When to prune daphne?

Pruning Winter Daphne: How And When To Cut Back Daphne

Daphne shrubs are marvelous plants with pink or white scented flowers set in mini bouquets. The shrubs rarely get taller than a few feet and the largest cultivar barely tops five feet. The plants have a slow growth habit and generally do not need to be pruned unless they are growing into another plant. If this does become necessary, it is important to know how to prune daphne. Also, since the plants bloom on old wood, the timing for when to cut back daphne is important so you don’t remove the next season’s blooms.

Plant Care for Daphne

Daphne plants are winter to late spring bloomers suited for USDA zones 7 to 9. They have a very slow growth rate and are evergreen in all but the coolest climates. On average, a species of daphne will grow 3 to 4 feet (1-1.2 m.) tall with a 4-foot (1.2-m.) spread. They have a mounding form and thick leathery sword-shaped leaves.

The plants do not tolerate moving,

so you should be sure about their location at installation. Place them along a pathway or near a window at the foundation so you can enjoy their scent when the clusters of tiny flowers appear.

Daphne needs a sunny to partially sunny location with well drained soil. The shrubs do not like dry roots, so you will need to water them every two weeks, deeply. You can conserve moisture by working in three inches (7.5 cm.) of compost to a depth of 12 inches (30 cm.) at planting. Also, spread an inch of mulch around the base of the plant. Fertilize with an all purpose fertilizer in spring after the plant has bloomed.

When to Cut Back Daphne

Does daphne need pruning? The plant doesn’t require cutting to enforce a nice compact shape, nor does it require pruning to control a wild growth habit. In other words, it doesn’t need pruning for its health or any other reason.

Daphne plant pruning is generally to remove broken or errant branches. Trimming the shrub is not part of annual plant care for daphne. The best time to do any cutting is after the plant flowers, so you avoid cutting off the buds. This would be early spring when pruning winter daphne and late spring for other varieties.

How to Prune Daphne

As with any pruning project, use clean, sharp cutting implements. Daphne rarely get wood large enough to require a saw, so loppers and a bypass pruner can usually handle the job.

Prune after the plant has flowered and make cuts below any growth nodes or buds. Cut stems at a slight angle, which will help force water away from the cut edge and help prevent rot. Pruning winter daphne (Daphne odora), the most fragrant of the varieties, requires the same method. Tip prune after bloom to remove spent flowers.

Propagate Your Shrubs from Softwood Cuttings

I have propagated thousands of new shrubs from softwood cuttings. That may sound like a lot, but since I’m a propagator at a nursery, it’s all in a day’s work. To successfully propagate such a large number of shrubs requires specially designed hoop houses and state-of-the-art misting and heating systems. It’s also handy to have helpers to carefully monitor the health and well-being of each cutting.

On a smaller scale, though, it is possible to propagate deciduous shrubs from cuttings taken during the summer without the all the high-tech machinery and costly gadgets I have at the nursery. By creating favorable conditions, using the right tools, which are actually quite simple, and being patient, you can achieve success with softwood cuttings at home, too.

Harvest cuttings from semi-ripe growth

The trickiest part of propagating shrubs from softwood cuttings is knowing when a shrub’s stems are ready to be cut. Softwood, the section of a shrub’s stem that’s neither brand new nor fully mature, is the stage of growth on a deciduous woody plant that is best suited for rooting (for details, see Softwood is neither green nor woody, below). The newer, green growth that lies at the end of the stem will rot before roots are produced, and the older, more woody growth at the base of the stem has a harder time putting out roots.

Softwood cuttings can be taken from most deciduous shrubs in June and July and sometimes into early August. I determine a stem’s maturity by taking it in my hand and bending it. If the stem breaks with a characteristic snapping sound, it is in the softwood stage and ready to be harvested as a cutting. If the stem is still too green, it will bend but not break. If the stem is entering the woody stage, it won’t bend at all.

Softwood is neither green nor woody

Softwood is the term used to describe the stage of growth on a deciduous woody plant that’s neither the new, green growth at the end of a shoot nor the stiff, woody growth near the base of the stem. The softwood lies between the two. The best way to know if a shoot has reached the softwood stage is to bend it. If the softwood snaps, the shoot is ready to be taken as a cutting. If the shoot is very flexible and doesn’t snap, it’s too green. If the shoot is not flexible at all, it is too far gone.

1. The best way to test if a stem has reached the softwood stage is to bend it. If it snaps, it’s ready to be cut.2. Cut a stem about one inch below the second leaf node. A cutting should measure between 3 and 5 inches.

The best time to take cuttings is early in the day, when shoots are fully hydrated. Lateral shoots, or those that grow from a leader, make the best cuttings. I avoid weak, thin shoots, as well as overly thick, heavy ones. As soon as I take a cutting, I nestle it into a plastic basin that I’ve filled with damp paper towels. The towels will keep my cuttings moist and cool until I’m ready to head back inside and pot them up. They also shade my cuttings from the sun. Exposure to direct sunlight, even for only a few minutes, can cause irreparable damage. I also avoid taking cuttings on hot days, when plants may be wilting.

