Daphne plant care problems

Problems of Daphne

Shrub Dies Suddenly means Improper Cultivation
Daphne shrubs in general and fragrant daphnes in particular are extremely sensitive to their surroundings. They have the disconcerting tendency to up and die suddenly for no apparent reason. Often the cause is a subtle change in their environment–too much water or fertilizer, exposure to rapid temperature change, the proximity of another plant. Usually the cause is not known.
Leaves Curled, Discolored due to Aphids
Aphids are spindly-legged, pear-shaped insects little bigger than the head of a pin. Also called “plant lice,” they attack tender branches and flower clusters on shrubs. These pests suck sap from leaves and stems, causing the foliage to curl, pucker, and turn yellow, while reducing the plant’s vigor. Sometimes ants, attracted by the aphids’ honeydew secretions, wander over the plants and protect the aphids from natural predators. Check under the daphne leaves for small groups of aphids.
To dislodge light infestations, spray the undersides of the leaves vigorously with water three times, once every other day, in the early morning. Spray insecticidal soap every 2 to 3 days for heavier infestations. As a last resort, use pyrethrum spray, spraying it directly on the aphids. Take care to use pyrethrum late in the day to minimize killing honeybees and other beneficial insects nearby. Destroy nearby ant nests by breaking them open and pouring boiling water on them. On evergreen shrubs like fragrant daphne, apply a “light” horticultural oil spray on the foliage in the early spring to suffocate over wintering eggs.
For more information see file on Controlling Aphids.
Cottony Masses on Plant Parts indicates Mealybugs
Mealybugs are 1/5 to 1/3 inch long, with oval, flattened bodies. They are covered with white waxy powder and adorned with short, soft spines around their edges. These insects sometimes gather in cottony white masses on daphne roots, stems, branches and leaves, sucking sap and reducing the plant’s vigor. Infested daphne leaves look yellowish; severely infested plants are unsightly, do not grow well, and may die. Honeydew secretions from the insects’ feeding encourage mold growth on the shrub foliage and attract ants.
Control mealybugs by spraying them with an alcohol-insecticidal soap spray every 2 to 3 days until the pests disappear. Mix 1 cup of rubbing alcohol and with one pint of insecticidal soap mix. To kill over wintering mealybug eggs spray daphne foliage and stems with a light horticultural oil in March or April, just before new growth starts.
Leaves And Branches Encrusted With Small Bumps because of Scale Insects
Scale insects are covered by hard, rounded waxy shells, which may be colored white, yellow, or brown to black. These small bumps are found ranged along stems and twigs of infested daphnes. They are about 1/10 to 2/5 inch in diameter. The first sign of a scale attack is often discoloration of the tops of the leaves, followed by leaf drop, reduced growth, and stunted shrubs. Some species of scale insects excrete honeydew, which coats foliage and encourages ants and the growth of sooty mold, a gray to black coating on the leaves and stems. Heavy scale infestations may kill daphnes.
Handle mild scale infestations by simply scraping the telltale bumps off plant surfaces with a fingernail, or a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Heavy infestations require spraying. Use a mixture of alcohol and insecticidal soap every 3 days for 2 weeks. Mix 1 tablespoon of alcohol in a pint of ready-to-use commercial soap spray. Light horticultural oil sprayed on dormant plants in late winter or early spring will smother over wintering scale. Apply insecticides when the young larvae (or “crawlers”) have hatched and before they start forming their new scales.
For more information see file on Controlling Scale.
Sudden Wilting; Death due to Southern Blight
This fungal disease of many types of woody plants thrives in hot weather and acidic soil. Although it is most common in the southeast, it appears sporadically in the north. It tends to attack young shrubs that have not yet developed corky bark on their stems. The infection starts near the soil line, appearing as a dark, discolored area covered by a webbing of fungal threads, eventually girdling the stem. The disease can kill a daphne shrub in less than 1 month. Because the fungus lives in soil and plant debris, it is important to collect and discard in the trash all weeds and plant parts near infected shrubs. Dig up and get rid of soil near sick plants. In the North kill this blight fungus by pulling off the mulch around the daphne shrub to expose the soil to winter frost. Researchers are developing an antagonistic fungus that can some day be used to control this disease.
For more information see file on Controlling Fungal Disease
Brown Spots On Leaves means Leaf Spot
Some types of fungi cause thick brown spots to develop on both sides of daphne leaves. These leaves then turn yellow and wilt, eventually dying. Treat infected shrubs by promptly picking off all leaves and twigs that show symptoms and discarding them in the trash. Spray affected shrubs with copper fungicide according to directions on the package.
For more information see file on Controlling Fungal Disease.
Branch Tips Turn Brown; Die Back due to Twig Blight
A blight disease caused by a fungus occurs on daphne through the Northeast out to the Pacific Northwest. It causes branch tips to turn brown then die back until the entire branch, or even the entire shrub, is killed. Shrubs over 5 years old are usually not seriously affected. In late winter, prune and burn affected twigs and branches.
Spray plants with copper fungicide or lime sulfur fungicide when symptoms first appear and then every 10 days in wet seasons. Avoid overhead watering. Daphnes do not respond well to pruning even under the best of circumstances, but this is the best way to attempt to control this disease. Prune to increase air circulation around shrubs, taking care to sterilize pruning tools by dipping them in household bleach to prevent the disease from spreading. Because the fungus spores collect on the mulch beneath the shrubs, removing the old mulch and replacing it with fresh material may help prevent an outbreak from recurring.
For more information see file on Controlling Fungal Disease.
Foliage Burned because of Dog Urine
Dog urine will discolor daphne branches and foliage, and kill them. Spray vulnerable foliage with anti-transpirant spray to protect it. Where there are chronic problems, screen the shrub or spray its lower branches with pet repellant. Given daphne’s delicate constitution, these measures may be as harmful as the original problem, however. For more information see the file on Dogs and Cats


