How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Spicebush

Are you curious about growing your own spicebush shrub? Spicebush is a native plant that makes a great addition to a shade garden or naturalized woodland garden. In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen will discuss the proper care and maintenance of these interesting plants.

A close-up of Spicebush plants reveals wooden branches intermingling intricately. The tiny, umbel-like, greenish-yellow blooms add delicate charm to the scene. Lush branches in the background create a verdant tapestry of nature's beauty.


Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, also known as northern spicebush or wild allspice, is a deciduous shrub that grows in rich, moist woodlands. In the home landscape, it’s a great choice for a native plant or shade garden.

Spicebush provides year-round landscaping appeal. From spring flowers to fall foliage, summer fruits, and winter structure, you can enjoy this low-maintenance shrub in a shaded part of your yard. As a flowering shrub, it is one of the first to bloom each spring, attracting early-season pollinators. And if you enjoy growing plants with unique characteristics, the crushed leaves emit a pleasantly spicy scent. 

Spicebush is easy to care for and rarely has any problems with pests or diseases. In its natural habitat, spicebush is a fairly common plant, but it isn’t commonly used for home landscaping projects. If you choose to grow spicebush, you will be growing a beautiful, useful, and interesting plant that adds tons of appeal in wet or shady spots where it can be hard to find suitable plants.

If you have the proper growing conditions, spicebush is an excellent addition to your native plant landscape. Let’s learn more about this unique and interesting shrub.

Spicebush Plant Overview

A close-up of tiny, umbel-like greenish-yellow flowers, adding an exquisite touch to the Spicebush plant. In the background, other brown branches and logs create a natural setting, while green grasses on the ground complete the picturesque scene.
Plant Type Deciduous shrub
Family Lauraceae
Genus Lindera
Species benzoin
Native Area Central United States, Eastern United States, Eastern Canada
USDA Hardiness Zone 4 – 9
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Average quality to sandy loam, well-drained
Water Medium-moist
Maintenance Low
Suggested Uses Shade garden, pollinator garden, native garden, rain garden
Height 6 – 15 feet
Bloom Season Early spring
Flower Color Yellow
Attracts Birds, butterflies, pollinators
Problems Laurel wilt
Resistant To Deer, wet soil, heavy shade, pests and diseases
Plant Spacing 6 – 12 feet

Natural History

A close-up of Spicebush plant. Vibrant red berries dangle gracefully from its branches, contrasting with the rich green leaves. The lush backdrop showcases the thriving ecosystem where Spicebush is carefully planted and nurtured.
Valued for its role as a wildlife food plant, spicebush forms non-aggressive thickets.

Spicebush is native to the central and eastern United States and eastern Canada. It lives in rich, moist forests, in bottomlands, along stream banks, and in woodland ravines. This species typically grows in mature woodlands and areas with low disturbance.

Spicebush has many uses and can be readily incorporated into a home landscape. It is a valuable wildlife food plant with important contributions to the natural environment. It can form thickets, although it does not grow aggressively. Humans have also used spicebush. It has fragrant leaves and berries that can be used in scented herbal and floral mixes. 

There are several other species of spicebush, native to different regions and countries. You will find that they all have similar requirements, qualities, and characteristics. 


A close-up of Spicebush branches with intricate beauty of the tiny, umbel-like, greenish-yellow blooms. Each delicate flower contributes to the overall allure of the Spicebush plant.
In early spring, small yellowish-green flowers emerge along the bare stems.

Spicebush is a medium-sized perennial deciduous shrub. It is relatively slow-growing and can grow up to 15 feet tall, although it often stays smaller. Shrubs grown with greater sun exposure have a more dense and bushy form, while shrubs grown in heavy shade tend to develop fewer branches. These shrubs are not very heavily or densely branched.

The leaves are smooth-edged, oblong, and oval-shaped with gently pointed ends. The leaves are bright green during the growing season and emit a spicy aroma when crushed. In fall, the spicebush leaves turn bright yellow for an appealing autumn display

Small yellowish-green flowers develop along the bare stems before leaves emerge in early spring. By late summer, small, oval, bright red berry-like drupes add a burst of color. Spicebush is dioecious, meaning there are separate male and female plants, and you need both for cross-pollination and for the female plants to produce fruits.


Spicebush can be propagated by seeds or by softwood cuttings. These are not the easiest plants to grow from either, but it can be done with a bit of patience and effort. Do not dig native plants from their natural environments. Instead, opt for cuttings or seeds from friends’ gardens, or source them from native plant nurseries. 


