How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Coastal Pepperbush

Coastal pepperbush is the unsung hero for coastal gardeners in search of a perennial shrub to plant together with flowers in sandy soils and coastal environments (it would even tolerate salt spray). Often known as coastal candy pepperbush or summersweet, this North American native plant is a pretty decorative for the backyard. 

This deciduous shrub is ideal for borders and tolerates being formed right into a hedge. As a bonus, it additionally produces beautiful flowers that entice many pollinators! Because the flowers die again, they are going to kind small seed pods resembling peppercorns, which act as a meals supply for small mammals. 

Plant Overview


Clethra alnifolia

Native Space

North America


5-10 ft tall and broad

Watering Necessities

Prefers to stay moist

Pests & Illnesses

No main pest or illness

What Is Coastal Pepperbush?

This perennial shrub is native to swampy woodlands, moist marshes, stream banks, and seashores. As its identify would recommend, this species usually grows in sandy soils alongside the coast. The native habitat of pepperbush consists of southern Nova Scotia and the northeastern coasts of the USA to the Gulf.  

This deciduous shrub produces aromatic white flowers that bloom all through the summer season. The blooms additionally produce nectar, which attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. The flowers die again to disclose dry brown capsules which comprise the seeds. These capsules are barely much like peppercorns, the place the identify “pepperbush” comes from. Though this plant isn’t poisonous, it gives extra decorative than culinary worth. 

Historical past

Close-up of a Coastal Pepperbush with flowers almost open. This is a tall deciduous shrub with large oval green leaves with serrated edges. The plant produces erect inflorescences of white flowers.
This shrub is changing into a landscaping favourite regardless of its late-season leafing.

Coastal pepperbush is gaining reputation as a landscaping plant, however some gardeners discover it difficult because it tends to leaf out later within the season. It will probably, nonetheless, add curiosity to a blended backyard and assist present blooms simply across the time that early spring bloomers start to peter out.

The truth that it kinds sizable clumps in its native habitat makes it an amazing filler or backdrop for giant, beforehand uncultivated panorama areas. Its current reputation has resulted within the cultivars, ‘September Magnificence’ and ‘Ruby Spice.’ Most pepperbush varieties have white flowers, however ‘Ruby Spice’ showcases stunning pink flowers. 

Native Space

Close-up of a bee pollinating the flower inflorescences of Clethra alnifolia. The bee is a flying insect with a fluffy body with black and yellow stripes. Clethra alnifolia is an attractive shrub with dark green, large, oval-shaped foliage and vertical white clusters of small, star-shaped flowers.
This shrub is native to North America and thrives in moist areas, making it an amazing selection for erosion management round ponds.

As talked about above and as its identify would recommend, coastal pepperbush is native to coastal areas in North America. Extra particularly, its native space consists of the coasts of Nova Scotia and Maine, south to Florida, and west to Texas.

It’s also possible to discover it in swampy woodlands, moist marshes, stream banks, and seashores. This makes it a superb border plant for a yard pond to assist stop erosion. 


Close-up of the flower inflorescence of Clethra alnifolia. The flower inflorescence is elongated, erect, composed of many white tubular flowers that open into a star shape with prominent stamens from the centers. The leaves are oval, dark green, with serrated edges.
This deciduous shrub options tall, upright clusters of white flowers adopted by brown pods.

This can be a tall, many-branched deciduous shrub with upright clusters of white flowers. Its oval-toothed leaves flip orange or yellow within the fall simply earlier than they drop for the winter. Because the flowers fade, brown pods resembling peppercorns seem on the plant by means of the winter and act as forage for some small animals. 

Makes use of

Close-up of a flowering shrub Clethra alnifolia Ruby Spice in a garden. It is a deciduous shrub with dark green, oval-shaped leaves with serrated edges. The leaves are arranged alternately on the stem. The plant produces fragrant, bottle-brush-like flower spikes. These thorns are covered with numerous small tubular flowers in bright ruby pink.
Whereas not poisonous, Clethra alnifolia is primarily cultivated for its decorative attraction, particularly as a well-pruned border plant.

It handles pruning and shaping very nicely, making it a nice border plant. Its later bloom time makes it nice for offering a pop of shade when earlier season blooms are starting to fade. It gives curiosity all season lengthy till the winter when it drops its leaves and enters dormancy. 

The place To Purchase

If you happen to reside in a coastal space, you could find this shrub at a neighborhood nursery. Outdoors of the coast, it hasn’t gained reputation simply but! If you happen to don’t have any luck, try on-line nurseries that offer different timber/shrubs. It’s also possible to discover pepperbush seeds on-line. Nevertheless, it’s a lot simpler to start out with a longtime plant. 


Close-up of Clethra seedlings against a blurred green background. The seedling is small, has an upright woody stem and four oval dark green leaves with serrated edges.
To efficiently plant pepperbush, select both spring or early fall.

