Summersweet Shrubs

A cold hardy native shrub with all-season beauty

Of the 65 species of deciduous and evergreen flowering shrubs found in the Clethra genus, C. alnifolia (C. tomentosa), a native understory shrub, commonly called summersweet or sweet-pepper bush, is the most popular for home garden use, with many cultivars available. An all-season beauty, summersweet clethra has lustrous leaves that emerge in spring, fragrant flowers in summer, golden yellow color in fall, and attractive seed spikes and cinnamon-colored to dark gray or brown-black stems in winter.

Summersweet flowers profusely in elegant, extremely fragrant, wand-like flower clusters that are 3 to 6 inches long and shades of pink or white. Nectar- and pollen-rich, the flowers attract native pollinators in summer, and the seedheads that follow sustain songbirds in fall and winter.

In the wild, summersweet are found growing in sandy soils along seashores on the coast or in swampy woodlands, damp thickets, wet marshes, and along stream banks from southern Maine south to Florida and west to Texas. Rounded and densely branched, the shrub typically reaches 4 and 8 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide, but it sends up new shoots from rhizomes and slowly spreads to form a small thicket, so it’s a perfect choice for naturalized areas around ponds and streams or in woodland gardens. But it also makes a lovely shrub border or specimen plant in a shade garden. And it’s a must-have in a pollinator or butterfly garden.

Summersweet is a cold hardy shrub that grows best in locations with part shade and moist, well-draining soils. It tolerates full sun or full shade but will not tolerate extended periods of drought. Virtually trouble free, summersweet resists disease and pest, even deer.