When to plant daphne?

Growing Winter Daphne Plants: Care For Winter Daphne

Daphne plants, also called winter daphne or fragrant daphne, are short-lived evergreen shrubs that grow in USDA hardiness zones 7-9. Gardeners often complain that growing winter daphne is difficult. Follow these suggestions for successful growth and blooms on your daphne bushes.

About Daphne Plants

Growing winter daphne sports fragrant blossoms in late winter for those gardeners who’ve learned how to get winter daphnes to bloom. The right care for winter daphne encourages the fragrant blooms, as does growing winter daphne in the right spot.

Botanically called Daphne odora, pink buds emerge in February to March, becoming clusters of fragrant, tubular blooms. The shrub reaches no more than 4 feet in height and usually grows to just 3 feet high and the same in width. Lightly branched, the form of growing winter daphne is open and airy. Foliage is shiny green, simple and attractive. The cultivar ‘Marginata’ has yellow bands around the glossy leaves.

Growing Winter Daphne

Daphne plant care involves growing daphne plants in well-draining soils. Root rots associated with soggy and poorly draining soil are often the end of daphne plants. In addition, plant daphne in slightly elevated soil beds amended with organic, humus-type materials such as coarse bark.

Locate in an area that gets morning sun and afternoon shade or in an area of dappled shade. Getting this step in daphne plant care right is the first step in how to get winter daphnes to bloom.

Deep cuts from pruning are another detriment to the healthy growth of daphne plants. Prune daphne lightly and only as needed. Care for winter daphne will include removing long branches at a node, without cutting into the main stem of the plant.

Infrequent watering is a part of daphne plant care, especially during hot, dry summer days. Beware of overwatering.

Finally, fertilize the daphne plant with a balanced fertilizer designed for shrubs when blooms are finished.

Take special care of your fragrant daphne for winter blooms when the rest of the landscape is sleeping and for the enticing fragrance this plant provides.

Outstanding Qualities

This evergreen daphne is wonderfully fragrant, with its sweetness carrying on the air in March and April. It’s also a very pretty shrub, with long, narrow leaves edged in creamy gold. Its flowers are small and waxy-looking, and they emerge from attractive purple buds. Plant it with a winter-interest combination, such as Camellia x williamsii ‘Donation’, Cyclamen coum and Crocus tommasinianus. It does well under the shade of a small deciduous tree, such as a Japanese maple, where it provides foliage interest through the winter and gets protection from hot sun in summer. Although many daphnes are tricky to grow, this one is adaptable and easy to please.

Quick Facts

Plant Type: shrub

Foliage Type: evergreen

Plant Height: 4 ft. 0 in. (1.22 meters)

Plant Width/Spread: 6 ft. 0 in. (1.83 meters)

Plant Height-Mature: 0 ft. 0 in. (0.00 meters)

Plant Width-Mature: 0 ft. 0 in. (0.00 meters)

Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 to 9

Flower Color: pink

Sun/Light Exposure: light, open, or dappled shade

Water Requirements: occasional watering

Wildlife Associations: bees, butterflies

Resistant to: deer

Colors & Combos

Great Color Contrasts: dark green, black, gold

Great Color Partners: purple, cream

Daphne odora

  • Whole Plant Traits: Plant Type: Poisonous Shrub Leaf Characteristics: Broadleaf Evergreen Habit/Form: Dense Mounding Rounded Texture: Medium
  • Cultural Conditions: Light: Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day) Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours) Soil Texture: High Organic Matter Loam (Silt) Soil Drainage: Good Drainage Moist Available Space To Plant: 3 feet-6 feet Usda Plant Hardiness Zone: 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
  • Fruit: Fruit Color: Red/Burgundy Fruit Value To Gardener: Showy Fruit Type: Drupe Fruit Description: Seldom produces fruit. A fleshy drupe, red.
  • Flowers: Flower Color: Pink Purple/Lavender White Flower Inflorescence: Cyme Flower Value To Gardener: Fragrant Flower Bloom Time: Spring Winter Flower Description: Rosy purple buds open rose pink; flowers in late winter to early spring; fragrant. A cyme, terminal, to 1″. (5-10) creamy white to purplish, fragrant, salverform, to 1/4″; calyx a cylindrical fleshy tube with 4 spreading lobes; petals 0.
  • Leaves: Leaf Characteristics: Broadleaf Evergreen Leaf Color: Green Leaf Feel: Glossy Leathery Leaf Value To Gardener: Long-lasting Leaf Type: Simple Leaf Arrangement: Alternate Leaf Shape: Cuneate Elliptical Oblong Leaf Margin: Entire Hairs Present: No Leaf Length: 1-3 inches Leaf Width: < 1 inch Leaf Description: Alternate, simple, leathery, shiny, dark green leaves; 2-3″ long; pointed and tapered at each end. Elliptic-oblong, acute, cuneate, entire, coriaceous, shiny.
  • Stem: Stem Is Aromatic: No Stem Description: Few, erect.
  • Landscape: Resistance To Challenges: Salt
  • Poisonous to Humans: Poison Severity: High Poison Symptoms: Unknown, but possibly as in D. mezereum Poison Toxic Principle: Unknown, suspected to be a diterpenoid (mezerein) Causes Contact Dermatitis: No Poison Part: Bark Flowers Fruits Leaves Roots Seeds Stems


Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade. The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas. For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to [email protected] Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

Calycanthus raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ (Native Hybrid Sweetshrub) at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens

For years, my customers have been asking for woody plants for shade—trees, shrubs, and vines—in addition to the perennials I sell. Last year I found a wholesale woody plant nursery with the quality and selection I needed to be able to offer woody plants at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens. I put together two offerings in 2010 and have just sent out my first 2011 list. To view the catalogue, click here. However, I thought my blog readers who are not customers might be interested in learning about the woody plants that I would recommend they add to their shade gardens. And doing an article allows me to add more information and explain why I chose the plants I included so customers might be interested also.

Included in my offering are one tree, three camellias, four other shrubs, and one vine. Of the nine plants I have chosen, five are native. Please read my article My Thanksgiving Oak Forest to see why I think planting native plants is crucial to our environment. My article New Native Shade Perennials for 2011 explains why I think native cultivars and hybrids are valuable native plants.

Six of the plants I have chosen are evergreen or semi-evergreen, and four bloom in the off season: fall, winter, or very early spring. This reflects my desire to see gardeners expand their gardens’ season beyond spring and summer to become a year round paradise for them to enjoy. With that introduction, here are the plants I am highlighting:

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ (Native Southern Magnolia)

‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ is an extremely cold hardy southern magnolia tree perfect for our area (southeastern Pennsylvania, U.S.). It is said to be even hardier than ‘Edith Bogue’, which I have in my garden and came through our difficult winter in pristine condition. It grows to 35’ tall at maturity and thrives in sun to partial shade. The huge fragrant white flowers are beautifully displayed against the glossy dark evergreen leaves in June and July. The rusty undersides of the leaves are particularly ornamental in this cultivar: I couldn’t take my eyes off it when I saw it on a local garden tour.

The flower of ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ native southern magnolia

Southern magnolia is native from Maryland south. ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ is a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Gold Medal Plant, click here to see why, and a Missouri Botanical Garden Plant of Merit (photos courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder), click here for details.

Camellia x ‘April Blush’ (Spring-blooming Hardy Camellia)

I choose three hardy camellias, all with different characteristics, for their off season flowers and evergreen leaves. Camellia x ‘April Blush’ is a spring-blooming hardy camellia with gorgeous plump buds opening to semi-double blush-pink flowers in April and May. It has glossy dark evergreen leaves, which come through the winter unscathed. It is 5’ tall and grows in part to full shade. This is the cultivar that I have in my garden, and it is fully cold hardy in our area.

