Growing Weigelas in the Home Landscape

The attractive flowers of the weigela (Weigela florida) are a common sight in landscapes in late spring. The funnel-shaped flowers may be white, pink, red, or purple-red. The flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Weigelas bloom on both old and new wood. The shrubs bloom heavily in late May or June on the previous year's growth.  They also bloom intermittently through the summer on the current season's growth.

Weigela leaves are medium green. However, there are a number of varieties (cultivars) with attractive reddish purple or variegated foliage. Fall leaf color is usually poor. Oftentimes, leaves simply go from green to brown in fall.

Weigelas are vigorous, easy to grow shrubs. Plants grow and bloom best in full sun. They will grow in partial shade, but won't bloom as heavily. While weigelas adapt well to a wide variety of soils, they perform best in well-drained, moist soils. Weigelas have few insect or disease pests. Winter dieback is a fairly common occurrence, especially in northern Iowa. The extent of damage varies from year to year and is largely determined by variety and winter weather conditions.

Except for cultivars with colorful foliage, weigelas are rather one dimensional plants. The shrubs are spectacular when in full bloom in late spring, but provide little interest the rest of the year. Since they lack interest much of the year, most weigelas are best planted in mixed shrub borders where they can fade into their surroundings after flowering. Cultivars with colorful foliage can be used as specimen plants. Dwarf varieties can be used as foundation plants.

Three of the best performing weigela varieties for Iowa are 'Red Prince,' 'Pink Princess,' and 'White Knight.' All three varieties were introduced by Iowa State University horticulturist Jack Weigle (1926 - 2001). The outstanding characteristics of 'Red Prince' are its flower color and hardiness. Most red-flowering weigelas actually produce purple-red flowers. 'Red Prince' produces dark red flowers. It is also more cold hardy than most other red-flowering weigelas. 'Pink Princess' produces lilac pink flowers on 5- to 6-foot-tall plants. 'White Knight' has pinkish buds, white flowers, and grows 5 to 6 feet tall.

Home gardeners may also want to consider the following noteworthy varieties. Wine and Roses® is a Dutch introduction with reddish purple foliage and deep pink flowers. 'Variegata' has green leaves with cream-colored margins and produces rosy pink flowers on 6-foot-tall plants. 'Minuet' is a dwarf, 2-foot-tall variety that produces ruby red flowers and has purple-tinged, dark green foliage. 'Newport Red' (also known as 'Vanicek') produces purple-red flowers on 5- to 6-foot-tall plants. 'Polka' produces deep pink flowers with yellow throats on 4-foot-tall plants. 'Java Red' has purple-red to bronze foliage, produces pink flowers, and grows 4 feet tall.

Pruning is the most important maintenance chore. Since weigelas are prone to winter dieback, carefully examine plants in late winter and prune out any dead wood. Mature plants can be kept healthy and vigorous by pruning out a few of the largest, oldest stems in late winter. Removal of a few large branches in late winter allows the shrub to bloom heavily in late spring and produce vigorous, new flowering shoots for future years. Weigelas can also be lightly pruned (shaped) immediately after the heavy, late spring bloom.

The weigela is native to Asia (Japan, Korea, and China). The genus is named after the German scientist Christian Ehrenfried Weigel. (It is pronounced why-GEE-luh.) It is also sometimes referred to as cardinal shrub.


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