Article by David Marks
There are about 70 species of Daphne although only a few of them are commonly grown in the UK. They can broadly be split into two types; those which are classified as alpines and the larger more tolerant garden shrubs which are dealt with in the article. In the UK the commonly grown shrubby forms are either evergreen or semi-evergreen and have decidedly scented flowers.

Good quality and healthy Daphne shrubs are more expensive than the average shrub because propagation from seed is erratic and taking cuttings has a higher than normal rate failure with some species almost always failing. Often, they are propagated by grafting, typically onto Daphne tangutica which grows easily from seed. Once established, most Daphne shrubs grow away fine.

Use the checklist below to decide if a Daphne is suited to your preferences and garden conditions:

  • They grow best in part shade to full sun.
  • Moisture at the roots is key to successful growth. The soil must be free draining but receive a good supply of water. Daphne will not tolerate water-logged soil.
  • Most of the common Daphne shrubs sold in the UK are either evergreen or part evergreen but don’t expect much from them in winter months.
  • A neutral soil (neither alkaline or acidic) will suit all Daphne shrubs.
  • Their root structure, although extensive is easily damaged so they do not transplant well at all. Get the position and available space for this shrub correct when you plant it and leave it there.
  • All are hardy down to -5°C, many down to -10°C, see the section on varieties below for more specific information. Daphne bholua is probably the least cold tolerant with -5°C being tolerated only for short periods of time.
  • They have a life span of about 15 years, some times up to 20 years depending on conditions.
  • They do not require pruning, a clear up of fallen leaves is all that is required. They should not be pruned to shape, this simply encourages tender new growth which is then damaged by the cold.


Follow the steps below to ensure your Daphne is planted correctly and in the best position:

  • Daphne can be planted all year long if the soil is not frozen and you can water well when conditions are dry. Mid March to April and mid September to October are the best times to plant Daphne shrubs.
  • Choose a partial shade to full sun position. They will grow in full shade but the flowering will be greatly reduced and they will also become straggly.
  • Daphne have scented flowers and it is often a good idea to plant them where you appreciate that, by paths or at the front of a bed is best.
  • Make sure you allow enough space for the variety you have chosen (see the section Daphne varieties below for correct spacing). They do not grow well if moved when they are established
  • If the soil is heavy or is not free draining add lots of well rotted compost to the area and dig it in well. Some horticultural sand add to the mix is also beneficial.
  • Dig a hole twice the width of the rootball. Sprinkle in a handful of blood, fish and bone and work into the ground.
  • Place the plant into the hole. If your daphne is grafted (and they commonly are) plant it so that the graft is 3cm to 5cm below the soil surface. If it has not been grafted, plant it to the same depth as it was in the pot.
  • Fill around the root ball and firm the soil down gently but firmly. Water well to settle the surrounding ground around the root ball.
  • Plant to the same depth as your shrub was in the pot. Often they are grated and the join should be a couple of centimetres below the soil level.