Keep cutting short to conserve energy

3. Keep your cuttings cool and moist while collecting them. The author uses a plastic basin and moist paper towels to keep her cuttings fresh.4. Remove leaves to create wounds. The wounds allow the rooting hormone to can gain entry into the stem.

A cutting’s size is also something to consider. I like my cuttings to contain at least two sets of leaves. I use pruning shears to cut the stem from the shrub at about one inch below the second leaf node. Since the length between leaf nodes differs from plant to plant, the size of a cutting, using this rule of measurement, will vary. The average cutting should measure between 3 and 5 inches.

To prepare my cuttings for rooting, I remove the lower set of leaves to open up wounds on the shoot. It is at these wounded sites that rooting will occur. I also wound the end of the shoot’s tip by laying the cutting on its side and shaving away a strip or two of bark.

Use rooting hormone and provide good drainage

5. Cover the wounds with hormone to boost the shoot’s root-producing capability and to prevent rot.6. Trim each set of leaves to minimize transpiration loss.

After I’ve wounded the cutting, I dip the end of the stem into water and then into rooting hormone powder. Softwood cuttings root more successfully when a rooting hormone is used. The object when dipping cuttings in rooting hormone is to cover the wounds completely. Rooting hormone contains the same auxins already in the stem that initiate root production. Coating the stem with hormone boosts the plants’ natural mechanisms to produce roots.

I’m careful never to dip cuttings directly into a jar of rooting hormone powder for fear that the cutting may contain a contaminant. To be on the safe side, I empty a small amount of the hormone into another container and dip my cuttings into that.

Once a cutting’s wounds are coated with rooting hormone, I gently tap off any excess and insert the stem into a six-pack or seedling tray filled with a moistened mixture of perlite and soilless mix. The potting mixture we use at the nursery is 60 percent perlite and 40 percent soilless mix. This mix provides the good drainage and maximum aeration that new roots need. Cuttings placed into a mix that holds moisture is apt to rot before rooting occurs.

Once the cuttings are inserted into the soil, I trim the remaining leaves in half to cut down on transpiration loss. These leaves are still performing photosynthesis, even though there are no roots to draw moisture out of the soil. At this point, if I were propagating these cuttings for the nursery, I would move them into the propagation house where they would get bottom heat from a mat and moisture from a sophisticated misting system until roots develop.

7. Place stakes at the corners of each tray to support the roof of your mini-greenhouse. 8. Water the trays well. 9. Place the tray of cuttings into a plastic bag. This mini-greenhouse will keep the cuttings moist until roots develop.

To mimic these conditions on a smaller scale, I stick small stakes into the corners of the six pack, then water the cuttings from the bottom. Finally, I tuck the tray into a plastic bag, which will create the humid conditions needed for rooting to take place. I then place the tray in a sheltered part of my garden that gets dappled sunlight and keep the cuttings moist until roots develop.

Check for root development

10. Monitor cuttings weekly for root development. These hydrangeas developed roots in three weeks. 11. Pot up rooted cuttings into quart-size containers. Water them well, and transfer them to a sunny spot.

Some cuttings root faster than others. I’ve found that the best way to check for root development is with my eyes. After four to five weeks, I can check the bottom of each tray for small white roots that may be poking out of the drainage holes. If none are visible, another way to check for root development is by gently pulling on a cutting. If it shows some resistance, then it’s a good bet that roots have developed. If it pulls out of the tray easily, I inspect the stem for very fine root hairs. If no roots are apparent, I place the cutting back into the tray, reseal the bag, and wait a few more weeks before checking again.

Depending on the species and the growing conditions, a healthy network of primary and secondary roots should develop after six weeks in the bag. My success rate varies from shrub to shrub, but generally I get roots on about 70 percent of my cuttings. Once they’ve rooted, I pot up my tiny new shrubs into one-quart pots that I’ve filled with a mixture of 80 percent soil and 20 percent perlite, water them with a nutrient-rich seaweed- or kelp-based fertilizer and place them in a sunny spot in the garden. In the fall, I unpot them and transfer them to a sheltered nursery bed where they’ll spend the winter. Come spring, I’ll have a good supply of shrubs that I can move to a new, more permanent home.

37 shrubs that are easy to propagate from cuttings

Many deciduous garden shrubs can be propagated by softwood cuttings taken in summer. The ones listed below tend to root quickly and grow into viable shrubs in a short period of time.

