Clethra, Ruby Spice

ledmoore(IA)June 29, 2005

I've been reading up on Clethra but still have a few questions. Our local nursery lists the Ruby Spice height and width as 3-4' however my web searching notes its height as taller. Does anyone know what I should expect?

I'm considering planting it near the house (below our living room windows) so it would be a real focal point of the front yard. Will I be disappointed with that? Other discussions on this forum say how late it is to leaf out. Also will it sucker so much that I'm constantly battling it's size? Also, I don't need a plant with perfect shape but I do want it somewhat shapely.

Every yard in my area has the same 4 plants (barberry, spirea, yews, potintella) and I'm just looking for something a little different. I've also considered wigelia instead, would I be happier with that?

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creatrix(z7 VA)

Check out C. 'Hummingbird'- it has white blooms but is shorter.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2005 at 8:01PM
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viburnumvalley(z5/6 KY)

I think you'll love any Clethra you choose, but Ruby Spice is a fine plant with its pink blooms. In IA, I doubt that you'll have any problem with it "running amok", though you can enlighten us if it does.

I'd bet your biggest issue will be its moisture regime. Near the house usually means it will be in a bit of a rain shadow. Don't let Clethra run dry too long; it will turn (brown) on you like no other. If you can steer downspouts to drain on them, you will be handsomely rewarded. You don't say how high it is to the window sill. Clethra, in many years (7, 8, 9, I forget) next to a downspout here in heavy clay neutral soil KY, has yet to reach 5 feet tall. You will get much different comments from east coasters with acid sandy soils where it is native.

Can't say I would venture exact performance in IA, but I think many years before it would reach 5-6', and even then, you could prune out any of the taller stems and the plant will grow more since it is a colonizing species. Managing this plant at 3-6' in the midwest should be fairly easy.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2005 at 6:04PM
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My 'Hummingbird' is 6 feet tall, outgrowing by 6" the 2 'Ruby Spice' planted next to it. I haven't had any suckering at all in 4 years from either variety. Both varieties would make very nice foundation plants in my opinion.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2005 at 11:51PM
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my 4-yr. old 'ruby spice' is around 5.5' tall with no suckering(yet) and the best yellow fall color of any of the clethra cultivars i grow. the buds are just about open here at this time.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2005 at 11:48AM
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Birdsong72(7/Northshore NJ)

Brian, if your hummingbird is 6' tall, it's probably been mislabeled. Alnifola in my yard is approaching 6' but is spreading exponentialy. Cinnamon bark is also approaching 6'. All 3 of the aformentioned have been in place for 7 years. My two 'Hummingbirds'? Barely 3'. They're floriferous, but they're nowhere near that height.

FWIW, I planted 5 Ruby Spice 2 years ago; ruby spice will be about 5' tall. They're not prone to suckering. A fine plant to have, but again, I don't know if putting it where you want is the place to set it.

To me, it's never been a 'focal point' shrub; to me, it's just part of the overall dynamic of a natural garden.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2005 at 2:15PM
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The Cleveland Botanical Gardens has Clethera planted on either side of a path through the restorative garden. Right now it is in full flower and leaves its wonderful scent throught a whole section of the garden. I decided I must have one for my garden. I have a question, how fast does this shrub grow?

    Bookmark   August 7, 2010 at 10:12AM
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I have a couple of the Ruby Spice C. alnifolia, and the tag from the store says they will reach eight feet tall by six feet wide. I have not had them long enough to verify that. Here in northern Illinois they are growing slowly in mostly shade and mesic clay loam with a fair amount of organic matter in the soil.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2011 at 2:50PM
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I love mine too. I do get some suckering, which is fine because I find the shoot under the soil and clip it past a root patch and then transplant it somewhere else. Not very scientific but it has almost 100% success rate. Couple notes though, the spring after the first winter all of mine looked bad. Had some dead brancnes, pushed out leaves very late, and almost no flowers. Every year after that they have been beautiful and full of flowers. The flowers have a beautiful spicy scent to them. They do get big though, mine are at about 5' tall and 3'wide.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 11:40PM
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It has been mentioned, but I want to emphasize that Clethra leafs out really late. In fact, I worried mine had died and finally scratched a stem to make sure. However, I am a big fan of both ruby spice and sixteen candles, they have great shape and fragrant blooms. They are just not focal points. I planted mine at the back of a border.
Itea might be a better choice, in my zone 7 garden it was pretty much evergreen, with fantastic fall color (Henry's Garnet is the variety I have). More compact forms of Itea are available as well as pretty large ones. It would likely be more prone to suckering. Or, perhaps a dogwood shrub? At least in winter you have red or gold stems with those.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2011 at 11:25AM
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I have had a Ruby spice Clethra for several years and it doesn't flower very well or get very big-its maybe 3 1/2 feet tall. I just planted a baby Clethra sixteen candles and also a Clethra Vanilla Spice and an Itea Little Henry. Hoping these new plants will do better than Ruby Spice.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2012 at 1:22PM
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My 'Hummingbird' tops out at 3, 3 1/2', and suckers prolifically unless I cardboard and mulch once a year. The 'Ruby Spice' is around 5' tall, 3' wide, and doesn't sucker at all. I love them both -- they flower abundantly in my very shady yard, smell great, and are great pollinator plants. (The blooms attract hummingbirds and bees.)

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 8:04PM
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