Daphne odora


The primary care need for Daphne is to ensure that they have the correct amount of moisture at the roots. They will require watering in dry conditions but should never be water-logged. Too much water causes fungal diseases. If you remember, a handful or two twice a year of blood fish and bone will feed them all they need. Do not add any quick release nitrogen rich fertilisers.

They should not be pruned, a simple clear up of dead leaves and debris around the plant will do them fine. An annual layer of well rotted mulch around the plants in June time will conserve moisture and over time will help to keep the texture of the soil open and free draining.


Daphne require no pruning and do not respond well to being pruned. Ensure they have sufficient space to grow to full size when they are planted.


Daphne are only suited for growing in deep containers because they need room for their roots to spread. We would advise only planting them in the open ground.

We would suggest a Philadelphus / Mock Orange or Choisya as excellent alternatives for container growing. Good flowering potential and they can easily be kept to the size of the container.


Daphne are unlikely to suffer and problem with pests however, if you notice an aphid attack then it is best to treat it as soon as possible. The reason is that they can quickly encourage and spread fungal diseases.

The main disease of Daphne are fungal infections and general ill health causing browning or yellowing of leaves. These are almost always caused by environmental factors, the key on being too much or too little watering. Get the moisture correct at the roots and your Daphne should be problem free.

They are also susceptible to Honey Fungus but this is not specific to Daphne, so are many shrubs. If they are affected by this fungus it’s best to remove the shrub and plant something which can resist it.

See also the comment at the end of end of Daphne Question and Answer page dated 2nd January 2018.



This is one of the most frequently planted varieties because it has a delicious scent. They have a height and spread of 1.5m / 5ft at maturity. The flowers are a delightful pink / white mix, produced in January to March. This is one of the more robust of the Daphne species and grows well in full sun or part shade. Avoid planting this species if you soil is alkaline.

It forms a neat, dense, rounded shape and requires very little care. It is hardy down to -10° / 14°F and is evergreen. A particularly good variety is Daphne odora Aureomarginata which has glossy green leaves with golden edges. This first gained an Award of Garden Merit in 2002 which was reconfirmed in the RHS 2013 trials.

This variety is available to buy online from the GardenFocused recommended suppliers by clicking here. Plants are sold with a one year guarantee


Not so widely available as some other Daphnes but well worth seeking out because it flowers for longer than other species. The reason is that most Daphnes flower on stems produced the previous year but “transatlantica” flowers primarily on new wood. There is a primary flush of flowers in April to May followed by more flowers through to September.

The flowers have the same heady scent as “odora” above with lighter pink and white, trumpet shaped flowers. These are easy care shrubs and fully hardy to -15° / 5°F. The lance shaped leaves are dark green and glossy and are there for 10 months of the year. They are “semi-evergreen” rather than fully evergreen and will loose many of their leaves in winter though not all.

Daphne transatlantica

The RHS only got round to trialing this species in 2012 and have already given Daphne translatlantica (Eternal Fragrance) Blafra an Award of Garden Merit. Other varieties of transatlantica are equally as good. This variety is available to buy online from the GardenFocused recommended suppliers by clicking here. We thoroughly recommend it.


Burkwoodii (a hybrid) has deeper coloured flowers than the two varieties above, typically light purple. The same delicious scent is present and in good years the main flush of flowers in May is often followed by more flowers in September. It also grows to around 1.5m / 5ft high but is very upright with a spread of only 1m / 3ft so is ideal for gardens where space is at a premium.

Hardy down to -15° / 5°F, get the moisture levels correct at the roots and this is an easy care shrub. It does naturally drop some leaves in summer time but these soon grow back. The variety Daphne burkwoodii Somerset is an excellent choice. This shrub is available to buy online from the GardenFocused recommended suppliers by clicking here.


