Bluebeard Shrubs

Bluebeard shrubs, botanically known as Caryopteris, Bluebeard shrubs, botanically known as Caryopteris, and commonly known as Blue Spirea, is in a family of small shrubs that bloom from late summer to early fall. Caryopteris is actually a woody plant, but in cooler climates it is killed back to the ground in winter and functions as an herbaceous perennial. Caryopteris is Asian in origin and the name is Greek in origin. The Greek word means ‘winged nut’, which refers to the small winged fruit that appears after the flowers are spent.
Caryopteris are known for their low maintenance and disease resistance. They are drought tolerant and will perform well in full sun or in light shade. They will not tolerate wet, boggy soils, especially in the winter. Bluebeard is a magnet for butterflies and is so attractive with the true blue flowers. Bluebeard blooms on new wood, so all winter damaged branches can be pruned off in early spring without losing any flowers. Do not over fertilize. Too much fertilizer will make more leafy growth than flowers. Bluebeard is used for mixed borders and for a low shrub border. Floral arrangements are enhanced by using the airy blue flowers as blue filler.

Bluebeard

Grown for its delightful blue blossoms, bluebeard adds a much-needed splash of garden color in mid- to late summer. The plant also carries on through much of the fall for a spectacular display that mixes well with cool color palettes and also acts as a refreshing contrast to the hot colors of fall. Bluebeard shrubs also look attractive in containers, especially when you choose the variegated and golden varieties.

genus name
  • Caryopteris
light
  • Sun
plant type
  • Perennial,
  • Shrub
height
  • 1 to 3 feet,
  • 3 to 8 feet
width
  • 2 to 4 feet wide
flower color
  • Blue,
  • Pink
foliage color
  • Blue/Green,
  • Chartreuse/Gold,
  • Gray/Silver
season features
  • Fall Bloom,
  • Summer Bloom
problem solvers
  • Deer Resistant,
  • Groundcover,
  • Drought Tolerant,
  • Slope/Erosion Control
special features
  • Attracts Birds,
  • Fragrance,
  • Good for Containers
zones
  • 4,
  • 5,
  • 6,
  • 7,
  • 8
propagation
  • Seed,
  • Stem Cuttings

Colorful Combinations

As one of the few flowering shrubs that bloom in late summer, bluebeard can be a valuable plant to add to your garden. At its peak, the shrub features long, graceful stems covered in small leaves and loaded with blossoms at every leaf section. There are many colorful foliage varieties to consider in addition to the familiar soft, silver-green version. Golden foliage is one of the most appealing; its bright yellow leaves create a stunning backdrop for the bright blue flowers. When bluebeard isn’t in bloom, the foliage adds visual lightness to the garden

See more flowering shrubs by season.

Bluebeard Care Must-Knows

Bluebeard will not tolerate wet soils, so make sure it’s planted in a thoroughly well-drained area. If the soil stays wet, the shrub’s roots will likely rot. If these plants are too wet during the winter, they won’t come back in the spring. Once established, bluebeard is drought-tolerant and needs consistent, well-drained soil.

Bluebeard thrives in full sun. Some of the older varieties of bluebeard can display a fairly loose plant habit, but full sun ensures these plants are as dense as possible. Full sun is also ideal for the most impressive flower display; the less sun the plant gets, the fewer blossoms will appear.

See how to thin and deadhead your flowers.

The top growth of bluebeard is not nearly as winter-hardy as the roots. But bluebeard blooms on new growth, so this characteristic typically isn’t a problem. If you think you have lost your plants to winter, wait and watch for signs of growth at the base. For the most vigorous and compact growth, cut back the shrub each spring. Pruning encourages growth from the base and prevents plants from dying out in the middle.

New Innovations

Many of the new bluebeard varieties are dwarf in habit, making them good choices for smaller spaces and containers. Other new varieties display colored foliage that won’t burn in the sun. There are also new and improved varieties boasting bigger and bluer blooms.

More Varieties of Bluebeard

‘Beyond Midnight’ bluebeard

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Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Beyond Midnight’ is a recent introduction that has deep, dark green foliage with a lovely gloss. They are compact with deep blue flowers. Zones 5-9

‘Blue Mist’ bluebeard

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Caryopteris ‘Blue Mist’ grows 3 feet tall and features light blue flowers with an open, loose growth habit perfect for cottage gardens. Zones 5-8

‘Longwood Blue’ bluebeard

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Caryopteris ‘Longwood Blue’ is one of the most outstanding introductions. It features sky blue flowers that appear in midsummer and last until fall. It grows 4 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-8

Petit Bleu bluebeard

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Caryopteris ‘MinBleu’ is a French introduction that flaunts rich sky blue flowers on a compact, 3-foot-tall plant. Zones 5-8

Sunshine Blue bluebeard

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Caryopteris incana ‘Jason’ offers large gold leaves that are a stellar complement to the rich blue flowers. It grows 4 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-11

Sunshine Blue II bluebeard

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An improvement of the original, Caryopteris incana’s beautiful gold foliage stands up better to full sun, and has improved winter hardiness as well. Blue flowers over gold foliage is stunning. Zones 5-9

Garden Plans For Bluebeard

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The Good Bluebeard

A French aristocrat who had a nasty habit of murdering his wives, the fairytale Bluebeard definitely wasn’t a gentleman in the true sense of the word. Fortunately, the plant named for him is more benevolent. Its genus name is Caryopteris and its less malign nicknames include “blue mist bush” and “blue spirea.”

