ShadyGardens Blog

August 22, 2013

Clethra: Sweet Pepper Bush

Filed under: Bush, butterflies, Clethra, fragrant, Hummingbird, native, pepper, pink, ruby, shrub, sixteen candles, Summersweet, Sweet — shadygardens @ 4:50 pm
Clethra is one of my favorite native plants, but more importantly, it’s a favorite plant of butterflies and other pollinators! Clethra alnifolia, better known as Summersweet or Sweet Pepper Bush, is wonderful native plant that blooms in late summer. Obviously the common name ‘Summersweet’ comes from the very sweet-smelling blooms that appear right in the heat of the summer. The other common name ‘Sweet Pepper Bush’ comes from the attractive seed capsules that closely resemble Peppercorns.
The fragrant blooms which are 6-inch long spikes last for more than a month and attract many pollinators.






There’s a Clethra for every garden, since this shrub is available in both large-growing and dwarf varieties. But when I say ‘available’ I realize that Clethra is truly difficult to find in nurseries. Why, I do not know.






My favorite is ‘Ruby Spice’ since I’m a fan of pink flowers, but the white-blooming ‘Hummingbird’ is much sought after, probably due to the beauty of the shrubs planted en mass around Hummingbird Lake at the famous Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia.

If your garden requires a dwarf shrub, seek out ‘Sixteen Candles’–a more compact plant that seems to have more bloom spikes than possible! The name was given to this plant by Michael Dirr because the upright bloom spikes really do resemble candles on a birthday cake. This plant is truly spectacular!



Whichever you find, you can count yourself lucky to have this plant in your garden. It requires only consistent moisture to keep it happy. (I’m sorry, I do know that consistent moisture is hard to provide in Georgia these days, but if you have a wet spot, a pond edge, a soaker hose, or even, as in our case, stopped up field lines because your wife didn’t know any better than to plant a Weeping Willow in the wrong spot, this shrub is definitely worth the trouble!)






Of course, my favorite online source for native plants is Shady Gardens Nursery.


July 22, 2009

Clethra: Summer Blooming Native Plant for the Hummingbird Garden

If you’re lucky enough to have a moist spot in your garden, consider Clethra alnifolia. Clethra is also known as Summer Sweet or Sweet Pepper Bush.

Blooming in the middle of the hot summer is enough reason to name it Summer Sweet, but I think that common name derives from either the sweet fragrance or the sweetness of the nectar. Butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators love it as much as you will, and they’ll appreciate you for planting it in your garden.

Once the blooms fade, dark black seeds are visible on the tips of the stems, hence the other common name Sweet Pepper Bush.

There’s a Clethra suitable for just about every garden, since a variety of types are available.

  • Ruby Spice has rosey pink blooms on a large growing shrub up to 10 feet tall.
  • Hummingbird has white blooms on a more compact plant around 3 feet tall. This is the one seen growing around Hummingbird Lake at Callaway Gardens.
  • Sixteen Candles 6 inch long white flowers on a tidy shrub about 4 feet tall.

All Clethra varieties are very fragrant, reminding me of fresh honey.

Clethra is easy to grow, but does need regular water. Perfect around a pond or stream, but you can grow it right in your garden as long as you can water it weekly.

Clethra grows well anywhere in USDA Zones 4-9.

An added bonus is that Clethra displays lovely yellow foliage in fall!

July 7, 2008

Clethra: Pink or White Fragrant Bloom in Late Summer Attracts Beneficial Insects!

Clethra is one of my favorite native plants, but more importantly, it’s a favorite plant of butterflies and other pollinators! Clethra alnifolia, better known as Summersweet or Sweet Pepper Bush, is another wonderful native plant that blooms in late summer. Obviously the common name ‘Summersweet’ comes from the very sweet-smelling blooms that appear right in the heat of the summer. The other common name ‘Sweet Pepper Bush’ comes from the attractive seed capsules that closely resemble Peppercorns.
The fragrant blooms which are 6-inch long spikes last for more than a month and attract many pollinators.
There’s a Clethra for every garden, since this shrub is available in both large-growing and dwarf varieties. But when I say ‘available’ I realize that Clethra is truly difficult to find in nurseries. Why, I do not know.
My favorite is ‘Ruby Spice’ since I’m a fan of pink flowers, but the white-blooming ‘Hummingbird’ is much sought after, probably due to the beauty of the shrubs planted en mass around Hummingbird Lake at the famous Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia.
If your garden prefers a dwarf shrub, seek out ‘Sixteen Candles’–a more compact plant that seems to have more bloom spikes than possible! The name was given to this plant by Michael Dirr because the upright bloom spikes really do resemble candles on a birthday cake. This plant is truly spectacular!
Whichever you find, you can count yourself lucky to have this plant in your garden. It requires only consistent moisture to keep it happy. (I’m sorry, I do know that consistent moisture is hard to provide in Georgia these days, but if you have a wet spot, a pond edge, a soaker hose, or even, as in our case, stopped up field lines because your wife didn’t know any better than to plant a Weeping Willow in the wrong spot, this shrub is definitely worth the trouble!)
Of course, my favorite online source for native plants is Shady Gardens Nursery.

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