Sweet Clethra

Hummingbird Clethra & Smokebush in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Hummingbird Clethra & Smokebush (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Clethra alnifolia is a popular garden shrub for so many reasons.   You can grow this versatile shrub in sun or shade, and it will bloom beautifully either way.  There are tall cultivars, like the rosy pink spired ‘Ruby Spice’ that can reach 6′ in optimal conditions.  And there are shorter versions, like ‘Hummingbird’ and ‘Sixteen Candles’ that produce white blossoms and top out around 3′, just perfect for the smaller garden setting.  By no means are these the only selections, but these are the clethras that I personally grow and have had great success with.

Clethra Ruby Spice in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Clethra Ruby Spice (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Both junior or senior shrubs have lush, rich green rigid-textured foliage that works wonderfully with other shrubs and perennials.  When midsummer arrives, fragrant bottle brush spires of pink or white dominate the limbs and are so prolific they illuminate your landscape at night.  These scented dynamos last from July to August and are a huge attraction to butterflies and bees, while providing an intoxicating pit stop for the humans.

But why stop there when you don’t have to with this fabulous garden gem?  Not only does clethra give you superb foliage and luscious blooms, but she also has a dazzling fall display, as well.  Around the end of October, the firm foliage turns a goldenrod yellow that joyously brightens the garden atmosphere.  And just when you think this amazing shrub couldn’t get any better, it holds its masses of dried flower heads on upright bare stems adding another textural element of interest in the winter landscape.

Clethra's Fall Color in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Clethra’s Fall Color (photo credit : Kathy Diemer)

Clethra alnifolia is native to the Eastern United States woodlands, and so prefers the moister soils prevalent in those settings.  If you grow it in consistently moist (even wet) soil in zones 4 – 9, summersweet will give you (and your native fauna) years of seasonal interest and enjoyment.

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