September 1998
Plant of the Month

Clethra Alnifolia Summersweet Clethra

I'd like to take this time to write about a not-so-famous, and a bit of an underdog shrub, Summersweet Clethra

This poor guy is often overlooked and forgotten about, even though he can tend to be a superhero in those tough to grow areas.  This plant is native from Maine to Florida, and was first introduced back in 1731, tolerating the temps in zones 4-9.  It will grow to heights of 3-8 feet and spread 4-6 feet wide.  The range varies in accordance to the soil it is planted in.  The moister, the better.   It has a slow to medium growth rate, resulting in a mounded dense-leaf shrub with a deep green leaf in summer turning to pale yellow to rich golden brown in fall.  It does produce a flower in July and August that is about 1/3 inch wide, and stands 3-5 feet high.  The wide, upright panicles start out with showy pink flower buds and open into lovely, extremely fragrant, white to pale pink flowers, and other than the bees that horde around the flowers, there are virtually no other pests that bother with this plant

But it is not the flower or the foliage that makes me commend this plant for recognition.  It is for its adaptability to a different soil and site.  How many times have you wished that there was something other than Hosta, that will tolerate a moist shady area?  Well here is your answer!  This plant naturally grows in wet areas, tolerates an acidic soil, and withstands both heavy shade to partial sun, depending on variety  (Use Clethra Alnifolia 'Hummingbird" for heavy shade and Clethra Alnifolia 'Rosea" for partial sun area.)  Since it can sucker freely, it works wonderfully as a shrub border in those tough to grow areas, with a great summer flower accent.  Prune it in spring to keep the growth in check and away you go!

by Lynn Gehrls, Buell's Inc.


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