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Spotlight On: Summersweet Clethra, Big Blooms With Big Fragrance

By July 13, 2020March 22nd, 2022Plant Spotlight
summersweet clethra

This mid-summer bloomer, also known commonly as Sweet Pepperbush, is a landscape gem that practically sells itself. You’ve probably seen it in garden stores or home centers before, and you may even have passed it by in favor of the bold blooms of Hydrangea or the familiar fragrance of Wisteria. But it’s hard to find another plant that “has it all” quite like Summersweet Clethra.

Whether kept at a garden-friendly height of three or four feet, or left to reach its full potential of eight feet as a border plant, this summertime prize has more desirable attributes than you can shake a bloom at.

In our Spotlight series, we highlight plants, shrubs, trees and flowers that have a special and unique seasonal interest. Today we’re sharing our love of Summersweet Clethra and all the reasons why every garden needs at least one of these delightful shrubs.

white pepperbush

Photo credit to The Plantography Project

Foliage, Flowers And Fruit

Summersweet Clethra is a late starter, becoming leafy-green after many spring plants are well into their showy displays. But your patience will be rewarded!

Flowers in pink, white or a deep rose color resemble fuzzy ice cream cones. Depending on the variety, the scent can be anywhere from spicy to sweet, and sometimes described as reminiscent of cloves. They’ll grace your landscape with their beauty in July and August, just when many earlier bloomers are starting to shed their petals.

Serrated, richly green leaves will turn a lovely golden orange-yellow in fall, and fading flowers will give way to delicate seed pods that resemble peppercorns – earning it the nickname “pepperbush” – for winter beauty.

With four seasons of interest, it’s hard to find a more versatile landscaping plant.

Birds and other pollinators agree – butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and songbirds like warblers and robins all flock to summersweet for both its nectar and its seed pods, making this plant one that can’t be overlooked if you want to attract wildlife to your garden.

Plus it’s native to the eastern United States which makes it the perfect addition to your naturalistic garden right here in Jew Jersey.

summersweet clethra attracts wildlife

Photo credit to Plant Image Library

Care & Maintenance

If you already love the idea of summersweet, wait until you find out just how easy this plant is to grow and care for.

As a native plant, it’s adaptable to a wide variety of local conditions and can often be found growing abundantly in the wild. It can even handle salt air and salt spray, making it a wonderful addition to your seaside home or getaway.

Summersweet can tolerate occasional flooding and will thrive in wet soil, making it ideal for a rain garden, pond edge, marsh, stream bank, low-lying area, or anywhere you have a drainage problem that makes growing most plants and flowers difficult. It’s also one of the few summer shrubs that will bloom in deep shade, going from seaside oasis to woodland garden with ease.

This hardy plant needs no pruning, unless you want to control its growth or revitalize it after a particularly harsh winter. Just give it a quick snip with some sharp shears in early spring before buds appear.

It suffers almost no effects from pests or disease, and what few pests it may attract are easily eliminated.

It prefers slightly acidic soil but will grow well in most soil types, including clay. While not drought-tolerant, you can give it an occasional soaking during dry spells and it will reward you with a summer full of delicious smells, lovely sights and abundant wildlife.


Photo credit to Sesamehoneytart

Why We Love It

With so many reasons to love this summertime favorite, it’s hard to narrow down our admiration to just a few qualities. Beyond the multi-sensory enjoyment, four-season interest, and ease of care, Summersweet Clethra throws in a couple of added bonuses, too.

It’s deer-resistant, so you don’t have to worry about your garden becoming dinner, especially if you’re in a wooded area. It makes a great summer screen, adding a cozy beauty and privacy to any space. Grouped together, they make a bold and dramatic statement. And they’re easy to propagate from clippings, so feel free to experiment and expand your garden – or share your treasure with a friend for neighbor for their garden!

Elegantly inverted cone-shaped blooms make them gorgeous in flower arrangements, too. Intersperse them with ivy or other soft greenery for a romantic table centerpiece and you’ll enjoy the sight and scent of these blooms indoors as well as out.

So next time you’re considering summer flowers for your garden, think beyond the usual suspects and take a second look at this beauty, instead. With so much to offer, it’s hard to go wrong by choosing one – or even a whole row – of summersweet shrubs to grace your landscape.

If you’d like to know more or think that this plant can be a pleasing addition to your landscape, contact us for a consultation and let’s talk about how we can bring joy and beauty to your outdoor space.

Feature photo credit to F.D. Richards