When you’ve obtained your coastal pepperbush, you in all probability surprise how and when to plant it. Two occasions of the 12 months are optimum for planting pepperbush. Plant in spring or early fall.

If you happen to reside in a hotter local weather, it’s simpler to plant within the fall because the climate is cooling off to spare your pepperbush from struggling by means of a sweltering summer season throughout its first 12 months. If you happen to reside in a milder local weather, planting within the spring is ok. The principle aim is to determine your pepperbush earlier than winter frosts arrive, so plant it at the least six weeks earlier than your first frost. 


Pepperbush is comparatively straightforward to develop however has a couple of particular necessities. It tolerates pruning and edging, which makes it excellent for a privateness hedge. 


Close-up of Clethra alnifolia shrub branches in a sunny garden. The plant has large oval green leaves with serrated edges and attractive delicate inflorescences. The inflorescences are elongated, consisting of many creamy white tubular flowers.
For optimum development, present the plant with full solar.

Coastal pepperbush does finest in full solar however tolerates partial shade circumstances. They’ll profit from afternoon shade in scorching climates or in areas with extended intervals above 90 levels Fahrenheit.

You continue to wish to ensure that your pepperbush receives at the least 6 hours of direct daylight per day, however the hours don’t have to be consecutive. This implies it will probably obtain 3 hours of the morning solar, shade in the course of the hottest a part of the day, after which 3 hours of the night solar. In very best temperatures, pepperbush does finest in dappled solar circumstances. 


Close-up of a young Clethra fargesii plant covered in water drops. It is a shrub with upright stems covered with oval bright green leaves with serrated edges.
It thrives in constantly moist, non-waterlogged soil, tolerating transient drought or flooding as soon as established.

If you happen to present loads of water, Pepperbush grows fairly massive and even places out suckers to take away and replant elsewhere. This shrub does finest when it is supplied with constantly moist however not waterlogged soil.

Though pepperbush doesn’t favor to dry out between waterings, it will probably deal with transient drought and/or flooding intervals as soon as established. Mulching throughout scorching and dry intervals will even assist the soil retain moisture. 


Close-up of a man's hand with a handful of soil in the garden, against a blurred green background. The soil is crumbly, loose, dark brown.
Naturally present in damp, sandy coastal soils, pepperbush prefers constant moisture and acidic circumstances.

Coastal pepperbush grows naturally in poorly drained, constantly moist soils and might thrive in sandy coastal circumstances. Including natural matter, compost, and mulching may help the soil keep the constant moisture that this shrub prefers.

Pepperbush additionally prefers acidic soil circumstances, much like that of blueberries, azaleas, and hydrangeas. If you could alter the pH of your soil, you possibly can add a soil acidifier to the planting website or buy pre-acidified soil for acid-loving vegetation. The optimum pH is 4.5 for pepperbush.

Temperature and Humidity

Close-up of a blooming Summersweet clethra in a garden, against a blurred green background. The plant produces elongated, brush-like inflorescences that consist of white tubular flowers with star-shaped petals. Leaves are oval, smooth.
It’s adaptable to numerous solar circumstances however can wrestle in extended warmth.

Coastal pepperbush is nicely fitted to USDA rising zones 4-9, the place it will probably survive temperatures as little as -22 levels Fahrenheit in the course of the winter whereas the plant is dormant. These deciduous shrubs want a interval of dormancy (additionally referred to as chill hours) to profusely bloom throughout the next rising season. Their seeds require chilly stratification to germinate as nicely. 

Conversely, they might wrestle within the warmth, and, as talked about above, they do higher when supplied with extra shade in scorching climates. Nevertheless, it will probably tolerate varied solar circumstances from full solar to nearly full shade.

This shrub is not going to settle for a constantly scorching and dry website. Spreading mulch across the root zone (not proper on the tree’s base) and watering nicely throughout extended temperatures over 90 levels will assist. As a coastal plant, it prefers some humidity and moisture within the air however is kind of adaptable and might survive with out it. 


Close-up of a blooming flower spike of sweet pepperbush. This erect flower inflorescence consists of many tubular white-pink flowers, with stamens projecting from the centers, creating a fluffy appearance.
In early spring, use slow-release fertilizer to advertise development and flowering.

In early spring, present your pepperbush with a slow-release fertilizer. This may assist the plant break dormancy and placed on loads of new development and buds for future flowers.

That is additionally a good time to check the soil pH and see if it must be adjusted once more for the upcoming rising season. It’s also possible to add a facet dressing of natural matter or compost as an alternative of fertilizer. 


Close-up of a flowering shrub Clethra alnifolia in a garden. The shrub is large, has vertical stems covered with large oval green leaves with serrated edges. The bush produces many long, upright clusters known as racemes. These white, fragrant flowers are star-shaped and densely clustered for a visually striking appearance. The flowers are shades of cream and ruby.
Prune pepperbush to regulate development, take away broken branches, and form the shrub.

