Virtues: This shrub stands out because it blooms in mid- and late summer, with prominent, fluffy spikes of flowers, which are also highly fragrant. Shade tolerant and will bloom in shade. Good fall foliage. Persistent seed heads provide winter interest. Appropriate for a hedge, as an accent or part of a border. Flowers feed butterflies, bees, hummingbirds. Other birds and small animals eat the seeds. Deer resistant.
Common name: Summersweet, sweet pepperbush, coastal pepperbush
Botanical name: Clethra alnifolia
Flower: Individual flowers are held on 3- to 6-inch-long spikes at the ends of the shrub’s branches. The color is white. Flower spikes have an all-over fluffy appearance. Blooms from mid- to late summer, up to 6 weeks. Fragrant.
Foliage: Large, toothed oval leaves are medium green in spring and summer and yellow or pale orange in fall.
Habit: Upright deciduous shrub, on the narrow side at 5 to 8 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide. Note—’Hummingbird’ is a dwarf selection popular for its smaller size (half that of the species), more rounded habit and very heavy flowering.
Season: Latter half of summer for flowers; fall for leaf color. Dark brown seed heads provide winter interest.
Origin: Swamps, seacoast and stream banks of the US East Coast, from southern Maine to northern Florida and around the Gulf Coast.
Cultivation: Prefers full or part sun but will tolerate shade. Will bloom in shade but flowering is more profuse in sun. Likes moist, slightly acidic soil, but also tolerates wet conditions. Flowers are formed on the current season’s growth. If necessary, prune in late winter or early spring. Can be pruned hard; responds well and makes a good deciduous hedge. Spreads by suckers (new plants forming from roots near the base of the parent shrub), but spread is slow and suckers can be removed if not wanted. Tolerates salt spray, making it good for seaside gardens. Deer resistant. USDA Zones 3–9.