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Clethra Attracts Hummingbirds and Butterflies to the Garden in Summer

If you're lucky enough to have a moist spot in your garden, consider Clethra alnifolia. Clethra is also known as Summer Sweet or Sweet Pepper Bush.

Blooming in the middle of the hot summer is enough reason to name it Summer Sweet, but I think that common name derives from either the sweet fragrance or the sweetness of the nectar. Butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators love it as much as you will, and they'll appreciate you for planting it in your garden.

Once the blooms fade, dark black seeds are visible on the tips of the stems, hence the other common name Sweet Pepper Bush.

There's a Clethra suitable for just about every garden, since a variety of types are available.

  • Ruby Spice has rosey pink blooms on a large growing shrub up to 10 feet tall.
  • Hummingbird has white blooms on a more compact plant around 3 feet tall. This is the one seen growing around Hummingbird Lake at Callaway Gardens.
  • Sixteen Candles 6 inch long white flowers on a tidy shrub about 4 feet tall.

All Clethra varieties are very fragrant, reminding me of fresh honey.


Clethra is easy to grow, but does need regular water. Perfect around a pond or stream, but you can grow it right in your garden as long as you can water it weekly.


Clethra grows well anywhere in USDA Zones 4-9.


An added bonus is that Clethra displays lovely yellow foliage in fall! 


For Clethra plants by mail, go to Shady Gardens Nursery.

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