A delightful low maintenance evergreen shrub which forms a dense cushion about 40cm / 16in high and 90cm / 3ft wide. Lavender-pink, highly scented flowers appear in early April (the picture below was taken in mid-April) and last through to May. The leaves are an attractive deep, glossy green.

It is ideal as a rockery plant or the front of a border which is very well-drained. In this type of position it is almost maintenance free. It is frost hardy down to -10C / 14F. It does best in full sun and prefers a neutral soil. This is a slow growing shrub and will take 10 years or more to reach full size.

Daphne Susannae ‘Cheriton’


Daphne can be propagated from seed, cuttings or grafting. They are more difficult compared to most other shrubs and some simply don’t grow from seed or cuttings. Even grafting is a slightly complicated process and for that reason we refer you to this article here about the grafting process.


Below we list the key strengths and weaknesses of Daphne.

HARDY (to -10° / 14°F) variable
SHADE No, partial or full sun
EVERGREEN Yes (variable)
FLOWER TIME Variable (late winter to late spring)

Sometimes our readers ask specific questions which are not covered in the main article above. Our new
Daphne comment / question and answer page
lists their comments, questions and answers. At the end of that page there is also a form for you to submit any new question or comment you have.


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Daphnes aren’t fickle, just misunderstood

  • Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’ Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’ Photo: Robin White – Timber Press.

Photo: Robin White – Timber Press. Image 1 of / 3



Image 1 of 3 Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’ Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’ Photo: Robin White – Timber Press. Daphnes aren’t fickle, just misunderstood 1 / 3 Back to Gallery

“Oh, I love daphnes, but aren’t they finicky?” I get this comment a lot this time of year as people gaze wistfully at our nursery’s daphne collection. I’m at a bit of a loss to respond because I love these spring-blooming shrubs, can heartily recommend them and yet have heard many a story about daphne heartbreak.

The short answer for daphnes is: Give them conditions they like and you’ll be rewarded with years of beauty and heavenly scent. Everyone is familiar with the shade-tolerant Daphne odora, but there is a whole world of daphnes out there to be discovered.

One of my favorites is D. x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’. It’s a bit cliche to say a plant is aptly named, so let’s just say that ‘Eternal’ is one of the longest bloomers in the daphne genus. Once established, it will flower from April to November, an unusually long period for any shrub, let alone a daphne.

Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’ forms a compact, bushy shrub, about 24 to 30 inches tall and wide, and features rosy pink buds that open to creamy white flowers. Even by daphnes’ high standards, the blooms on ‘Eternal Fragrance’ are intensely sweet. In fact, this plant should come with a caution: “Inhaling fragrance may cause temporary amnesia,” as in: “I came out in the garden to do something, but now I’ve forgotten what that was.”

Daphnes are also misunderstood in a few other ways. In milder places in the Bay Area, they’ll be happiest in a good amount of sun, especially this hybrid. Not only will the plant perform better, but having sufficient sun will extend its bloom season. And you’ll naturally want to plant this handsome evergreen shrub near a walkway, entrance or frequented area in your garden to enjoy its heady aroma and attractive deep-green foliage. Because of its modest size, ‘Eternal Fragrance’ can easily be displayed in a container, which might give certain gardeners the flexibility to position it for maximum effect. Daphnes are deer resistant, adding to their versatility.

Another misconception about daphnes is that they are “thirsty” plants. Not true. Daphnes require a minimal amount of water once they are established. In fact, the leading cause of this shrub’s early demise is poor-draining soil and overwatering (that and being planted in too much shade).

Did you know?

Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’ was introduced into Britain in 2005, before it was available in the United States. It’s a cross between D. caucasica and D. collina.


Grow in moderately fertile, humus-rich, well-drained soil in full to partial sun in coastal areas and in filtered sun in hotter zones. Mulch to keep roots cool. Deep water weekly in first year, then cut back once plant is established. Protect from cold winds. Daphnes don’t like to be disturbed once they’ve been planted. They do well left in pots large enough to give their roots space. Hardiness zone 6, though it may go deciduous in zones 6 and 7. Note: Ingestion of leaves may cause severe discomfort.


Southern blight, crown and root rot, aphids and scale insects are common.