‘April Blush’ spring-blooming hardy camellia coming into bloom in my garden

Camellia x ‘Spring’s Promise’ (Spring-blooming Hardy Camellia)

Camellia x ‘Spring’s Promise’ is a very early spring-blooming hardy camellia that also flowers in the fall for two seasons of interest. Its single coral-red flowers appear in March and April displayed beautifully by its glossy dark evergreen leaves. It was in full bloom in Charles Cresson’s garden during our March 3 winter interest seminar, see Winter Interest Seminars for an additional photo, and Charles highly recommends it. It is 5’ tall, grows in part to full shade, and is fully hardy in our area.

Camellia x ‘Winter’s Snowman’ (Fall-blooming Hardy Camellia)

Camellia x ‘Winter’s Snowman’ is a fall-blooming hardy camellia. Its semi-double, anemone form white flowers glow when displayed against its glossy evergreen leaves in November and December. ‘Winter’s Snowman’ is a vigorous plant with a narrow upright habit. It grows to 6’ tall, in part to full shade and is fully hardy in our area. This is another of Charles Cresson’s favorites.

‘Winter’s Snowman’ in the Cresson garden last fall

For more information on fall-blooming hardy camellias, click here to read my article Fall-blooming Camellias Part 1, and here to read Fall-blooming Camellias Part 2.

Calycanthus raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ (Native Hybrid Sweetshrub)

I have chosen four other shrubs for their outstanding ornamental qualities. Calycanthus raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ is a hybrid between our eastern U.S. native and an Asian sweetshrub and was introduced by the J.C. Raulston Arboretum in North Carolina. It has breathtaking large wine-red flowers (see photos at the top and above) set off beautifully by the smooth bright green leaves with yellow fall color. I placed this shrub at the entrance to my woodland garden and my customers are entranced by it as am I. It grows to 8’ tall and 5’ wide in part to full shade.

‘Hartlage Wine’ native hybrid sweetshrub at the entrance to my woodland garden with pulmonaria, epimedium, and blue hosta

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ (Variegated Winter Daphne)

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’, variegated winter daphne, has rose-pink buds opening to extremely fragrant clusters of pale pink flowers in early spring. Its fine-textured, evergreen leaves are delicately edged in cream. It grows to 4’ tall and wide in part to full shade. It should be protected from winter sun and wind by planting it in a sheltered southeastern-facing location. This is the daphne in my terrace garden that my customers have been asking about for almost 20 years because it perfumes that whole nursery when it blooms! I am re-planting this year because my very large specimens were killed by falling white pine branches last winter. Daphnes do not like to be disturbed once planted.

Winter daphne in my garden before the pine branches fell

Fothergilla gardenii (Native Dwarf Fothergilla)

Fothergilla gardenii, native dwarf fothergilla, has fragrant white bottlebrush flowers in April and May. Its blue-green leaves turn lovely shades of yellow, orange, and red in the fall (see photo below). It grows to 3’ tall and wide, making it an excellent shrub for small gardens and spaces. It will grow in any light conditions from full sun to full shade and is wet site tolerant. It is native to the southeastern US. Missouri Botanical Garden has chosen dwarf fothergilla as a Plant of Merit (photos courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder), for details click here.

Fall color of native dwarf fothergilla

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Pee Wee’ (Native Dwarf Oakleaf Hydrangea) photo courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Pee Wee’ produces large, long-lasting, upright pyramids of white flowers in June and July, changing to pink as they age and remaining ornamental into winter. It is prized for its bold-textured leaves with burgundy-red fall color and cinnamon-colored exfoliating bark. Walnut tolerant and native to the southeastern US, at 3′ tall it is the perfect native shrub for smaller spaces and smaller gardens. It grows in any light from full sun to full shade. If I could have only one shrub for shade, oakleaf hydrangea would be it.

