What It Is
Clethra alnifolia, known as summersweet or sweet spicebush, is a medium to large shrub native to eastern North America. As it’s name suggests, its late-summer blooms are extremely fragrant. The flowers are white to deep pink, depending on the variety, and attract pollinators like butterflies.
Why to Grow It
In addition to its fragrant spikes of flowers, the dark, glossy leaves turn bright yellow in the fall, providing fantastic three-season interest for your garden. Clethra also tends to be an easy, low maintenance if it’s given the right growing conditions.
Where to Put It
Clethra thrives in moist, acidic soils with part shade. It can generally take full sun, however, if provided with plenty of moisture. The form is generally somewhat irregular and there is a tendency to sucker, so it’s not a great choice for formal gardens. It does take pruning well, however, and can be contained at a smaller size than its natural maximum.
Clethra’s scent is the real showstopper, so make sure to locate it near a pathway, patio, or deck so you can enjoy the “summersweet” smell. But be careful not to put it too close to a living space—the pollinators it tends to attract include bees and other stingers!