Spiraea douglasii, commonly called Western spirea, is a low-maintenance landscape plant with a relatively long blooming season and attractive foliage. It is relatively undemanding with its growth requirements. On top of being easy to care for, it naturalizes well and is a hardy choice for summer blooms.
Also known as steeplebush or hardhack, Western spirea is native to the West Coast, from Alaska down to Northern California, east as far as Montana. Its scientific name is an homage to Scottish botanist David Douglas. A deciduous shrub with a clumping and suckering habit that will eventually form colonies, perennial Western spirea grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8. Its 4-inch-long oval leaves are green on top and felty white on the bottom, and its bright pinkish-red flowers bloom from June through August or September.
Western spirea likes full sun. There is evidence it may not perform as well in shade, and the boggy locations it favors near the edges of ponds or other water sources are often sunny. It has also been found growing wild in coniferous forests, indicating a tolerance for shade. A spot with morning sun and afternoon shade will likely work well for this plant, as will an area that offers bright, filtered or dappled sun.
Although it is quite a drought-tolerant plant once established, Western spirea loves moisture. When you first plant it, make sure you water it as often as needed to keep the soil consistently moist. As it becomes established, and especially once it has suckered and formed a colony, its water needs will decrease. Western spirea grows well at the edges of ponds, water gardens, streams, damp meadows and other areas that tend to become wet or boggy.
Western spirea appreciates well-draining, acidic soils. Especially because it loves moisture -- and will even tolerate wet soil, which many plants will not -- it requires a light growing medium that does not easily compact or hold water. When grown in average soils with enough moisture, it tends to naturalize, attracting hummingbirds and butterflies to the garden. It also attracts small mammals and salamanders that use its dense thickets as shelter, and hosts beneficial insects which are drawn by its showy summer blooms.
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