Native dwarf oakleaf hydrangea with native ginger in the woodland at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens

The full size oakleaf hydrangea is a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Gold Medal Plant, for details click here.

Gelsemium sempervirens ‘Margarita’ (Native Carolina Jessamine) photos above and below courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder

Gelsemium sempervirens ‘Margarita’ blooms with copious fragrant, bright yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers in April and May. The lustrous, dark green leaves are semi-evergreen and provide winter interest. It is native to the southeastern U.S. and reaches 15’ at maturity in full sun to part shade. I grow this vine on a lattice trellis along my fence line in part shade and its beauty never fails to provoke comments. It is a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Gold Medal Plant, for details click here.

Native Carolina jessamine showing off its abundance of fragrant yellow flowers

I hope I have convinced you that these plants would be excellent additions to your shade garden. If you are a customer, you have until April 7 to place an order by clicking here. If not, now you have some plants to ask for at your local independent nursery.

Please leave a comment/reply telling me what other woody plants for shade I might want to offer in the future and describing your experience with them.


Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information. If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.), click here.

Nursery Happenings: My next nursery event is Bulb and Native Wildflower Day on Saturday, April 9, from 10 am to 2 pm. My next open house sale features early spring-blooming shade plants and is Saturday, April 16, from 10 am to 3 pm. For details and directions, click here.

How to Grow Daphne

Daphnes are grown for their lovely scent, and for winter interest as many varieties of the shrub flower in late winter and early spring. Daphnes have a strong, sweet scent and attractive red, pink and white flowers. They are generally evergreen, or semi evergreen, and their foliage is attractive and some varieties have variegated leaves, as in the image to right. Because Daphne has an intense scent, and they are often blooming in the late winter when less of the garden is accessed, it is a good idea to plant Daphne near a path so as to enjoy the scent. The Daphne in the centre image was situated near a sheltered wall alongside a path. The sheltered spot in which this Daphne is grown may well account for its success in terms both of size and the number of blooms on the shrub, it is flowering really well.

Daphnes are fully hardy only really in sheltered gardens, and grow more reliably in the South and West. D. Odora, the Daphne illustrated above left is the most hardy, H4 which is -5-10 although much depends on the position of the plant as it needs a sheltered spot. Daphne is difficult to graft and propagate, which means they are difficult to produce, as a result they tend to be more expensive than some other shrubs. Given the expense, and the fact that Daphnes are tricky to grow, it is important if you do buy one that it is planted in the right place to do well.

Daphnes like moist but well drained soil and will not tolerate either being water logged, or drought. Daphne need a neutral to slightly alkaline soil, if it is sandy add organic matter. A heavy clay soil may not be ideal and the most tolerant of clay soil are Daphne laureola and D. Mezereum. All Daphnes will do best in a sheltered spot with sun, although D laureola will tolerate shade. Daphnes are not suitable to grow in container and dislike being pruned. Avoid pruning unless absolutely necessary and then only after flowering. Daphne are slow growing shrubs, it can take 7-10 years to reach mature size and then only around 3-5 feet depending on the variety. Daphnes are mostly winter or spring flowering.

Star of the season: Daphne

The fragrance and dainty beauty of daphne is enough to make you fling open the doors on a chilly morning so you can breathe it in.

Here Mez Woodward showcases daphne – star of the winter season.

Daphne ‘Spring Pink Eternal Fragrance’ can be grown as a low informal hedge.

We often field calls on radio from gardeners in despair over daphne dieback. Yet these notoriously picky shrubs offer such an irresistible winter presence in pots or the garden, that it’s worthy persevering to find the right spot in which they will thrive.

There are some 50 different species of daphne, but the one most commonly grown in Australia is Daphne odora, which slowly reaches about a metre high and wide and blooms with pink and white flowers. Daphne is often partnered with camellias, rhododendrons and magnolias for a mid-year picture of beauty, while adding them to a planting of osmanthus and lucullia will offer delicious fragrance from winter through spring.

