Bridal veil spiraea (Spiraea prunifolia) is one of my favorite spring flowering shrubs and it will thrive when winter temperatures dip into the -30s. The most common type of these white spring flowering shrubs is usually referred to as Vanhoutte spiraea (Spiraea × vanhouttei) and it’s blooming right now. White flowers emerge before the leaves do.
This is an old-fashioned shrub. Quite often it can be found on the edge of old cemeteries or homesteads. Flowering can be so dense that patches of it are visible for long distances. This easy to grow plant makes a great deciduous hedge. Fall foliage is yellow to bronze or purple.
Bridal veil is not native, but it’s not invasive either. Plantings are usually long lived but don’t spread far from their origin. Plants dug while still dormant are easy to transplant.
Spiraeas are members of the rose family just like apples, cherries and many other common landscape ornamentals. This one is generally upright and usually four to eight feet tall. Fragrant flowers attract songbirds, butterflies and other pollinators.
Shrubs grow in full sun to partial shade. They flourish in acidic soil and tolerate drought once established. Plants aren’t heavy fertilizer users.
Pruning is a personal thing. Some folks let them sprawl. Their natural growth habit is like that of forsythia. Like forsythia, they flower on the previous year’s growth. Most spiraeas such as ‘Anthony waterer’ or ‘little princess’ bloom on the current season’s wood. These types can be pruned anytime.
Should a more formal look be more to your liking, these versatile shrubs can fit the bill. Be it a large rounded specimen plant or a tightly manicured hedge, these rose relatives work fine.
Pruning spring flowering plants should be done right after bloom. Cutting them back in the fall or winter will remove the flowers. However, after flowering this spiraea can be cut to the ground if that’s what you desire. It will still be a sea of white next year. Often renewal pruning keeps plants vigorous.
Spiraeas have few insect problems, but deer will eat them. I’ve never seen deer decimate these shrubs though. Spiraea grows and recovers quickly.
There’s a patch in my neighborhood where deer are plentiful. This place has never been browsed to the point it’s not attractive. Moderate browsing tends to make plants thicker and more vigorous.
This shrub isn’t just for outdoors either. Branches can be cut and brought inside. Flowers are great in arrangements and last a long time. They’re great for use in early spring weddings.
This hardy shrub even has medicinal uses. It contains salicylates like willows do, so herbal teas can be used in place of aspirin. Leaves, roots and flowers can be used to make tea.
One advantage of spiraeas over willows is that the concentration of salicylates is more consistent from plant to plant. Overdoses are far less likely to occur.
One thing to keep in mind though is that people allergic to aspirin are also likely to be allergic to internal use of spiraea tea. If you have any questions about herbal medicines, you should ask your medical professional.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.