You’ll love its brilliant fall foliage and pretty spring flowers.
Grumpy’s previous post highlighted small trees with outstanding fall color. Now I’d like to open your eyes to a superior, well-behaved, highly ornamental shrub that probably 90% of you have never heard of, through no fault of your own.
It’s called fothergilla – not exactly a name that trips off the tongue, but no harder to pronounce than forsythia. Named for English botanist John Fothergill, it’s native to the southeastern United States from North Carolina to the Florida panhandle. Two species are available at garden centers and mail-order nurseries. I’ll tell you about the smaller one first and its big brother second.
The first, dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenia) grows slowly into a mound 18 to 36 inches tall. Honey-scented, white blooms that resemble bottlebrushes crown its branches before leaves appear in spring. In fall, the leaves turn fiery shades of red, orange, and yellow before they drop. You’ll often see all three colors on the same plant.
The second, called large or mountain fothergilla (Fothergilla major) is essentially a bigger version with minor differences. It grows slowly to 5 to 8 feet tall and its flowers appear with the leaves. A selection named ‘Mt. Airy’ (shown at the top) produces consistently incandescent fall foliage.
WATCH: 1 Minute Escape to Fall Color
Fothergillas grow well in USDA Zones 4 to 8. They prefer loose, acid, well-drained soil. Heavy clay is a non-starter. Give them extra water during hot, dry weather. Pruning is seldom needed, but the best time is late spring right after the flowers fade. Plant in full to part sun for the best fall colors. No pests seem to bother them, not even deer.