You can find this and other daphne species at Sloat Garden Center in San Francisco, Grand Lake Ace Garden Center in Oakland and Orchard Nursery in Lafayette.

Thorny Problems: why won’t my Daphne flower?

Until it does, you can do as I have to do with my leafy old dame – buy some really realistic fakes and prop them in the foliage every February, just to cheer yourself up (and fool your friends).

Daphne disaster

Q: Two years ago I bought two Daphne odoras and potted them up in rich compost, fed and watered as directed by the label. One dropped all its leaves in the first winter, revived temporarily but now has died. The other one has survived but has never flowered. I have placed it in a sunny and sheltered position in the vain hope that it will flower. I read that they are supposed to be hardy and easy to grow. Can you help?

Ellen Walker, via email

A: Daphne odora is indeed frost-hardy but despite that, judging by the number of daphne disasters I hear about, it is clearly not terribly easy to grow and, being difficult to propagate, plants sold to us are generally small and expensive. All daphnes dislike root disturbance of any kind (therefore don’t transplant well), take time to get established once planted and may not flower well for several years. Your survivor, therefore, needs careful treatment.

The main problem in your case seems to be the fact that you are growing your plants (or now rather sadly, plant singular) in a container. Daphnes are not good subjects for long-term container-growing, it would seem, and prefer to have their roots properly in the ground as long as the soil is not winter-waterlogged heavy clay. The mistake that lots of people seem to make (which you have not, however) is to think that Daphne odora is a lime-hater. Although it appreciates leafy soil and annual mulches, Daphne odora is in fact tolerant of quite alkaline conditions. And while shelter (particularly from strong wind) is important, lots of midday sun is not, and indeed the combination of wind and strong sunshine can do immense harm to the foliage, or even kill it.

If I were you, I would try to very gently transfer your survivor, with minimal disturbance to its roots, into a suitable place in the garden, and keep your fingers crossed.

Fuchsia advice for a late starter

Q: I would appreciate some advice on how to overwinter some small fuchsia plants I’ve had in containers during the summer. I don’t have a greenhouse but do have a sheltered spot on the patio and a garage. I’ve recently retired and with more time to spend in it, I am determined to “tame” my garden, starting here.

Marg Walker, via email

A: Sorry Marg: you have caused the following brief digression. This email was addressed to “Dear Helen and Team”, which made me smile. Now that I no longer have a cat, Thorny Problems is written by a “team” of one. It is not one of those letters pages mistressminded/dreamed up by a couple of hard-pressed journos in an airless room. As often as not when woe-processing (woe-cessing?), I sit in my socks with the door to the garden open, twigs in my hair and mud under my fingernails.

Your small fuchsias are unlikely to be hardy varieties and would suffer and die if left outside for the winter, even in a sheltered spot. A garage, too, is not really a safe place for them. It would be better to bring them indoors, having first inspected their pots carefully for cowering attachments (slugs and snails) and other nasties. If stored and kept fairly dry in a cool, light room (on a spare room windowsill?), tender fuchsias will probably keep most of their leaves, but grow rather gaunt.

In February they will start to sprout and can be repotted into slightly larger pots with fresh compost and cut down to a point just above the lowest tiny sprouting leaves. Watered regularly and given as much light as possible, they will start to make decent new growth destined to flower in the summer and can be gradually acclimatised to the outside world again during April/May. This advice is broadly applicable to pelargoniums, too.

Yew decide

Q: I planted two yew hedges in my front garden about 10 years ago. They have thrived and look beautiful every day of the year. My question relates to pruning. Each year we cut off at least a foot in height and depth just covering the new growth. I would now like the next cut to be much more severe, and involve cutting into the old wood to reduce the overall size. Is this possible? Will it recover or will it just look unsightly?

Sue Relph, via email

A: The second best thing about yew (the first best being its year-round beauty, and the third best being that it only needs cutting once a year), is the fact that it shoots out from old wood and therefore responds well to hard pruning. Most gardeners with mature hedges that they wish to reduce substantially favour the idea of spreading the job out over two or even three years. Scalp one side and the top one year (late summer is the best time), and the rest a year or two later. This spreads the workload and minimises the shock to the hedge.

