Growing Fothergilla


Every spring, when my Fothergilla shows off its white, honey-scented, bottlebrush-like blooms, I am reminded how much I love this shrub. In fact, I admire two species – Fothergilla gardenii and Fothergilla major – and some of their cultivars.

Three-season performers, they offer spring flowers and very attractive, toothed foliage all summer that turns brilliant shades of orange, red and yellow in the fall. They are rarely, if ever, bothered by pests or diseases and can even tolerate growing in wet soils.

They grow best in slightly acidic soil that has been amended with organic matter, but Fothergilla are adaptable. If the soil is too alkaline, their foliage may yellow, indicating the need for soil amendments like soil sulfur or ammonium sulfate. My Fothergilla is very happy in my far-from-acidic northern Illinois soil.

Fothergilla gardenii and Fothergilla major are ideal candidates for planting near downspouts where fussier shrubs have difficulty tolerating wet soil from time to time. This is where my Fothergilla lives and thrives.


Their best flowering and fall color occur when they are positioned in full sun, but in hot climates some afternoon shade is welcomed. The hotter and sunnier their conditions, the more water they require. A layer of mulch is beneficial for these shallow-rooted shrubs not only to conserve soil moisture but also to moderate the temperature of the soil.

Still not convinced you should add this shrub to your must-have plant list? Deer and rabbits leave them alone. And Fothergilla rarely require pruning. If your inner Edward Scissorhands calls, pruning should be done right after flowering. If suckering is undesirable, promptly remove them and use them to propagate more shrubs!

Fothergilla gardenii, commonly called dwarf fothergilla, is native to the southeastern U.S. where it is found growing in bogs and savannahs. It is hardy in zones 5 to 8. A compact shrub, dwarf fothergilla slowly grows up to 3 feet tall and wide. If it’s happy, it may spread into small colonies by suckering. These are easy to remove to keep the shrub in bounds.

Use dwarf fothergilla as foundation shrubs, in shrub borders and perennial gardens, or let them colonize in an open woodland.

This Fothergilla is just beginning to show its brilliant fall color.

Fothergilla major, sometimes called large or tall fothergilla, is also native to the southeastern U.S. where it is found growing along stream banks and in ravines. It is bit hardier than dwarf fothergilla and can be grown in zones 4 to 8. Much larger than its sibling, tall fothergilla grows slowly up to 10 feet tall and almost as wide. It also may spread by suckers.

Use tall fothergilla in a hedge and to provide screening, in shrub borders, or as a specimen plant.

The differences between these two species, besides their size, are the foliage of Fothergilla major looks a bit more leathery (to my eye) and the flowers of Fothergilla gardenii appear before the foliage emerges while Fothergilla major blooms just as the leaves are unfurling. I have also read that Fothergilla major is more adaptable to drier soils.

Even though the genus Fothergilla hasn’t gotten the attention of hybridizers like some other shrubs, there are some very nice cultivars at garden centers.

Fothergilla gardenii ‘Blue Mist’ grows up to 3 feet wide and slightly wider. It is valued for its blue-green foliage. Imagine it with purple-foliaged coral bells planted in front. Lovely.

Fothergilla 'Mount Airy'
‘Mount Airy’ hints at its Fothergilla major parentage as flowers and foliage appear together.

If dwarf fothergilla is too small and tall fothergilla is too…well…tall, plant Fothergilla x intermedia ’Mount Airy’. It grows up to 6 feet tall and wide. It is acclaimed for its profuse spring flowering and exceptional fall color.

Fothergilla x intermedia ‘Blue Shadow’ is similar in size to Mount Airy but boasts beautiful powder blue foliage all summer. It emerges green in spring before taking on its striking blue color and then puts on a fall jacket of red, orange and yellow in fall.

Which one will find its way in your landscape? Garden with me!

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