Fothergilla covered in white, fragrant, bottlebrush-like flowers in a mixed woody garden. Photo: M.Talabac, University of Maryland Extension

Updated: July 12, 2022

About fothergilla

Fothergilla gardenii (dwarf fothergilla) or Fothergilla major (large fothergilla)
Deciduous shrub in the witchhazel family

Maryland distribution: not native to Maryland; dwarf fothergilla is native to damp coastal plains of North Carolina and south; large fothergilla is native to ridge tops, riverbanks, and dry slopes from North Carolina to Georgia and Alabama
Height: dwarf fothergilla can reach 3-6 feet high by 2-6 feet wide; large fothergilla can grow 4-15 feet high by 6-12 feet wide without regular pruning 
Flowers: petal-less with many aromatic stamens 1 - 2 inches long, resembling a compact bottlebrush; green-tinged white, appearing on the tips of branches as the foliage emerges; April into early May, depending on species

fothergilla flowers
Fothergilla's feathery flowers. Photo: M. Talabac, University of Maryland Extension

Fall color: varied, ranging from yellow, orange, scarlet to reddish-purple; long-lasting
Sun: ideally partial sun; tolerant of full sun and mostly shade; blooms and fall colors are best with more sun than shade; less resilient to drought in full sun 
Soil: moist, well-drained soil; acidic and ideally high in organic matter

fothergilla foliage in autumn
Dwarf fothergilla foliage in autumn. Photo: M. Talabac, University of Maryland Extension

    Garden uses: Fothergilla provides multi-season garden interest, and can be grouped in drifts or used as a foundation plant. Fragrant spring blooms are especially showy since they appear before the foliage. The leaves range from deep bluish-green to powdery gray-blue and often develop spectacular autumn colors. Dwarf fothergilla can perform well in large containers, but be sure to keep them well-watered during hot, dry weather. The features of both species are very similar, with the exception of mature shrub size. If minor trimming is needed to restrain size, prune after flowering as blooms develop on old wood (from the previous year's growth).

    Cultivar notes:

    • the foliage is distinctly blue-toned on 'Blue Shadow' and more blue-green on 'Blue Mist'; the autumn color on these varieties may not be as rich as on others
    • hybrids exist between Fothergilla gardenii and Fothergilla major, sometimes classified as Fothergilla x intermedia; references occasionally disagree as to which species a cultivar is derived from, so the same cultivar may be listed as different species
    • compact-growing cultivars exist, but they are not substantially shorter than the wild types; the typical mature size in gardens is roughly 3 to 4 feet high and wide for compact cultivars and 5 to 6 feet high and wide for the rest
    • the palette of autumn colors can vary from cultivar to cultivar, though sun exposure and fall weather will influence the exact hues and their vibrancy

    Wildlife: The blooms support pollinators, especially bees and butterflies.

    Fothergilla cultivar 'Blue Shadow'
    Fothergilla cultivar 'Blue Shadow' providing showy foliage contrast. Photo: Miri Talabac