Easy-to-grow ‘Spring Pink Eternal Fragrance’ is the candy pink sister of Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’.

Daphne enjoys the cooler climates of southern Australia and is tolerant of frost. It likes moist, rich, well-drained, slightly acidic soil, in a cool spot in light shade or with morning sun. Excellent drainage is the most important factor for daphne success as it’s prone to root rot. If you notice die-back after periods of heavy rain, spray with Yates Anti Rot or Amgrow RotGuard.

If you can’t achieve excellent drainage in the garden, grow daphne in a container. Planted in an elegant pot (up on pot feet to help with that all-important drainage) on a south or east-facing front veranda, it will always welcome you home. But be careful not to overwater it.

Daphne is also fussy about root disturbance so won’t fancy having its roots tickled at planting time. Also avoid cultivating the soil around it – no underplanting with annuals, as desirable as that might seem – and mulch thickly to suppress weeds instead of hand-weeding.

Picking flower clusters for bedside enjoyment is all the pruning necessary.

A thick mulch will also help keep the roots cool, which is especially important over the warmer months. There’s no need to prune, bar picking little bunches of flowers to scent the house through winter, which will encourage bushy growth. In spring apply a slow-release complete fertiliser such as Yates Blood & Bone with Added Potash or Neutrog Kahoona, and in autumn replenish the mulch with aged cow manure.

‘Eternal Fragrance’ is a relatively new variety, developed by UK plantsman Robin White. In the UK it is resistant to scorching in the sun, though Australian summers offer it more of a challenge. ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and its candy-pink sister ‘Spring Pink Eternal Fragrance’, flower through spring and summer on a dense low-growing shrub 60cm high and 90cm wide, and aren’t fussy about soil pH. If you’ve had no luck with the old-fashioned daphne, these new options may offer an alternative route to that delectable fragrance.

The pure white form, Daphne odora ‘Alba’.

Scents and Smellability—That’s Winter Daphne

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ Steve Bender

What do you consider the most fragrant plant in the garden? Gardenia? Excellent choice. Korean spice viburnum? Worthy candidate. Confederate jasmine, lilac, winter honeysuckle, Easter lily, bearded iris? All good names. Yet there is one shrub we haven’t mentioned that if it isn’t the most fragrant surely shares that designation with another. The unsurpassed winter daphne.

As you might guess from its name, winter daphne (Daphne odora) blooms in winter. I took these photos at Aldridge Gardens in Hoover, Alabama this week. I didn’t know it was there, until a wave of sweet, spicy perfume nearly knocked me off my feet. All this from a dense, rounded shrub less than 18 inches high.

This is why it ranks so highly on Grumpy’s exclusive Scents and Smellability Scale. The fragrance is wonderful and you can smell it from far away.

Native to China and Japan, winter daphne grows bigger with time, eventually reaching 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide after many years. At all times, it remains neat and tidy, seldom needing pruning – not even from deer, who won’t touch its evergreen foliage. Garden centers typically sell two kinds. My favorite, ‘Aureomarginata’ (shown here), combines yellow-edged leaves and waxy, light pink flowers. Daphne odora alba offers solid green foliage and pure white blooms.

Image zoom Steve Bender

This shrub is notoriously finicky about its growing conditions and will kick off in a heartbeat if you fail to meet them. Excellent drainage is essential. Plant it in heavy clay and you might as well throw it into a wood chipper. It needs a lot of air around its roots, so plant in loose, porous soil containing lots of organic matter. Always set the plant a bit high in the hole, so that the top of the root ball is 1 to 2 inches above the soil surface, and then cover the top with mulch. Water thoroughly once a week during summer droughts.

Winter daphne doesn’t like to cook. Plant it where it receives at least three hours of light shade during the middle part of the day. I found this one growing in the shade of tall pine trees. It doesn’t like to freeze either. It grows best in USDA Zones 7-8.