Pruning your pepperbush isn’t required, however it’s endorsed as it will probably develop vigorously and unruly fairly shortly in optimum rising circumstances. You’ll additionally wish to prune to take away broken, diseased, or dying branches.

Pepperbush will be pruned right into a hedge if getting used for a border. Make sure you additionally prune in spring to advertise new development and form the shrub. 

Rising In Containers

Close-up of a flowering inflorescence of Clethra alnifolia. This bottlebrush-like flower spike is made up of many densely packed tube-shaped flowers that are creamy white in color.
For container development, take into account dwarf varieties like ‘Hummingbird’ that keep a compact profile.

When rising in containers, add sand to the soil to imitate its pure habitat. The dwarf selection, ‘Hummingbird,’ is exceptionally nicely fitted to containers. You’ll often must repot your pepperbush.

If you happen to discover an absence of recent development and the roots have begun to swirl across the edges of the container, then it’s time to repot. When repotting, select a pot that’s at the least 2 inches bigger in diameter and water constantly till the plant has settled into its new dwelling. When it begins to place out new development, it is a good signal that it’s nicely established within the new container.  


Close-up of young shoots of a Clethra alnifolia plant in a spring garden, against a blurred background. The leaves are small, oval-shaped, with finely serrated edges. The leaves are pale green with pinkish edges.
Begin Clethra alnifolia from seeds which have been cold-stratified or overwintered in place, or use greenwood cuttings.

Coastal pepperbush will be began from seed planted in fall or spring. The seeds have a better germination charge when given a interval of chilly stratification, so seeds planted within the fall and allowed to overwinter have a greater germination charge.

Greenwood cuttings will be taken in early summer season, dipped in rooting hormone, caught right into a pot of grime, and allowed to kind roots. As soon as roots have appeared and the chopping begins to place out new development, you might be able to transplant it into its new dwelling both in a container or within the floor. 

Widespread Issues

Whereas this plant is comparatively adaptable to numerous rising circumstances, a couple of circumstances could cause points to crop up. Learn on to learn to establish and treatment these points earlier than they change into a bigger downside. 

Lack of Flowers

Close-up of a young summersweet clethra without flowers. The plant has upright stems with large oval leaves. The leaves are green with serrated edges.
Inadequate flowering could consequence from insufficient daylight.

An absence of flowering is linked to an absence of daylight. As talked about above, coastal pepperbush does finest in partial solar however nonetheless wants about 6 hours of daylight per day.

Monitor the planting website all through the day in case your pepperbush isn’t flowering. If you happen to decide that it’s getting lower than 6 hours of solar per day, it’s best to maneuver it to a sunnier spot. 

Brown, Dry, Crispy Foliage 

Close-up of a summersweet clethra branch with withered and drooping leaves, against a blurred green background. The leaves are large, oval, serrated at the edges. They are reddish-brown, dry, drooping.
For non-seasonal browning, prune away useless foliage and water frequently to enhance the plant’s well being.

As talked about above, coastal pepperbush prefers constantly moist soil. An absence of water could cause some rising issues.

Brown, dry, or crispy foliage is an indication that your pepperbush is affected by an absence of water, particularly during times of utmost warmth. In the reduction of any useless or broken foliage, improve the water your plant is receiving every week, and the issue will probably be resolved.

One caveat, nonetheless: This can be a deciduous plant that will drop its leaves each fall. If it’s autumn in your space, no quantity of additional moisture will stop your plant from dropping its leaves, however that’s to be anticipated; it’ll create new ones within the spring.


One factor that makes coastal pepperbush a pretty selection for decorative gardeners is the shortage of pest points. There are no main insect pests that plague pepperbush. Nevertheless, deer have been identified to munch on this deciduous shrub, however provided that no different forage is on the market within the space. 


Close-up of a Clethra alnifolia plant in a garden. It is a deciduous shrub with large oval green leaves. The leaves have finely serrated edges.
Extreme watering can lead to fungal issues like root rot, resulting in wilting and leaf drop.

Overwatering can result in fungal points like root rot. When your pepperbush is overwatered, the leaves will wilt and finally drop. Root rot signs will seem as a gentle, mushy stem, wilting, and rotten roots.

Any such rot is tough to get better from however will be remedied if contemporary, white roots haven’t but turned to mush. In the reduction of the rotted roots and replant into dry soil if rising in a container. If rising within the floor, permit the world to dry out earlier than persevering with to water. 

Closing Ideas

Coastal pepperbush is a wonderful low-maintenance perennial shrub so as to add to your panorama, particularly when you backyard in difficult coastal environments with sandy and acidic soil. It will probably, nonetheless, adapt to numerous circumstances so long as the fundamental wants talked about above are met. As soon as established, this plant will add curiosity to your fall backyard with its stunning blooms for years to come back. 

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