A close-up of Spicebush captures the elegance of red berries hanging on its branches, harmonizing with the yellowish leaves. In the blurred background, a tapestry of greenery further enhances the botanical composition.
Harvest fully red and mature spicebush drupes to collect seeds.

The bright red berry-like drupes contain seeds. If you want to grow spicebush from seed, harvest a few of these drupes late in the season when they are fully red and mature. The inner seeds should not be allowed to dry out, or they quickly lose viability.

Place the freshly collected drupes in a small bag with moist soil and refrigerate them for approximately four months to cold-stratify them. Then, sow the seeds in warm, moist soil, maintaining moisture until they germinate. You can also try winter-sowing to mimic the natural winterization of the wild plants.

Softwood Cuttings

A close-up focuses on a large green container filled with brown soil, housing stem cuttings with small leaves. The thriving greenery in the background includes other potted plants, creating a visual symphony of growth and cultivation.
Successful rooting is indicated by fresh growth at the top of the stem cutting.

The easiest way to propagate spicebush is by taking cuttings. Take softwood cuttings during springtime using clean, sharp pruners. Take a four to six-inch section of new woody growth. Remove any buds or leaf growth from the lower half of the stem. Dip that half in rooting hormone and plant it in fresh, clean, moist soil.

Keep the soil moist while you’re waiting for your cutting to take root. When you start to see fresh growth at the tops, that’s a good sign that your cutting was successful


A close-up of small seedlings. The delicate seedlings exhibit tender green shoots emerging from tiny seeds, thriving in nutrient-rich brown soil. This vibrant microcosm of growth is encapsulated within the confines of a brown box.
Maintain moist soil around the new plant for the initial weeks to aid its adjustment.

If you have a potted spicebush, either purchased from a nursery or your own propagation technique, you will need to transplant it into its permanent location in your landscape. The best time to transplant is during spring or fall. Choose a cool, overcast day for your transplanting project

Select an ideal location based on the plant’s needs for sunlight, soil, and water. Prepare the transplanting site by digging a hole slightly larger than the rootball of your potted plant. Gently remove the plant from its pot and transfer it into the prepared hole. Refill any gaps around the edges with fresh soil.

Finally, give your newly transplanted spicebush a thorough watering to help it settle in. Ensure the soil around your new plant stays moist for the first few weeks.

How to Grow

Spicebush is very easy to grow in a moist, slightly shaded location. Once yours is planted and established, it should be quite trouble-free and will provide many years of beauty in your landscape. Just make sure to place it in a location that meets its preferred needs for sunlight and moisture.


A close-up of branches of Spicebush. The slender branches showcase the intricate network of veins and foliage, exuding a lively green hue. Adorning these branches are tiny, umbel-like, greenish-yellow blooms, adding a burst of color and texture to the Spicebush landscape.
Plants in full shade may grow slower than those receiving partial sunlight.

Spicebush does best in partial shade, receiving between two and six hours of direct sunlight daily. These plants also tolerate full shade but grow with less vigor than those that receive some sunlight each day. Dappled shade and afternoon shade are best.


A close-up of flowers of Korean Spicebush. Delicate, tiny, umbel-like, greenish-yellow blooms grace the branch, forming a mesmerizing floral arrangement. Each bloom is intricately attached to the branch, contributing to the overall visual splendor of the Korean Spicebush in full bloom.
Spicebush can withstand occasional flooding and short periods of drought.

Your plant needs medium moisture soil and performs best if it does not dry out. It can tolerate periodic flooding and very brief periods of drought. Consistent soil moisture is most important when plants are young.


A close-up of hands holding dark rich soil. The hands of the gardener cradle the dark, nutrient-dense soil, telling tales of labor and cultivation. This fertile earth, clinging to the gardener's hands, originates from a sizable container, subtly blurred in the background.
This plant generally subsists in well-drained soil of average quality.

The soil should be of average quality and able to hold some water. Spicebush appreciates well-drained soil but isn’t too picky about soil quality. It tolerates heavy clay soils with ease. 

Climate and Temperature 

A close-up of branches of Spicebush. Against the backdrop of a clear blue sky, the branches reveal the intricate beauty of the Spicebush. Tiny, umbel-like, greenish-yellow blooms adorn the branches, creating a harmonious blend of nature against the serene azure canvas.
For optimal growth, plant these shrubs in shaded areas or protected woodlands.