In the Garden

Daphne odora ‘Zuiko Nishiki’ was a big hit at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show this year. This new introduction features dark-green leaves and forms a compact 3- to 4-foot-tall shrub. It has a more upright habit than the more common Daphne odora ‘Marginata.’

It’s also purported to be hardier and should hold its evergreen leaves better than its variegated cousins, which often defoliate after experiencing temperatures in the 20s. ‘Zuiko Nishiki’ features deep pink, almost red flower buds that open up around Valentine’s Day to reveal exquisitely fragrant, white flowers bordered in pink.

An added bonus is that the Anna’s hummingbirds are absolutely gaga over the nectar-laden flowers and rely on them as an important winter food source.

As is true for all Daphne odoras, ‘Zuiko Nishiki’ does best in well-drained soil and morning sunshine. These plants thrive on benign neglect, so water as needed to keep the soil evenly moist for the first month, then back off and water only sparingly.

If ‘Zuiko Nishiki’ lives up to its reputation as a more durable Daphne odora, there is a good chance it will thrive and serve as a spectacularly beautiful and fragrant hummingbird magnet for years to come.

Hydrangea pruning

Most Hydrangeas bloom on growth that occurred the previous season, and you won’t see flowers for one or two years if you cut them back hard to control for height. There are, however, hydrangeas that blossom exclusively on current-season growth and, therefore, bloom beautifully even if they are cut back practically to the ground this time of year.

One example is Hydrangea arborescens (smooth Hydrangea). This native of the eastern United States is hardy to about minus 30 degrees. Left unpruned, it can reach over 10-feet-tall. The most popular variety is ‘Annabelle,’ which produces enormous, snow white 12-inch sphere-shaped flowers.

A recent introduction, ‘Invincibelle Spirit,’ has the same huge flowers, but the blossoms are pink. The other kind of Hydrangea that will bloom in summer, even after being cut back hard in spring, is Hydrangea paniculata (hardy hydrangea). Hailing from Japan and China, these sun-loving Hydrangeas are usually grown as trees, but they can also be cut back practically to the ground if need be.

The best-known Hydrangea paniculata is ‘Grandiflora,’ commonly known as ‘PeeGee.’ Hardy to at least minus 30 degrees, it’s capable of reaching 15 feet tall and produces gazillions of 8-inch snowball shaped flowers that start snow white before fading to soft pink. A smaller growing paniculata is ‘Limelight,’ which grows only to about 6 feet tall and features green cone-shaped flowers that turn pink as they age.

Although both arborescens and paniculata Hydrangeas will bloom reliably even if you cut them back, only resort to such hard pruning every few years. If you cut back severely on a yearly basis, the stems may become weak and require staking to hold up the flower heads.

Ciscoe Morris: [email protected] “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING 5.

With the depth and breadth of this addictive genus, you can have daphne blooms year-round. Plant them in spring or fall. We’ve arranged these recommendations by season, with the plant placed in the season in which it starts to bloom. But keep in mind that many daphnes bloom in more than one season or through several.

Recommendations come from Troy Youngblood of

. Heights are for mature plants. Semi-evergreen means the plant may defoliate in coldest winters. Consider them fragrant unless noted.


D. bholua

One of the tallest daphnes with a very upright form and long, linear leaves. Nice light-tan bark. Covered with light-pink flowers in December and January. Followed by black fruit. Survives in sun, but prefers afternoon shade. Evergreen. 8 feet tall. Zone 7

D. mezereum:

This isn’t called the February daphne for nothing. Flowers come out before the foliage, so it looks like a purple-pink cloud. Red fruit follows. Upright habit. Best with some shade. Deciduous. 3 feet tall. Zone 5

D. odora ‘Marginata’ (syn. ‘Aureomarginata’):

The best known of the winter-blooming daphnes. A dense mound of a plant with leaves lightly edged with yellow. Dark-pink buds open to pinkish- white flowers. Afternoon or full shade. Evergreen. 3-5 feet tall. Zone 7

