I have never been a big Spirea fan. This tough plant is over-used in the urban landscape; when there's a dirth of ideas, there are hedges and massed plantings of Spirea. Its appeal lies in the fact that it blooms profusely and seems to be unkillable. It's a snobby thing with me – not wanting to plant anything so ordinary – but then along comes Spirea 'Double Play Red.'
This welcome new cultivar (cultivated variety) has burgundy foliage when it first comes out in spring and flowers of the darkest velvety crimson. The foliage turns to gold in summer and autumn. Altogether it produces a triple whammy. When placing a plant with such an intense colour bloom, remember that red tends to recede in early evening gloom – it turns into a blobby blank. With a plant of such strength, make sure to use strong background companions: Berberis thunbergii 'Aurea,' or for a silver contrast Caryopteris 'Blue Knight,' or any perennial or shrub with a dramatic contrast in colour, foliage and size.
Spirea blooms in both sun and shade making it extremely flexible. It needs to have well-drained soil but puts up with a bit of drought though not long-term drying out. To maintain your Spirea, cut it back hard in spring while it's still dormant. This means removing two-thirds of the previous season's growth, then cut every other main branch to the ground. This will thin out the centre and let the light in. Nursery man Tom Intven says this is a critical pruning technique for Sprireas. If light doesn't get into the interior of the plant, it won't support photosynthesis and keep tissue alive. Don't worry, Spireas produce new shoots continuously from the crown. After flowering in June/July, prune back moderately to about half the current season's growth. It may lead to reblooming, which is always a bonus. Mulch deeply to protect it during our now unpredictable winters. A good hit of compost in spring and fall are about all you have to do for it otherwise. Well grown, it reaches 90 cm in height (Zone 4).
'Double Play Red' is rated as deer proof, and a hummingbird magnet. These you will have to test for yourself. It would look gorgeous alone in a container, and as a good anchor plant in any kind of a border. Just don't overdo it.