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Diggin' It

Need an alternative to ivy or vinca? Try Goldflame spirea.

Goldflame spirea makes an excellent ground cover and should be considered as an alternative to vinca or ivy.

By Donna Williamson / December 1, 2009

Goldflame spirea has fabulous fall color.

Photo courtesy of Donna Williamson.

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There are so many uses for a plant that covers the ground, is deer-proof, doesn’t get too tall, has great color, is prunable, and is relaxed and soft in the landscape.

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No wonder that ‘Goldflame’ spirea is one of my favorites. And it's so versatile that every garden or landscape can use it well.

Since I don’t like mulch as a fashion statement in the garden, I am always on the lookout for easy groundcovers. Getting about 3+ feet tall at maturity and about 5 to 6 feet wide, this shrub can protect a newly planted ginkgo or oak from the string trimmer damage so frequently a feature of our young trees.

I plant five spireas around the base of the tree and let them all grow up together.

Corners in the landscape are often a problem, stopping the eye too sharply. A nice blousy ‘Goldflame’ will soften the corner without adding to the list of maintenance chores.

Slopes are a nuisance to mow, and they can get ‘Goldflame’ in multiples, providing a softer, more interesting alternative to the typical solution of blue rug junipers.

With bronze spring color and a long season of dynamic fall color, ‘Goldflame’ is a tame chartreuse in the summer, easily blending into the garden with brighter performers. In late spring, there are raspberry-pink flowers.

Praying mantids love spirea and will install egg cases on it routinely. Watch for them if keeping the ‘Goldflame’ small is a goal. Just move the egg cases to another twiggy shrub for early summer hatching.

Deer in my area don’t bother spirea. A spirea hedge might direct them away from the yard and provide a nice background for perennials.

There are many spireas, from the bridal veil to the tiny-leafed and early blooming ‘Ogon’. Most are solid performers. They have been useful and beautiful in landscapes for many years, some as stars and others as members of the chorus.

Next time you think you might need some ground-covering ivy or vinca, consider a spirea instead.

Donna Williamson is a master gardener, garden designer, and garden coach. She has taught gardening and design classes at the State Arboretum of Virginia, Oatlands in Leesburg, and Shenandoah University. She’s also the founder and editor of Grandiflora Mid-Atlantic Gardening magazine, and the author of “The Virginia Gardener’s Companion: An Insider’s Guide to Low Maintenance Gardening in Virginia.”  She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

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