D. odora ‘Zuiko Nishiki’:

Similar to ‘Marginata’ but with dark-green, glossy foliage and even more fragrant pink flowers. Also easier to grow and slightly hardier. Afternoon or full shade. Evergreen. 5 feet tall. Zone 7



x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’

: Here’s the daphne everyone knows and everyone grows. Green leaves are edged with cream; flowers are a pretty light pink. Not deep, but partial shade. Could probably get away with full sun. Semi-evergreen. 3 feet tall. Zone 4

D. genkwa:

Youngblood sings the praises of this plant that no one seems to know about. “When it blooms, you know it’s there,” he says. Long wands of lilac flowers come out before foliage for a dramatic show. Leaves are silky and linear. Full sun to partial shade. Deciduous. 3 feet tall and wide. Zone 5


x houtteana:

Unusual in that new growth is bright green and mature foliage is burgundy. Sensational combination is reminiscent of some euphorbias. Purple flowers not as fragrant as others in the genus. Limited quantities on the market. Erect habit. Full sun to partial shade. Semi-evergreen. 2-3 feet tall. Zone 6


x mantensiana ‘Manten’:

A touchy plant that Youngblood says is best for experienced gardeners. Worth the effort, though, for its practically year-round flowering. Orchid-purple flowers are paler within. Dense, compact shrub. Full sun. Evergreen. 2 feet tall. Zone 5


‘Lawrence Crocker’:

If this plant were a person, he’d be dubbed an overachiever. Glossy leaves set off the abundant lavender flowers that come spring through fall. Tough, too; nothing seems to hurt it. Nice round habit. Plant several together for a real show. Full sun. OK with afternoon shade. Evergreen. 1 foot tall and wide. Zone 6

D. retusa:

Starts blooming in spring and just keeps on going through summer. Really great flowers are purple-red outside, white inside. Flowers followed by red berries, which are slightly toxic (will give a stomachache). Glossy leaves and compact, dwarf habit. 30 inches tall and wide. Full sun to part shade. Evergreen. Zone 7

D. x rollsdorfii ‘Wilhelm Schacht’:

A very easy-to-grow dwarf that’s more upright than ‘Lawrence Crocker’ and has flowers a deeper pink-purple than lavender. Gets two to three good flushes of flowers spring through fall. Limited on the market. Full sun to part shade. More flowers in sun. Evergreen. 1 foot tall. Zone 6


x thauma ‘Reginald Farrer’:

Dainty little thing that’s slow-growing and good for a rock garden. Gets two to three flushes of bloom from early spring through fall with sporadic flowers in between. Clusters of flowers are purple-throated and pinkish- white. May have to search for this one. Full sun to part shade. Evergreen. 6 inches tall, 10 inches wide. Zone 7



x burkwoodii ‘Briggs Moonlight’:

One of the daphnes that’s not so easy; Youngblood recommends it for collectors. But for those willing to experiment, this plant will do wonderfully once established in the right spot (morning sun and afternoon shade), he says. Variegated foliage looks like bursts of yellow stars edged in green. That’s opposite the variegation from




‘Carol Mackie,’ which blooms in spring. Put them together for an unusual contrast. Semi-evergreen. 3 feet tall, 4 feet wide. Zone 5

D. jasminea

A tiny little thing that’s cute as a bug. Small leaves and size make it perfect for a rock garden. Twiggy habit gives it a bonsai look. Star-shaped, white flowers appear at the end of stems, which are clothed in blue-gray foliage. Big fragrance for such a small plant. Blooms all summer and sometimes into winter. May take some searching to find. Full sun to part shade. Flowers more with warmer temperatures, so you may want to mulch with gravel for the heat. Evergreen. 4-12 inches tall, 12 inches wide. Zone 7

