I Love Our Native Clethra

Jan 26, 2018 | Gardens, Love This!

Name: Clethra alnifolia aka summer sweet, sweet pepperbush, or just plain clethra.

Type of Plant: A shrub that’s native to this area and grows well in full sun or part-sun.

Why I love this plant: This shrub brings so much to the party…fragrant flowers in late-July through August, lovely yellow fall foliage color, and attractive black seeds that remain on the plants through winter. It’s a favorite of pollinators and there are times in the spring when I can watch the goldfinches feeding off the seeds that remain…so at that time of year it looks like it’s in bloom with yellow birds!

There are a few cultivars of this plant that are useful for assorted garden situations, including ‘Hummingbird’ that stays short. No matter which plant you choose, this is a great Firepit Plantings selection because it’s sweetly fragrant in the evenings. So put it near your firepit, screened porch or deck.

The species shrub, which grows 4 to 6 feet tall is also a good plant to combine with other shrubs in a border. Combine it with other natives for an attractive privacy border that is also provides good bird and pollinator habitat.

A Word to the Wise: Most Clethra will spread by gently suckering to the sides of the main stem. You can cut these new stems off if you need to rein the plant in, or you can let it spread to form a nice colony or grouping. This plant may be a native but it is not for the driest landscapes. Use it in moist soils or in places where it will be watered every couple of weeks in times of drought.

This is how September Beauty Clethra looks in my garden when it’s in bloom. Those upright, white, fragrant flowers are lovely in late-July through August. Although this cultivar blooms a bit later than my Hummingbird and species Clethra, it does not flower in September as its name implies.

My fragrance garden has both Hummingbird, on the left of the bird feeder in this photo, and September Beauty, just out of sight on the right. Both lovely cultivars of this plant.

Hummingbird Clethra is a shorter growing variety with showy white flowers. Prune this plant by shaping it and cutting back by a few inches in the spring. Remove suckers to stop spreading to the side if desired.

Here is how my September Beauty Clethra looks in the fall…nice golden color with black seeds.




  1. penny myers

    CL…how do I make the base for your lovely creative stone patio show in this last picture? Can’t find the blog on doing it.

    • CL Fornari

      I don’t remember if the blog post about this patio was put on WholeLifeGardening.com or CoffeeForRoses.com – it’s the problem with a creative mind always want to move “on to the next.” But in any case, we dug down about 6″ and put that much sand as a base. Then we set the assorted stones and pavers and recycled granite pieces into that and filled the cracks with polymeric sand according to directions. I hope that helps!

  2. penny myers

    thanks…it probably was the previous group. Is the sand base just beach sand and does one buy polymeric sand in a bag at supply yard?…and I am assuming no mortar was used as stones were of a decent size? thanks you exist to keeping that creative mind on the move. CL

    • CL Fornari

      The sand under the stones is sand delivered from a soil/sand/rock place. Beach sand is full of all kinds of other stuff. The polymeric sand is available at home centers and supply yards, yes. That goes in the space between stones. For awhile it prevents weeds but they eventually show up anyway. Photos of the making of this patio are either on http://www.WholeLifeGardening.com or http://www.CoffeeForRoses.com – I forget which blog they are on but both are searchable.

  3. penny myers

    thank you for sand info. I will search….


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Don`t copy text!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This