In The Garden Now….. Sorbaria Sem

Sunday, April 9, 2017

False Spirea or Ural False Spirea

Text and photo by Victoria Gilliland

The most colorful plant in my garden right now is Sorbaria ‘Sem.’ And it isn’t the flowers …. it’s the fabulous texture and color of the fern-like foliage! Even in my shady garden these deciduous shrubs have been leafing out over the last 8 weeks, first slowly with just a hint of color and then with knock out bold enthusiasm. Foliage is produced in shades of orange, red, pink, chartreuse and yellow. Plants seem like refugees from the autumn garden, but I’ll take this intense color in my garden any time of year!

False Spirea will grow just about anywhere. It will grow in sun or shade and can make a showy container plant. Color is more intense in sun and it’s quite drought tolerant once established.

Plants grow to about 4 feet high and wide. In summer white flowers are produced that look a little like plump astilbe blossoms. Most gardeners grow "Sorbaria ‘Sem” for foliage color and texture not the flowers. I cut my plants back periodically during spring and summer to get plenty of that colorful foliage and don’t worry about the flowers that are less than stellar. Plants may be deer resistant, but who can be sure about the changing cuisine preferences of our deer friends?

This is a suckering shrub so it does spread by underground runners. It’s pretty easy to control, by lopping off errant offshoots with clippers and pulling up stray roots. In my sandy loam garden roots tend to be near the surface so little digging is required to remove them.

Some gardeners have commented that this plant was “invasive” in their garden. Over time and under the right growing conditions it could well be. So, be warned! If this is a concern, consider planting your false spirea in the ground in a black nursery pot to keep the roots contained. Alternatively, make your plant part of a container garden.

If you venture out into the neighborhood you may find some of these showy plants mingling with natives and other ornamentals in the garden. Enjoy the colorful display!

Botanical Name: Sorbaria sorbifolia ‘Sem’

Victoria Gilleland is the owner of Cottage Garden Designs, a Garden Design company specializing in Redesign of Residential Gardens, Garden Consultation and Coaching. She has been designing gardens in the northwest for over 20 years.


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