I Love Clethra alnifolia aka Summersweet or Sweet Pepperbush

Aug 27, 2021 | Love This!

Type of Plant:  A shrub that’s native to the northeast, also known as sweet pepperbush. Hardy in Zones 3-8, and happy to grow in sun or shade as long as it’s kept watered. Prefers moist soils but will thrive in native, shady areas or common garden conditions, but not extremely dry soils.

Why I Love/Hate this plant: I love this plant for so many reasons. First of all, for the summer fragrance of the flowers. In July and August the sweet, but not overpowering, scent of Clethra will perfume your landscape. I love the fact that this is a pollinator support plant. And I love the fall color on these shrubs. Finally, I’m pleased that there are many cultivars to enjoy, from the shorter growing Hummingbird to the later-flowering September Beauty.

A Word to the Wise: Clethra shrubs usually sucker to the sides. If you’re the type of gardener who wants a shrub to stay “within bounds” don’t plant this fantastic plant. If you’re a home landscaper who doesn’t want to accept, or occasionally cut back, the stems that spread two feet to the sides of the original shrub, don’t plant Clethra. It’s your loss, but à chacun ses goûts, right ?

The shorter varieties of Clethra, Humminbird or Sixteen Candles, are perfect for around decks, patios and firepits where you want shorter plants but fragrance in the summer. These grow to about three to three and a half feet tall. Here you see the plants in July

The tall Clethra in this garden are September Beauty. This variety comes into bloom about two weeks later than others, and continues to flower in my region for the first two weeks of September. These plants are about six feet tall and are 12 years old.

Be they bees or wasps, the pollinators love Clethra flowers.

This variety is a variegated leaf variety called Calico.

Fall color is just another reason to plant summersweet. The foliage is golden in the fall.


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