Not actually a spirea, the blue-flowered shrub originated in the mountains of eastern Asia, where the C. incana species grows at a lower elevation than C. mongolica, making the former somewhat less hardy. Fortunately, an accidental cross occurred between the two in the garden of an Englishman and was dubbed Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Arthur Simmonds’ in his honor. It and some of the additional C x clandonensis cultivars developed from it usually are perennial in USDA zones 5 through 9.

Keep in mind that, in zones such as 5 and 6, they survive by dying completely back to the ground during winter. So their habit is much the same as that of butterfly bush (Buddleja spp.).

Two of the most popular C. x clandonensis cultivars are ‘Dark Knight’, growing to about 2 feet, and ‘Blue Mist’ which can reach three feet in height. Although species such as C. incana, C. divaricata, and C. nepalensis are supposed to be less hardy, it appears—judging from the experiences of Davesgarden.com members—that most bluebeards will survive winters underground at least as far north as zone 6.

They generally have silvery leaves, whose scent has been described as lavender or eucalyptus-like, and make blue or purplish-blue flower clusters in the upper leaf axils of each stem during late summer and autumn. The shrubs prefer as much sun as they can get, along with a loose and well-drained soil. Too much moisture during winter may kill them, but they otherwise are easy-care plants.

In the colder zones, bluebeards tend to prune themselves, and you only need to snip off the dead stems at ground level in spring. Those of you gardeners who live farther south should cut your plants back severely at the end of winter. Since they bloom on new wood, you want to induce them to make lots of it.

Also, their old wood tends to be brittle and inclined to split, so you shouldn’t retain more of it than necessary. As the bushes self-sow heavily, you may want to snip off the flowers after they fade, too, encouraging more blooms and discouraging the production of seeds.

Someone sent me bluebeard seeds of an unknown cultivar last winter, but I didn’t get around to planting them until spring. Those seeds germinate best when fresh and tend to lose viability when stored for several months as mine were. Of those I sowed in March, only one sprouted–in about 8 days. That seedling already is trying to bloom when it’s less than a foot tall.

For the best results, press freshly harvested seeds into the surface of damp seed-starting mix and keep them at about 68 degrees Fahrenheit until they germinate. If you want to make sure that your little bluebeards will look like the parent plant, it’s best to take cuttings instead, as the offspring of hybrids tend to be unpredictable.

Bluebeard shrubs are loved by hummingbirds, butterflies, and especially by bees, so persons allergic to stings may want to think twice about planting them. Deer reportedly don’t like their scented foliage, another point in their favor. And, if a guy with blue tints in his goatee–whose previous wives have mysteriously disappeared–ever asks you to marry him, you can say that you already have one bluebeard in your life and don’t need another!

Photos: The banner ‘Dark Knight’ photo is by KMAC, ‘Blue Mist’ by mygardens, incana by Tom Clothier, and ‘Heavenly Blue’ by kniphofia, all from the Dave’s Garden PlantFiles. The antique Caryopteris incana image is from an 1892 issue of Revue Horticole, courtesy of plantillustrations.org.

Bluebeard, Blue Mist Spirea

Bluebeard, also called blue mist spirea, is technically a woody shrub. However, it loses leaves in the winter and usually dies back to the ground every year, so it is often treated as a perennial. It mixes very well with other sun-loving perennials and is great for fall flower color.

Description of bluebeard: Opposite leaves are 3 inches long and narrow. The undersides are grayish-white. Blue-purple flowers are formed toward the top of each stem in late summer or early fall. Plants grow 3 to 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide.

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How to grow bluebeard: Full sun and well-drained soil are best for this perennial. It does not need rich soil or extra moisture. Blue mist spirea is frequently used in water-conserving landscapes in western states. Do not cut back stems in the fall or winter. Wait until you see new growth emerge in the spring, then cut back just above that. Plants spread by way of underground runners.

Propagating bluebeard: Take stem cuttings in spring or early summer.

Uses for bluebeard: Incorporate this perennial as you would a small shrub. Blue mist spirea can be planted singly or in groups of three. It mixes well with yellow flowers that bloom at the same time of the year, such as orange coneflower and goldenrod. It blooms at the same time that monarch butterflies migrate and butterflies find it an irresistible nectar source.

Bluebeard related varieties: ‘Blue Mist’ has gray-green leaves and light blue flowers. ‘Heavenly Blue’ has dark green leaves and deep blue flowers. ‘Longwood Blue’ has silvery foliage and sky blue flowers.

