‘Ruby Spice’ summersweet
Story by Denise Pugh
If you’re out in the garden sometime in July and smell a sweet aroma and see pink blooms that resemble miniature bottlebrushes, and a plethora of bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds attending these blossoms, you might be the owner of the award-winning Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice.’
This shrub was selected as the 1998 Gold Medal Plant by Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and was named 2015 Wildflower of Year by the Virginia Native Plant Society. Summersweet can be used as a specimen plant around your deck or patio, and it makes a great foundation plant. Plant it close enough to an outdoor seating area to enjoy the fragrance as well as the pollinators.
Early May is an excellent time to plant ‘Ruby Spice’ for summer blooms. Plant in a moist, shady site with slightly acidic soil. This plant blooms on new wood, so if pruning is needed, it can be done in early spring. Incorporate organic compost into the native soil at planting. If fertilizer is needed, use aged poultry or cow manure as a top dressing in the spring. After the blooms have faded in late summer, you will soon be able to enjoy its yellow or orange fall foliage.
Quick Facts and Keys to Success
Common Name: ‘Ruby Spice’ summersweet
Botanical Name: Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’
Type: Deciduous shrub
USDA Hardiness Zone(s): 4-9
Size: 3-6 feet tall, 4-5 feet wide
Bloom Time: July
Flower Color: Rose pink; white cultivar ‘Hummingbird’
Sun: Partial shade or full sun with afternoon shade, excellent for woodland garden.
Water: Tolerates slightly acidic moist soils and will need supplemental water in a sunny location.
Propagation: Divide vigorous clumps in the fall; softwood cuttings taken in the summer root easily in moist growing medium.