Clethra alnifolia 'Ruby Spice' 1c
scottzona/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Summersweet is a medium sized shrub that adds color and fragrance to your garden with its flowers. They also will bring wildlife like hummingbirds to visit.

Latin Name

The Latin name for summersweet is Clethra alnifolia and is one of only two genera in the Clethraceae (white alder) family, with Purdiaea being the other.

Common Names

For common names, you may see summersweet, sweet pepperbush, clethra, coastal sweet pepperbush, sweet pepper bush, summer sweet, and poor man's soap.

Preferred USDA Hardiness Zones

You can plant this in Zones 3-9 locations. It is originally from Eastern North America.

Size and Shape of Summersweet

This shrub usually is between 4-8' tall, though there are shorter varieties available. It forms into an oval shape.


Plant this shrub in a site that receives full sun to part shade.

Foliage/Flowers/Fruit of Summersweet

Make sure there are other plants around as the plant will look bare until the leaves appear at the end of spring. They are obovate and serrated, 1.5-4" long, and will change to yellow or brown in the fall.

The 2-6" raceme flowers will add a sweet smell to your yard. They can be white, pink or rose colored.

The name sweet pepperbush is given because the capsule fruit look like peppercorns.

Design Tips For Summersweet

You can plant this in cooler urban landscapes as it can tolerate the salt spray from nearby streets.

Use summersweet to invite hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies to your garden.

Look for these varieties:

  • 'Creels Calico'
  • 'Crystalina'
  • 'Hummingbird'
  • 'Pink Spires'
  • 'Rosea'
  • 'Ruby Spice'
  • 'Sixteen Candles'

Growing Tips For Summersweet

This plant can work in a variety of soil pHs, types, and moisture levels. It prefers acidic soil that is moist.

You can plant the seeds or take cuttings to make more shrubs. This also tends to sucker and spread naturally.


You can deadhead to remove flowers past their prime, but you can usually just leave the shrub alone otherwise.

Pests and Diseases of Summersweet

The only problem that this shrub faces most of the time are spider mites. Control can be as simple as spraying the leaves (front and back) to knock off the spider mites, though further interventions such as predatory insects and horticultural oils may be needed if they are persistent.