How to Grow Itea – Virginia Sweetspire

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 Itea — commonly called sweetspire or Virginia sweetspire– bears catkin-like panicles of small white flowers. There is both an evergreen and deciduous variety of Itea; both have handsome holly-like leaves but otherwise are not too similar. The deciduous variety bears colorful fall foliage.

Itea is a genus of about 10 species. Sweetspire prefers moist soil and is best grown in shrub or mixed border.

Bright white flowers of itea 'Little Henry'
Bright white flowers of itea ‘Little Henry’

Get to know Itea 

  • Plant type: Deciduous shrub 
  • Growing zones and range: Zones 5 to 9. 
  • Hardiness: Hardy to Zone 5
  • Height and width: 5 to 10 feet (1.5-3m) tall and wide
  • Foliage: An upright-then-arching form; either evergreen leaves similar to Holly’s (Ilex) or deciduous leaves with colorful fall foliage–those green leaves turn purple to red in fall.  
  • Flowers: Creamy white fragrant flowers in narrow clusters up to 6 inches (15cm) long.  
  • Bloom time: Summer  
  • Uses: Shrub border or woodland planting.  
  • Garden companions: European cranberry bush (Viburnum opulus
  • Common name: Virginia sweetspire 
  • Botanical name: Itea 
  • Family name: Grossulariaceae
  • Origin: Eastern United States and East Asia

Where to plant Itea 

  • Plant Itea in full sun or light shade.  
  • Plant Itea well-drained, moist, humus-rich, somewhat acidic soil.  
  • Plant Itea where it is not in drying winds.

When to plant Itea 

  • Set container-grown Itea in the garden in spring or fall.
  • Sw seed in spring or sow Itea seed when it is ripe.  

Planting and spacing Itea 

  • Space Itea 5 to 10 feet (1.5-3m) apart depending on the variety.
  • Sow seed 1/4 inch deep in evenly prepared soil.
  • Itea is easily started from cuttings or suckers.
Itea in a shrub border
Itea in a shrub border

How to water and feed Itea 

  • Give Itea regular water.  
  • Fertilizer Itea with an all-purpose, organic fertilizer in spring,

How to care for Itea 

  • Tie in long shoots of wall-trained Itea.

Itea pests and diseases 

  • Itea rarely have diseases or pests. 

Itea propagation 

  • Take Itea softwood cuttings in late spring. 
  • Root semi-ripe cuttings in summer.

Itea varieties to grow 

  • Itea ilicifolia, hollyleaf sweetspire: a Chinese evergreen that grows 10 to 12 feet (3-4m) tall and is graceful, open, and arching; it has spiny, lustrous, dark green hollylike leaves 2 to 4 inches (5-10cm) long; leaves are bronze-red when new, maturing to dark green; tiny greenish-white flowers appear in slender racemes that are nodding or drooping to 1 foot (.3m) long, from mid-to-late summer; flowering is sparse where winters are mild; this variety needs fertile, moist soil in partial shade and out of the wind and requires minimal pruning; attractive near water or espaliered along a fence or wall. Zones 8 to 9.  
  • I. virginica, Virginia sweetspire, an eastern U.S. wetland plant growing erect up to 5 feet (1.5m) tall and easily suckering twice as wide; spreads to form large patches where well adapted; this species is adaptable to drought and almost any other hardship, although it flowers and colors best in moist, fertile soil and full sun; leaves are oval, dark green, to 4 inches (10cm) long and 1.5 inches (3.7cm) wide; autumn foliage can be a spectacular mix of red and reddish-purple, sometimes with orange or yellow; fragrant creamy white flowers are held in clusters; bloom in the spring in the South, in summer farther north; ecellent planting at the edge of a wood or pond, or in a border; cut back one-third of oldest shoots to stimulate new growth.  Cultivar ‘Henry’s Garnet’, which received a Gold Medal from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, has larger flowers—6 inch (15cm) clusters—and spectacular fall color; only 4 feet (1.2m) tall; best in Zones 6 to 9.  

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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