds.

3. Sarah Eve

The beautiful, fragrant flowers of this cultivar are white with pink undertones and bloom in early June.

They contrast impressively against the bark, which has a rich crimson tone, and the leaves are a mix of dark green and purple before changing to orange and then gold as they fall from the tree.

4. Holly Sweetspire

A native of China, this is one of, if not the tallest sweetspire plants at 12 feet tall.

Preferring zones eight and nine in the USDA Hardiness charts, its racemes are up to 12 inches long and range in color from a pale green to white.

Eye-level shot of Holly Sweetspire tree showing long thin stems with a bushy foliage.

(Image by: Daderot8)

5. Shirley’s Compact

If your outside space is not particularly big enough to cater to a 6-foot shrub, then the Shirley will be the best option to have a sweetspire to brighten up your landscape.

It grows to a height of less than two feet high and just three feet wide and doesn’t consume a lot of real estate, but it still has the flashy flowers and color-transforming leaves that are indicative of a sweetspire.

Companion Plants For Growing Sweetspire Plants

Companion plants that can be grown close to or alongside sweetspire shrubs have to be able to tolerate the soggy soil conditions to a certain extent.

Here are a few that will fit nicely into your redesigned landscape.

  • Coral Bells
  • Rose Mallow
  • Cardinal Flower
  • Wild Ginger
  • Christmas Fern
  • Black Chokeberry
  • Foamflower
  • Hubricht’s Bluestar

Incorporate any of these into your new landscape design, and you will be amazed at how the impact made by your Sweetspire shrubs will be improved.

Frequently Asked Questions About Sweetspire

What Are the Best Growing Zones for Sweetspire? Where To Grow in the USDA Hardiness Zones?

Since they don’t suffer from any form of root rot, soils that occasionally become flooded or drain slowly are ideal, and in the United States, the Virginia sweetspire can be found in planting zones five to nine.

How Much Sunlight Does Sweetspire Need Each Day?

Six hours a day.

What Is the Best Distance To Consider How Far Apart To Plant Sweetspire?

Minimum 4 feet apart.

What Are the Ways How To Stop Sweetspire Disease?

Spreading mulch in your garden and pruning are two methods to combat any signs of fungal infections instead of using fungicides.5

Are All Sweetspire Growing Zones the Same for All Cultivars?

Some sweetspires do better in Zone Five, while others thrive in Zone Eight or Nine. Always verify which type you have and its suitability for your area before planting.

What Are Some Interesting Sweetspire Facts About Sweetspire Symbolism?

Traditionally, in the Christian faith, sweetspires have been a symbol of eternal life.

Possibly because it has also, for centuries, been used to treat ailments such as headaches, topical skin diseases, and fevers.


1Russ, K., Williamson, J., & Polomski, R. F. (2023, September 14). Virginia Sweetspire. Clemson HGIC. Retrieved December 21, 2023, from <https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/virginia-sweetspire/>

2Evans, E., & Blazich, F. (1999, January 31). Overcoming Seed Dormancy: Trees and Shrubs. NC State Extension Publications. Retrieved December 21, 2023, from <https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/overcoming-seed-dormancy-trees-and-shrubs>

3Timmerman, A., Nygren, A., VanDeWalle, B., Giesler, L., Seymour, R., Glewen, K., Shapiro, C., Jhala, A., & Treptow, D. (2023, June 20). Plant Disease: Phytophthora Root and Stem Rot. University of Nebraska–Lincoln Cropwatch. Retrieved December 21, 2023, from <https://cropwatch.unl.edu/soybean-management/plant-disease-phytophthora-root-and-stem-rot>

4Isleib, J. (2016, December 29). Pros and cons of granular and liquid fertilizers. MSU Extension. Retrieved December 21, 2023, from <https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/pros_and_cons_of_granular_and_liquid_fertilizers>

5Steil, A. (2022, June). Using Mulch in the Garden. Iowa State University | Horticulture and Home Pest News. Retrieved December 21, 2023, from <https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/using-mulch-garden>

6Itea virginica Little Henry 1zz Photo by David J. Stang. (2006, September 14) / CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED | Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International. Cropped. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved December 21, 2023, from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Itea_virginica_Little_Henry_1zz.jpg>

7Henry’s Garnet’ Sweetspire Photo by Peter Stevens. (2013, October 20) / CC BY 2.0 DEED | Attribution 2.0 Generic. Resized. Flickr. Retrieved January 5, 2024, from <https://www.flickr.com/photos/nordique/10392088885/>

8Itea ilicifolia – Villa Thuret – DSC04785 Photo by Daderot. (2011, April 22) / Public domain. Resized. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved December 21, 2023, from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Itea_ilicifolia_-_Villa_Thuret_-_DSC04785.JPG>

9Itea virginica 2017-04-17 7286 Photo by Salicyna. (2017, April 17) / CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED | Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International. Cropped and added image, text, shape, and background elements. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved December 21, 2023, from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Itea_virginica_2017-04-17_7286.jpg>