Grow spicebush in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4 – 9. These shrubs do not do well in excessive heat and prefer the coolness of a shaded area or protected woodland.  


A close-up of a Spicebush branches at sunset. The branch is thin and sturdy, with dark brown bark, backlit by the setting sun. There are several buds on the branch, and some of them are already starting to open.
Growing your spicebush in average to rich soil eliminates the need for fertilization.

You won’t need to worry about fertilizing your spicebush plant. If you are growing it in average-quality to rich soil, it should perform very well without needing extra nutrients. In fact, extra nutrients can reduce the vigor of the plant overall.


A farmer expertly wields pruning shears to trim branches. The branches, adorned with yellowish leaves, are carefully selected for pruning. Warm sunlight bathes the scene, casting a golden glow reminiscent of a tranquil afternoon.
To retain soil moisture, consider mulching around the plant’s base.

Spicebush is a very low-maintenance plant. Prune off any dead or broken branches as needed. Mulch around the base of the plant to preserve soil moisture. Use natural and biodegradable leaf mulch, compost mulch, or wood chip mulch, which decomposes and enriches the soil. 

Garden Design

Spicebush plants showcase intricate branches with tiny, umbel-like, greenish-yellow blooms. In the background, brown lush branches complement the detailed foreground, creating a harmonious botanical composition with elements of both delicacy and vitality.
This plant is a valuable addition to wildlife-friendly gardens, complementing other shade-loving natives.

Spicebush isn’t the perfect plant for all garden settings, but it’s a great choice for some projects. One of the most important things to remember when choosing spicebush for your landscape is that it likes moist soil and a bit of shade.

Do you have a somewhat boggy, wooded area? Place spicebush under the shade of some larger trees. Does your property border a wetland, or do you have a low spot that’s consistently moist? Spicebush is an excellent plant for a wetland or rain garden. Do you want to grow native plants and support a variety of pollinators? Spicebush is a valuable addition to a wildlife-friendly garden, and it fits in well with other shade-loving native plants.  

Use spicebush in a hedge with other flowering shrubs. Plant it along a woodland edge or a property line. Don’t plant spicebush among other aggressively growing shrubs or vines because it is easily out-competed. Instead, grow a few in a cluster separate from other, larger shrubs to really appreciate their unique and subtle contributions to your landscape design. 


Southern Spicebush, Lindera melissifolia

Southern Spicebush features a prominent berry atop vibrant leaves on a well-defined branch. The leaves exhibit a rich texture and color, while the blurred background hints at a lush greenery, creating a captivating contrast in focus.
This shrub needs wet habitats, such as periodically flooded areas.

Southern spicebush, or pondberry, is a smaller shrub native to the southeastern United States. It grows in wet habitats, on the edges of waterways and in areas that are flooded occasionally. It spreads by root suckers to form colonies.

In the springtime,  bunches of yellow flowers bloom along the woody stems, and by late summer, bright red fruits develop, attracting birds and other small wildlife. Southern spicebush prefers warmer climates and is hardy in USDA Zones 7 – 9.

Narrow-Leaf Spicebush, Lindera angustifolia

The Narrow-leaf Spicebush reveals elegantly branching stems adorned with lush, reddish leaves. In the backdrop, towering trees with green foliage add depth, emphasizing the smaller plant's intricate details. Lush greenery further enriches the overall visual narrative.
Narrowleaf spicebush reaches a height of seven to 10 feet and prefers sandy, well-drained soil.

This spicebush is a large shrub native to China and Korea. It grows seven to 10 feet tall and prefers sandy, moist, well-drained soil. Narrow-leaf spicebush is hardy in USDA Zones 6 – 8. This species is appreciated for its dazzling orange, red, and purple-bronze fall foliage that persists into the winter months

Japanese Spicebush, Lindera obtusiloba

A close-up of a Japanese Spicebush branch showcasing vibrant blooms. The yellow blossoms add a lively touch to the wooden branches, creating a harmonious display. Dark green backdrop enhances the overall visual appeal.
Female plants produce small, dark burgundy-red to black fruits after flowering.

The Japanese spicebush is a showy shrub that is native to Asia. It grows 10 to 20 feet tall and does well in USDA Zones 6 – 9. In early spring, this species develops dense clusters of golden yellow flowers along the stems, followed by small, dark burgundy-red to black fruits on female plants. The leaves turn an attractive yellow-orange in fall.