Scientific name for bluebeard: Caryopteris x clandonensis

Want more gardening information? Try:

  • Perennial Flowers: Find out more about how to grow and care for perennial flowers, which come in all thinkable shapes, sizes and colors.
  • Annual Flowers: Learn more about annuals and their glorious, must-have summer colors.
  • Perennials: Discover many species of flowers that will return year after year to the diligent gardener.
  • Gardening: Read our helpful articles and get tips and ideas for your garden.

Plant Database

Habitat

  • hybrid cross between C. incana and C. mongholica ‘Bunge’
  • hardy to zone 6

Habit and Form

  • a herbaceous shrub
  • 2′ to 3′ tall
  • mounded
  • medium-fine texture
  • fast growth rate

Summer Foliage

  • opposite leaf arrangement
  • simple, deciduous leaves
  • ovate leaf shape
  • 1″ to 2″ long
  • margin can be smooth or toothed
  • pubescent
  • dull bluish-green leaf color

Autumn Foliage

  • no fall color

Flowers

  • blue flowers
  • flowers clustered together
  • blooms in August

Fruit

  • no ornamentally important

Bark

  • pubescent
  • squared stems
  • green stem color

Culture

  • prefers loose, fertile, well-drained soil
  • full sun
  • cut back in winter

Landscape Uses

  • perennial border
  • for flower effect
  • for late summer color

Liabilities

  • not reliably hardy
  • doesn’t like wet “feet”

ID Features

  • opposite leaf arrangement
  • squared, greenish stems
  • blue flowers held in clusters
  • late summer bloom
  • 2′ to 3′ tall
  • dies back in winter

Propagation

  • by cuttings

Cultivars/Varieties

‘Blue Mist’ – A low, mounding form (under 3′ tall) with light blue flowers.

‘Dark Knight’ – Similar overall to ‘Blue Mist’, except the blooms are a pronounced deep blue-purple.

‘First Choice’ – A new form being pushed in the nursery industry. The blooms are purple-blue, the form 3′ tall and wide, and the plant blooms a bit earlier than other forms — often by late August.

‘Longwood Blue’ – One of the more popular forms and perhaps superior. The leaves are a pleasant silvery-gray color, which contrasts well with the violet blooms. A bit larger, to 4′ tall and wide.

‘Worcester Gold’ – An unusual and popular form with yellow foliage that holds up in the summer heat. The blooms are blue.

Pruning Caryopteris – How, when and Why : (Blue Spiraea Shrub) 

Gardenseeker Main › Pruning Shrubs A – Z › Pruning Caryopteris

There are several varieties of Caryopteris with the Caryopteris x clandonensis cultivars being the main group.

All have grey-green aromatic foliage with the exception of the golden leaved and variegated forms. However they are grown in the main for their varied blue flowers which start to appear late summer and normally carry on right through to mid-winter. The blue flowers contrast well with other autumnal shades in the late garden.

Caryopteris Shrubs flower on growths made in the current growing season and generally are suited to pruning hard each spring. Pruning is not absolutely essential, but without pruning the shrub will grow into an untidy mess, and gradually lose flowering capabilities.

Annual pruning of Caryopteris x clandonensis will ensure a compact shrub with masses of flowers and a longer flowering period.

Basically you have to decide what height you want your Caryopteris to grow to each year – approximately – then experiment with a permanent framework – as in the image – which should be between 20 – 40cms (8-16in) high. This will mean that you have a ‘stump’ of branches which are left un-pruned each year, from which the new growths (branches) will sprout.

Hard pruning of your ‘Blue Spiraea’ (Caryopteris) should take place in late winter or early spring, and preferably before too much new growth has started after the winter. In spite of it’s common name it is not related to the true Spiraea family – an anomaly of using common names!

Pruning can take place as late as end of April, but earlier is better.

This type of cutting back of your Caryopteris will ensure a good cluster of arching stems, with fresh aromatic foliage as an added attraction for this shrub.

Caryopteris pruned in this way will normally grow to around 60 – 90 cms (24-36in) each year and be densely compact in habit. Left un-pruned – the shrub will be a mass of untidy intertwined stems. (Still attractive, if you like an unruly shrub!). There will be much more vigour with the pruned version!

As with all silver or grey green foliaged plants, Caryopteris is happy in a sunny position on the dry side. Tolerates these conditions quite well. In fact, thrives!

As the regular pruning will remove substantial growth each year, the shrub will benefit from regular organic mulch and feeding with a slow release fertiliser such as bone meal or Osmocote. This will help to replenish the annual flush of new growth.

Your Caryopteris will start flowering on the new growth from mid to late summer, and continue well into the autumn or even mild winters. Additional ‘snipping can be carried out after the first flower flush fades a little, but no more than removing the faded flower growth. Keep it growing well and this will be unnecessary.

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