Fothergilla Mount Airy (Fothergilla major Mount Airy) hangs around in a fairly nondescript manner during summer. At the edge of spring and fall however, this native plant shines in the garden.
Also known at Mt. Airy and bottlebrush fothergilla, this deciduous native shrub is hardy USDA zones 5-9. The native species is found in the Appalachian mountains of Georgia and surrounding states. Prefers rich, humousy soil and full sun. Fothergilla Mount Airy can easily tolerate partial shade, and I would consider it very easy to grow.
Fothergilla Mount Airy was discovered by Michael Dirr, a legendary and much-respected horticulturalist who also happens to be a professor from my own alma mater, the University of Georgia. The discovery itself was at the Mt. Airy Arboretum in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Native to the Appalachian mountains, the native species of this plant can grow upwards of 10′ feet. Happily for many garderners, Mount Airy Fothergilla grows half this size. The flowers are gorgeous bottle-brush affairs that tend towards creamy white. The flowers originally drew me to fothergilla many years ago, but it is the fall color that is the apex. I tend to think of unusually vibrant orange, but yellows and purples can be smattered in.
Fall color is superior to the native species.
Planting in groups is strongly recommended, the usual odd number of three or five plants spaced appropriately (3′-4′). Suckering can occur. I like to use outliers in most of my plantings, as rigid groups in the natural setting are not my preference. Thus, if I were planting this particular species, I would group two or three plants in close proximity and then one more at a relatable distance…perhaps 10′-15′ away. Works with perennials. Works with bulbs. Works with shrubs.
We do not want confined groups as mini versions of a confined garden. Let the plants inter-disperse.