Pink flower clusters against green background. Plant Profile: Summersweet Clethra

Plant Profile: Summersweet Clethra

If you’re looking to add some fragrance to your garden, look no further than Clethra. This summer-blooming shrub is covered with spicy-sweet aromatic blooms and is aptly known as Summersweet.

Imagine lounging in your backyard, feet up, a good book that is all but forgotten as you close your eyes to relish the mild, warm breeze that blows your hair gently across your face. Imagine floating on this breeze is the sweet aroma of a plant that you can’t quite place. A perfume that takes you on a journey you’ve never been but have secretly longed for. 

This plant is Clethra. Commonly known as Summersweet and Sweet Pepperbush. And yes, the spiciness that this plant lends offers a warmth that even the most fragrant roses can never achieve. Clethra, by far, is the one plant you need to add to your landscape in your pursuit to create a fragrant garden.

Fragrant rosy-pink flowers rise above dark, glossy, green foliage on Ruby Spice Clethra
Ruby Spice Clethra Photo Courtesy Spring Meadow Nursery

About Clethra alnifolia

Clethra alnifolia are deciduous shrubs that flower mid to late summer. Fragrant flowers in white and pink spike above dark, glossy green foliage. The flowers of Clethra attract many pollinators, including butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.  While Clethra is not deer-proof, they are seldom severely damaged by deer. 

Clethra alnifolia is native to the East Coast and can be found as far inland as Texas. They like consistently moist soil and are often found in swampy woodlands or on stream banks, making them suitable for rain gardens.  Clethra are suckering plants that are densely branched and work well for stabilizing hillsides.  Removal of the plant suckers is needed unless a naturalized look is sought-after.

These delightfully sweet-smelling shrubs are an excellent addition to any landscape or garden.  Here are two of our favorite Summersweet to grow!

‘Ruby Spice’ Summersweet

Pink, spiky flowrs on a mid-sized shrub with glossy, green foliage.
Ruby Spice Clethra Photo Courtesy Monrovia

Ruby Spice is covered with rosy-pink spikes that can reach 6″ long from July into August.  It is a medium-sized shrub that would work well in perennial borders or as screening.  This aromatic beauty, with its rose-colored blooms, would be most fitting in an English or Cottage-style garden.    

Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’

Zone:3 – 9
Height:6-feet
Spread:5-feet
Bloom Time:Summer
Bloom Description:Rose-pink flower spikes
Light Requirements:Partial Sun to Partial Shade
Water:Maintain evenly moist soil
Maintenance:Avoid hot, dry sites, water deeply, fertilize
before new growth appears in spring,
prune in late winter
Features:Ruby Spice has fragrant flower spikes in summer above glossy green foliage. They
attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds,

‘Sixteen Candles’ Summersweet

White, fragrant blooms are loved by butterflies on this compact shrub. Sixteen Candles Clethra.
Sixteen Candles Clethra Photo Courtesy Monrovia

Sixteen Candles Clethra has fragrant white flower spikes in summer that simply entice butterflies.  It is a wonderfully compact shrub that reaches only 3 to 4-feet in size.  This makes it not only suitable for cottage-style and perennial gardens but ideal for foundation plantings.  While Clethra is often not known for showy fall color, Sixteen Candles does boast an attractive golden-yellow to end the season.

Clethra alnifolia ‘Sixteen Candles’

Zone:3 – 9
Height:3-feet
Spread:3-feet
Bloom Time:Summer
Bloom Description:White flower spikes
Light Requirements:Partial to Full Sun
Water:Maintain evenly moist soil
Maintenance:Avoid hot, dry sites, water deeply, fertilize
before new growth appears in spring,
prune in late winter
Features:Sixteen Candles has fragrant flower spikes in summer above glossy green foliage. They attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.
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