These four lesser-known evergreens are tolerant of dry-ish soil and add vital winter foliage texture to the garden.

£ Ozothamnus rosmarinifolius ‘Threave Seedling’ (above) This tallish shrub (5ft/1.5m in four years) has silver, needlelike foliage and tiny clusters of white flowers that open from raspberry red buds in June. Trim after flowering to lessen its tendency to get lanky with age.

£ Olearia ilicifolia Its coarser cousin O. macrodonta (a good, fast-growing windbreak) is a thug by comparison. This is slower-growing, has finer, elongated holly-like leaves that are an intriguing flat grey-green, and blackish new shoots. Grown principally for foliage (pruning lightly in late spring will stop it producing “daisies”); 4ft (1.2m) in four years.

£ Bupleurum fruticosum Another shrub (from the cow parsley family) with good leaf/stem colour. Leaves are a leaden blue-ish green, young stems pinkish and the long-lasting late summer flowers (think “dill on steroids”), are a lovely acid yellow. Best given wall or fence shelter and, once established, cut back by 16in (40cm) or so in late spring to maintain a 4ft (1.2m) neat domed shape.

£ Phlomis chrysophylla The summer yellow flowers of Mediterranean phlomis are well known, but this variety benefits from dull grey-green leaves that turn a wonderful and most unusual olive green/gold in winter (3ft/1m in four years).

£ For suppliers, search under Plants at rhs.org.uk

One of the best things about winter in Australia is the fragrance of daphne in flower. Winter daphne (Daphne odora) originally comes from China. As well as the green-leafed variety with pink and white flowers, there is also one with a creamy yellow border to the leaf (‘Aureo-marginata’) and a pure white flowering form (‘Alba’).

Daphnes have a reputation for being very touchy plants. They often drop dead suddenly but if the right growing conditions are provided, they will last a long time and develop into large shrubs (see Best Climate map).

Buying the plant

One of the reasons daphne plants die is that they carry virus diseases which, although they do not kill the plant, can reduce its vigour and make it more susceptible to diseases such as root rots. Daphnes need extremely good drainage and are prone to root problems.

A healthy, virus-free daphne will have uniformly dark green, glossy leaves that grow horizontally from the stem. Look for a healthy green-leafed plant when you buy your daphne at the nursery. If the plant has a virus disease (see below), the foliage will be pock-marked or marbled with yellow and the new growth may be distorted.

Lighter green foliage and hanging leaves may indicate the early stages of root rot and the plant will almost certainly die.

Also avoid plants with pests such as scale. Signs of scale include brown lumps on the leaves or stems or sooty mould (a black soot-like covering) on the leaves.

Growing conditions

If you are going to grow daphne in the ground, it requires perfect drainage and a cool, sheltered spot. For good drainage grow the plant in a raised bed, that is a garden bed where the soil is built up by 20-30cm (8-12″). If this is not possible a pot is the next best alternative.

When potting up a daphne, put some plastic fly-wire over the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot. This is not for any horticultural reason, but to stop soil from leaching out of the drainage hole with each watering. Then add the potting mix, selecting a potting mix that meets the Australian Standard. It is a good idea to add a little peat moss to your mix to improve drainage and water-holding capacity of the mix.

Note: In some instances daphnes are grown in soil, dug up and sold in a pot. Any soil should be gently hosed away before it is repotted into potting mix.

Take care when potting, especially if you are handling a large plant. If you damage the roots in the repotting process, it is important to keep the repotted plant in a sheltered spot for several weeks to give it a chance to establish new roots. It will also need close attention in hot or windy weather until it is firmly established. Tip: For good growth on your daphne, add a sprinkle of gypsum to the potting mix.

Cost and availability

Daphne plants are available in most garden centres in the cooler parts of Australia, particularly during winter when the plants are in flower. They come in a range of sizes from small to advanced. Prices start at around $9.95 for a 15cm (6″) pot. As plants are slow growing, large advanced plants can be very expensive (around $30).

If you have a healthy daphne plant growing in your garden you may like to take some cuttings from the plant to give to friends or to keep in case your plant dies. The ideal time to take cuttings is during summer. Place cuttings in a pot of sand and peat propagation mix and keep in a cool, moist spot.

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