Fothergillas are wonderful native plants that provide interest in every season but winter. These low-maintenance deciduous shrubs have many uses in the garden and are slow-growing and undemanding.
Read on to learn more about how to grow and care for these colorful native shrubs.
What Is A Fothergilla Shrub?
Fothergillas are showy deciduous shrubs of the Hamamelidaceae family. There are two rather similar species in the genus and both make great garden plants. Both are native to the United States of America where they occur in the southeastern states.
Dwarf Fothergilla – F. gardenii
The dwarf or coastal fothergilla is a compact species from moist, low altitude habitats in Florida, Alabama, and North Carolina in the southeastern USA. This species grows slowly and most specimens reach a height of just 3 feet (0.9m) tall and a little wider.
The bluish-green leaves of this rounded shrub can grow to a little over 2 inches (5cm) long and show great fall colors from yellow through orange and red. This species can be grown in USDA Hardiness Zones 5-8.
Mountain Witch Alder – F. major
The mountain or large fothergilla, Fothergilla major, is the larger species, growing to about 10 feet (3m) tall and nearly as wide. This species occurs inland in the states of Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina where they can be found growing along watercourses and valleys in mountainous country.
Both species have alternately arranged simple leaves, but they are slightly larger in the mountain species, reaching about 4 inches (10cm) in length. This plant is slightly more cold-hardy than its smaller relative and is suited to zones 4-8.
Hybrids And Cultivars
A hybrid between the dwarf fothergilla and the mountain witch alder is commonly sold as F. x intermedia (1). Many popular cultivars are available that may have ancestry in either species or a hybrid of both. Popular examples include:
- ‘Blue Mist’
- ‘Mount Airy’
- ‘Harold Epstein’
- ‘Jane Platt’
Both species produce showy and sweet-smelling flowers. The cream-white flowers have no petals and occur in 1-3 inch (2.5-7.5cm) long spikes in the late spring or early summer.
In the dwarf species, the flowers bloom before leaves regrow, while in the mountain witch-alder, flowers are produced at the same time as the new leaves emerge.
The non-ornamental fruits are small brown capsules that explode when ripe to release 2 seeds.
How To Grow A Fothergilla Bush
Both species can be grown from seed but this does require a bit of effort and a good deal of patience from the gardener. The seeds require long periods of stratification before they will break their dormancy and become fertile. Once the capsules have burst to release their seeds, they should be provided with 12 weeks of warm stratification, followed by 12 weeks of cold stratification before being planted.
A more popular method of propagation is by means of softwood cuttings. These cuttings should be taken in the early summer because they tend to be quite cold-sensitive during winter. The use of a suitable root hormone powder will speed up root development and this can take 6 to 8 weeks. Cuttings should be kept moist or under mist if possible as this will certainly improve your results.
These plants grow best in moist, slightly acidic soil. They prefer well-drained soil that is rich in organic material.
They will survive wet soil but are not tolerant of dry conditions. Be sure to provide regular water until these plants are established and during times of drought.
Both species of these plants will grow best in full sun to partial shade. Although do tend to flower better in full sun positions, a little afternoon shade is beneficial, especially in hot climates.
Care and Maintenance
Fothergilla plants are fairly slow-growing shrubs that do not require frequent pruning. In fact, pruning tends to limit their flowering potential so it is better to leave these plants to take their natural rounded growth form. They do have a tendency to spread by suckers, however, so remove these if you wish to keep the plant contained.
Fertilizing is not strictly necessary if you provide these plants with soil that is rich in organic material. It is a good idea to lay out a 2- 3 inch (5-7.5cm) deep layer of organic mulch under the plant because this will assist in retaining moisture to the roots and suppress weeds (2). Remember to keep the crown of your plants clear of mulch to avoid possible issues with rot.
These plants are naturally pest and disease-resistant. They are not high up on the menu for deer but they are said to be favored by rabbits, so keep this in mind if you have them around your property (3).
Fothergillas are showy plants that have many uses in the landscape. These plants make for great border and foundation plantings and can look spectacular when mass planted. They make an interesting informal hedge but their deciduous nature is perhaps not ideal for this application.
The showy flowers and fall colors even make this plant suitable for specimen and accent planting and the honey-scented blossoms make them great additions to perfume gardens as well.
Fothergilla shrubs are said to be deer resistant but they will be browsed by rabbits. The fragrant blossoms are very popular with bees and other pollinating insects.
Fothergillas are outstanding native bushes that provide interest for much of the year. Their low-maintenance needs and many uses in the garden make them a plant that any gardener in zones 5-8 should consider for their next gardening project.
*image by PantherMediaSeller/depositphotos
(1) Mahr, S. University of Wisconsin. Fothergilla
(2) College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences, Clemson. Fothergilla Gardenii: Dwarf Fothergilla
(3) College Of DuPage: Fothergilla Gardenii