New Jersey Tea
- Well drained to dry soils -Drought tolerant once established
- Full Sun to very light shade
- 36” tall, 24” to 36” wide
- Summer blooms
- Ontario Native, Thriving in meadow and dry meadow ecosystems
Because of their small stature and naturally tidy form, this is probably the native shrub species that I most often see promoted as an alternative to non-native shrubs in the landscape. While, as anyone who follows this page knows, I’m a huge proponent of filling the spaces we tend with native plants, I’m not entirely onboard with the wholesale promotion of this species to the urban and suburban gardener.
New Jersey Tea have been growing in the spaces I tend since I planted a packet of their seeds six years ago and they haven’t been entirely happy. In the urban garden I think that they have had a bit too much competition from surrounding species and possibly not quite enough drainage. The space isn’t soggy by any means, but these are a dry savannah species, thriving in sandy soils with perfect drainage. Once established they are very drought tolerant.
Which would seem perfect for the rural garden, which is on a sand/silt soil with less than 1% clay and exceedingly good drainage. The challenge there, though, isn’t the growing conditions so much as their tastiness. Everyone from the mice to the deer find them to be a delicacy and chomp on them freely at various times of the year.
The one place I have seen them truly thriving is in a fire managed meadow ecosystem at the Alderville Black Oak Savanna, where they have plenty of sun, no supplemental watering, reliable drainage and where competition is limited by controlled burning practices.
Rather different conditions than those usually found in a suburban garden.
These really are very beautiful plants, with the small stature and tidy, rounded form that has made various cultivars of Japanese Spireas so very popular in manicured landscapes. But switching from conventional gardening to planting for ecosystem health isn’t as simple as swapping out similarly sized and shaped species. To really achieve what I think is intended means working with the plants suited to the conditions where they will be planted and planting with the species that they are adapted to thriving alongside. It takes more time to plan, more time to get to know the plants and more attention and responsive adjustments as the community matures but also tends to require fewer inputs and much smaller interventions, like changing soils, adding mulch or even entire landscape renovations, over time. And the result is a thriving plant community that can support the lifecycles of the species who rely on them.
If you do happen to have a sunny area with well drained soil that you think would suit this species, some companions for them would include Orange Butterfly Weed, Heath Aster, Spotted Horsemint, Slender Blazing Star, Pearly Everlasting, Lance-leaf Coreopsis, June Grass and Side-oats Grama