How to Grow Bush Clover — Lespedeza

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Lespedeza–commonly called bush clover–is a woody-based perennial with arching branches of blue-green leaves that bear drooping 6-inch clusters of rose pink, sweet pea-shaped flowers in late summer.

Lespedeza can endure hot, dry sites and soil of low fertility. It can grow to 6 feet (1.8m) tall. Lespedeza grows rapidly; flowers appear on new growth. Lespedeza is an excellent late-flowering plant for a mixed shrub border.

Cut Lespedeza to the ground in late autumn or early spring; new growth will appear in spring.

Lespedeza is a genus of about 40 species of annuals, perennials, and small subshrubs. Lespedeza is native to meadows and grasslands in East Asia, Australia, and North America.

Lespedeza flower
Pink Lespedeza flower

Get to know Lespedeza 

  • Plant type: Annuals, perennials, and deciduous subshrubs 
  • Growing zones and range: Zones 4 to 8 
  • Hardiness: Hardy to Zone 4
  • Height and width: To 6 feet (2m) tall and 10 feet (3m) wide  
  • Growth rate: Slow to moderate 
  • Form and habit: Spreading fountain shape, clump-forming 
  • Foliage: Leaves are alternate and 3-palmate with three 1.5-2 inches (4-5cm) long 
  • Flowers: Small, pea-like flowers, profusely borne in drooping 6 inch (15cm) axillary or terminal racemes 
  • Bloom time: Late summer 
  • Uses: Mixed or shrub border, winter interest 
  • Garden companions: Ornamental grasses and shorter, coarser, mounded plants 
  • Common name: Bush clover 
  • Botanical name: Lespedeza 
  • Family name: Fabaceae 
  • Origin: East Asia, Australia, and North America 

Where to plant Lespedeza 

  • Plant Lespedeza in full sun; endures hot, dry sites.  
  • Plant Lespedeza in light, moderately fertile, well-drained soil; prefers sandy soil of low fertility. 

When to plant Lespedeza 

  • Set container grown Lezpedeza in the garden in spring or autumn.
  • Sow Lespedeza seed in containers outdoors in spring. 

Planting and spacing Lespedeza 

  • Plant Lespedeza 10 feet (3m) wide apart.  

How to water and feed Lespedeza 

  • Give Lespedeza moderate to little water. 
  • Feed Lespedeza an acidifying fertilizer occasionally. 

How to care for Lespedeza 

  • Where Lespedeza doesn’t die to the ground over winter, it needs a hard pruning in early spring to keep it from becoming unkempt.  
  • It will regrow rapidly and bear flowers on the new growth.  
  • Deadhead to prolong bloom; flowers grow as a multicluster.  

Lespedeza pests and diseases 

  • Lespedeza are susceptible to attacks by leafhoppers.  
  • Lespedeza can also develop powdery mildew, tar spot, rust, stem rot. 

Lespedeza propagation 

  • Take Lespedeza greenwood cuttings in early summer.  
  • Some species may be divided in spring, but plants rarely need it.  

Lespedeza varieties to grow 

  • Lespedeza bicolor, upright shrub with arching shoots and 3-palmate, mid- to dark green leaves consisting of broadly oval to obovate leaflets, to 2 inches (5cm) long. In mid- and late summer, purple-pink flowers, to .5 inch (1.5cm) long, are borne in slender racemes, 2-5 inches (5-13cm) or more long, form the upper leaf axils. To 6 feet (2m) tall and wide. East Asia. Zones 4 to 8.  
  • L. thunbergii, wood-based perennial or subshrub with long, arching shoots and 3-palmate, blue-green leaves consisting of oval or oval-lance-shaped leaflets, to 2 inches (5cm) long. In late summer, purple-pink flowers, to .5 inch (1.5cm) long, are profusely borne in pendent, terminal racemes, to 6 inches (15cm) long. To 6 feet (2m) tall and 10 feet (3m) wide. North Chine, Japan. Zones 5 to 8. 

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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