Red-Fruit Spicebush, Lindera erythrocarpa

A close-up of a Red-fruit Spicebush branch adorned with small green blooms. The delicate, finely textured leaves complement the greenery, providing a beautiful contrast. The intricate design of nature unfolds as sunlight highlights the nuances of this botanical composition.
Native to Asia, the red-fruit spicebush is ideally cultivated in moist, well-drained soils.

The red-fruit spicebush is a large shrub or small tree native to Asia. This plant is best grown in moist, well-drained soils in USDA Zones 6 – 8. It has relatively large leaves that turn brilliant yellow in fall. It blooms in spring, followed by bronze-red berries. 

Asian Spicebush, Lindera glauca var. salicifolia

A close-up of an Asian Spicebush, featuring lush red leaves that gracefully adorn slender stems and branches. Bathed in sunlight, the vibrant red hues create a striking visual spectacle. This botanical beauty stands out against a backdrop of green foliage, showcasing nature's vivid palette.
Perfect for privacy hedges, this variety features multiple sturdy trunks.

Asian spicebush is a medium to large deciduous shrub native to parts of Asia. It grows four to 10 feet tall and is hardy in USDA Zones 5 – 9. This spicebush species develops several thick trunks and make an excellent privacy hedge. The large leaves turn beautiful shades of orange, red, and purple during the fall months and persist on the plant well into the winter. 

Wildlife Value

A close-up of a Spicebush swallowtail butterfly, showcasing its intricate patterns and delicate wings. The butterfly elegantly rests on yellow blooms, adding a touch of nature's ballet to the scene. Green leaves provide a fresh and lively background, completing this enchanting composition.
Spicebush serves well in a wildlife garden, particularly for butterflies.

This shrub is excellent for a wildlife garden and especially for a butterfly-friendly habitat. It is the larval host plant for the Palamedes swallowtail butterfly and the spicebush swallowtail butterfly.

The flowers bloom very early in the year, attracting any early-season pollinators that may be around. By late summer and fall, the small red fruits attract birds and other foraging wildlife. 

Common Problems

Spicebush is a fairly trouble-free plant, and you should not typically have any problems with it. It is a member of the Laurel family, and these plants are all susceptible to laurel wilt disease. Laurel wilt is caused by a fungus (Raffaelea lauricola) and transmitted through infected redbay ambrosia beetles. 

Laurel Wilt 

A close-up of a tree branch afflicted by pests, displaying brown discoloration and evident holes on the inside. The stark contrast between the damaged branch and the healthy green leaves in the background illustrates the impact of the infestation on the surrounding plant life.
Shrubs severely affected by the infection typically die within a few months.

Watch for tiny holes on the bark of an infected shrub with thin rods of toothpick-like ‘frass’ extending from the hole’s opening. Leaves of infected shrubs turn reddish or bronze-brown color and wilt. A badly infected plant typically dies within a few months. 

Unfortunately, there isn’t anything to be done for an infected shrub other than to try to stop the spread. If your spicebush seems to mysteriously wilt and die suddenly and you suspect laurel wilt, cut it down, cut it into smaller pieces, and bury the infected tree parts to prevent spread to other trees or other areas.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I find a spicebush plant to grow?

You won’t typically find spicebush at the local garden center. Check with your local or regional botanical garden, arboretum, or native plant society to obtain a list of retailers specializing in native plants. You may also find specialty greenhouses and nurseries that specialize in growing native plants and have an interesting assortment of native shrubs, trees, and wildflowers for sale.

How long will it take for my spicebush to start flowering? 

If you start a spicebush plant from seed, it takes three or four years to start flowering. If you transplanted a greenhouse-grown plant, it likely starts to flower the following year or two after transplanting into your yard. Pay close attention in early spring, before the leaves even emerge, to catch sight of the beautiful yellow flowers!

My spicebush flowers but never makes any fruits. Why?

You need at least two spicebush plants to produce fruit. This is because you need both a male plant and a female plant for cross-pollination. Only the female plant produces the fruit. You’ll need the male plant for cross-pollination. Both plants have excellent landscaping value, however, producing yellow flowers in the spring and a showy display of yellow fall foliage.

Final Thoughts

Are you ready to add a spicebush shrub to your garden? If you have a shaded location with consistently moist soil, spicebush is a great choice. This plant is a very worthwhile addition to a wildlife garden or rain garden. Are you looking to add something easy-to-grow and low-maintenance, yet also a bit unusual to your shade garden? Grow a spicebush and enjoy its stunning attributes, from early spring flowers to late fall foliage and fruits.

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