D. x napolitana (syn. D. neapolitana):

Here’s a daphne that takes little effort. Not as spectacular as some, but it does so well that Youngblood can’t imagine why you wouldn’t try it. Grows into a green mound, and blooms on and off all summer into fall with highly fragrant, rose-pink flowers. Full sun to part shade. Evergreen. 2 feet tall. Zone 7

D. x transatlantica ‘Jim’s Pride’ and ‘Summer Ice’:

Many plants sold on the West Coast as

D. caucasica

are more likely ‘Jim’s Pride,’ a hybrid between

D. collina


D. caucasica

. No worries. No matter what it is, this plant’s a gem. Blooms almost all year-round after a luxurious flush in spring. The white clusters of flowers perfume the garden with the most sensuous fragrance. Has pretty reddish-brown bark. The variegated form, ‘Summer Ice,’ sports green-and- white foliage and pale-pink flowers, and blooms a little later, starting in summer and going into fall. Youngblood recommends it “a thousand times over ‘Carol Mackie.’ ” Both need full sun to part shade. More flowers in more sun. ‘Jim’s Pride’ is semi-evergreen, ‘Summer Ice’ evergreen. 4 feet tall. Zone 5

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JC Raulston Arboretum

winter daphne

Daphne odora is one of the most cherished plants for the winter garden. It has been cultivated in China and Japan since ancient times and its native distribution is now obscure. It is the most common garden member of the Thymelaeaceae, others occasionally encountered include Edgeworthia, Stellera, Wikstroemia, and the native Dirca. The genus Daphne includes about 100 species of both evergreen and deciduous species and ranges over a wide area from Asia to northern Africa and Europe. It derives its name from the Roman myth of the nymph Daphne. Daphne would not return Apollo’s affections and eventually turned into a laurel tree to escape his pursuit.

Winter daphne, as Daphne odora is commonly known. makes a low evergreen shrub 3’–4′ tall and wide. The dark green lanceolate leaves make a perfect backdrop for the late winter flowers opening in February or March and often lasting well into April. The typical flower color is pale pink to rose. Red fruits are sometimes produced but are poisonous. The stems, although hidden, are an attractive smooth, purplish-brown.

Despite its year round beauty, winter daphne is grown mainly for its extremely fragrant flowers. The winter blossoms scent the entire garden with the aroma wafting dozens of feet away from the plant. Presumably the far spreading odor must attract some of the few pollinators active during winter. The scent is described in various ways but the lemony fragrance is reminiscent of southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) to me. Flowers are generally pale rose but can be pure white in some selections. The thick textured sepals (daphne have no true petals) last for a relatively long period during the cool weather when they flower and so extend the show over a long period.

Winter daphne is commonly sold as a shrub for shade and will definitely need protection from the harshest afternoon sun. Daphne needs very well-drained soil and will not last long in heavy red clay. Like the nymph, Daphne often spurns even the most talented gardener. In the best of conditions it is relatively short lived, rarely lasting more than 8 years and often dying in half that time. Winter daphne does have the decency to usually die quickly instead of lingering for years. Despite its fickle nature, the outstanding form and heavenly fragrance earn it a spot in the garden and regular replacement. Propagation of Daphne odora is by softwood or semi-hardwood cuttings taken from June through September or hardwood cuttings from dormant plants. Semi-hardwood cuttings can be rooted under mist while dormant material is best with bottom heat.

Perhaps more commonly encountered than the species is the cultivar ‘Aureomarginata’ with a thin creamy yellow margin around each leaf. Look for it in the model gardens at the JCRA. One of our new favorites is ‘Zuiko Nishiki’, a green foliaged form that is heavier flowering than the species, more fragrant, and reputedly hardier which is growing in the Xeric Garden. Other cultivars include ‘Maejima’ with broad, even, creamy yellow margins, ‘Nakafu’ with the unusual variegation of pale green surrounded by yellow then edged with green. Perhaps the most elegant and easiest to use in the landscape is the white flowered forma alba. Whichever daphne you choose, you are sure to be entranced with its many charms and delightful fragrance.

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