Skip to main content

Spotlight On: Fothergilla, From Flirty Flowers To Fall Fabulousness

By October 8, 2020March 22nd, 2022Plant Spotlight
Spotlight On: Fothergilla, From Flirty Flowers To Fall Fabulousness

Fall is officially here! That means delicious scents, bright colors and perfect weather for enjoying the changing landscape. Summer blooms may have faded, but there’s still plenty to enjoy, thanks to seasonal beauties like Fothergilla.

Fothergilla is a deciduous ornamental shrub that comes in two main varieties: Fothergilla major, which grows up to 10 feet tall and nearly as wide, and Fothergilla gardenii, coming in at about half the size.

It’s related to the winter prize Witch Hazel, and you may even have heard it referred to as Witch Alder. But Fothergilla is much more than an autumn shrub. It’s as beautiful in spring as it is in late fall, and its fiery October foliage is a true show-stopper.

In this spotlight series we highlight seasonal plants, trees and shrubs that are sure to bring beauty and delight to your landscape. Today we’re highlighting a fall favorite that will wear its bold colors long after other fall darlings have faded.

forthergilla flowersA True Native North American Shrub

They grow in woodlands and on the sides of mountains. They thrive in swampy areas and along the edges of roads. Most importantly, they grow and thrive right in your home garden.

Wild species have been cultivated into a number of cultivars, with names as charming as Red Licorice and as subtle as Blue Shadow. They present in different sizes, and with different fall hues, with the ability to grow and thrive in a variety of conditions. Some lean more toward autumn reds while others bring an array of reds, yellows and oranges. Some have silvery blue leaves during the growing season, others have more traditional greenery. Whatever the variety, this shrub is sure to please.

In spring, fluffy white flowers composed of delicate filaments appear on the ends of its bare branches. These lovely, fragrant blooms don’t have petals, making their appearance that much more striking in your April garden.

But it’s after the growing season is over that Fothergilla really shines. Its leaves burst into an array of intense hues, all on the same plant, and adorn your landscape well into November.

Even when it takes a break for winter, its branches add unique shapes and texture to your garden for all-year interest. It’s hard to imagine a shrub more visually appealing!

red and yellow fothergillaCare And Maintenance

Fothergilla grows best in moist but well-drained soil, so avoid heavy soil and clay. Provide this four-season shrub with soil rich in organic matter and you will be rewarded with all of its glory throughout the year.

It will thrive in full sun to part shade, but shows its best fall colors when planted in a sunny location. Once it has established roots, it can survive those long, dry summers effortlessly.

You can put away the pruning shears because this native plant is at its best when it’s left to grow naturally and informally. You may do some light pruning to remove suckers periodically and prevent unwanted spreading, but otherwise you can leave this beauty to grow on its own.

It’s incredibly low-maintenance and does as well in a container as it does in the ground. If you’re feeling motivated, it’s also easy enough to grow new plants from cuttings. Better yet, it’s deer-resistant, which means it will delight your eye from early spring through late fall and beyond, without the battles associated with many other prized plants.

fothergilla in fallWhy We Love It

The glowing fall colors alone are enough to make this perennial shrub a must-have for anyone looking to add seasonal beauty to their landscape. But there are plenty of reasons to love this plant, not least among them its ease of care, its four-season appeal, and its versatility for growing in gardens and containers alike.

It’s deer-resistant, virtually pest-free, and its nectar-producing flowers will attract flocks of butterflies in the spring. It’s also a nesting spot for birds. Plant with other wildlife favorites like spicebush and viburnum to create a robust habitat for birds, bees, butterflies and other welcome critters.

It’s perfect for planting near an entryway, even one that’s partially shaded, where you can enjoy its springtime blooms and sweet fragrance. Add it to a perennial garden or as a border for spectacular fall display. Or include it in a woodland setting where its free-spirited growth will fit in exquisitely.

Fothergilla enjoys similar soil conditions as Rhododendron, daffodils, and other spring bulbs. Plant these together for a burst of early spring color. And while its native varieties do prefer moist, acidic soil, other cultivars can be found to thrive in myriad conditions.

From the Beaver Creek cultivar, with its compact, container-ready shape, to the sprawling Fothergilla major and its showier cousin Mt. Airy, there’s bound to be a variety that’s perfect for your space.

If you’d like to learn more about adding fall color and four-season enjoyment to your landscape, contact us for a consultation. We’re here to turn your ordinary space into something you can enjoy with all your senses, all year long.

Bottom photo: Rodrigo.Argenton