Beautyberry (Callicarpa japonica)
Beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis)
Blue mist shrub (Caryopteris x clandonensis)
Burning bush (Euonymus alatus)
Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii)
Chinese stranvaesia (Stranvaesia davidiana)
Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)
Daphne (Daphne caucasica)
Deciduous azaleas (Rhododendron cvs.)
Elders (Sambucus spp.)
Enkianthus (Enkianthus campanulatus)
Flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)
Forsythias (Forsythia spp.)
Honeysuckles (Lonicera spp.)
Hydrangeas (Hydrangea spp.)
Japanese maples (Acer palmatum cvs.)
Kerria (Kerria japonica)
Large fothergilla (Fothergilla major)
Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
Magnolias (Magnolia spp.)
Mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius)
Redtwig dogwood (Cornus alba and sericea)
Rugosa rose (Rosa rugosa)
Serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.)
Slender deutzia (Deutzia gracilis)
Smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria)
Spireas (Spiraea spp.)
Stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia)
Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)
Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)
Viburnums (Viburnum x burkwoodii and carlesii)
Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)
Weigelas (Weigela spp.)
Willows (Salix spp.)
Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei)
Winter hazels (Corylopsis spp.)
Witch hazels (Hamamelis spp.)

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Winter in Sonoma County can bring on days of cold, gray doldrums. Even when the garden seems to have the winter blahs, there is a wonderful plant that will puncture the gloom. This shining star is Daphne. A delicious, sweet odor is the hallmark of this lovely shrub that is native to Europe, North Africa and Asia. In myth, Daphne was the daughter of a river god who was so pursued by Apollo that her father changed her into a laurel tree to escape him. (Just to make things confusing, daphne is the Greek name for the laurel, even though botanically daphne and laurels are not related.)
An evergreen or semi-evergreen shrub with pinkish-white to pink flowers, divine-smelling daphne can be grown in varied locales. However, all daphnes require semi-shade, well amended and fast-draining soil that retains enough moisture to prevent it from drying out completely, and a cover of mulch over their roots. During the dry season, irrigate infrequently, as restricted water increases flowering next spring. Daphnes do not require much pruning but may be tip pruned for shaping after flowers fade. Feed right after bloom with a complete fertilizer.

Daphnes are great as companion plants in an herbaceous border or as foundation plantings around a house. Because their flower scent is so intoxicating, they are a great choice for a walkway or a semi-shaded porch or deck. Their growth habit is slow to moderate; size among varieties varies from a low mat to shrubs that can reach 5 ft. tall. Most daphnes do not transplant well, so site the plant where it will live permanently. All parts of daphnes are poisonous and all are deer resistant.
Daphne odora (winter daphne) is an evergreen shrub with perhaps the most strongly scented flowers of all daphnes, as its species name suggests. It can sometimes display unpredictable behavior: It can flourish for years and then die without warning. Winter daphne is a very neat plant to 4 ft. high and wide with narrow, thick glossy green leaves and masses of fragrant flowers in late winter. ‘Aureo-Marginata’ is widely grown and has variegated leaves with cream-colored margins.

Daphne cneorum (garland daphne) is a pretty rock garden, front of a border, or pathway plant. It is evergreen and matting, less than 1 ft. high, with a spreading habit to 3 ft. wide. Trailing narrow glossy green branches are covered with fragrant spring blossoms. After bloom, top dress with compost or similar material to encourage additional rooting of stems. Cultivars include ‘Eximia,’ ‘Pgymaea Alba,’ and ‘Variegata.’

Daphne x burkwoodii is evergreen to semi-evergreen in Sonoma County. It develops into an attractive, well-formed shrub 3-4 ft. tall with narrow leaves. Blooms appear in spring and often repeat in late summer. ‘Carol Mackie’ is a variegated version, with a gold edge to green leaves.

September 2019

Daphne Care

SERIES 18 | Episode 22

In the cooler parts of Southern Australia, Daphne odora is a plant that captures the imagination of gardeners because of its fragrance, but there are 50 different species of daphne throughout the world – some are deciduous and others are evergreen.

Daphnes are generally neat, compact plants that are at home in dappled shade. Daphne species vary in habit – some are erect, while others are rounded or even spreading. The showy rounded heads of the small flowers open from mid-winter to late spring, depending on the species, and they can be in delicate shades of white, cream, yellow or pink. Daphne odora has pink and white flowers and there is a variegated form with white flowers, and they’re all fragrant.

Daphnes, either in the garden or in pots, are rewarding plants, but there are a few things that can go wrong.

Look out for leaves that are light green, and that hang down. This indicates the plant might need a feed. After it has finished flowering, give it some fertiliser, especially iron chelates. Often daphnes also suffer from root rot. The plant could easily have been over-watered, and the roots then rot causing the leaves to look bedraggled.

Another problem that daphnes have is the leaves suddenly hanging down limply, and feeling leathery and dry. Most often, this is also caused by over watering. About 20 years ago, there was a daphne virus, but, with proper hygiene and better plant propagation methods, rarely do you get virus in daphne. People think that daphne love to be moist all the time, but you should just water the daphne and let it dry out. Use mulch to keep the roots cool.

If daphnes are over or under watered, it causes them great stress and that’s when insects like scale attack. Scale looks like little brown or black dots that appear on the leaves, their undersides, and the stems. Underneath the scale’s protective helmet is an insect. Just squash them, or smother the scale with white oil or canola oil.

Daphnes like morning sun or an easterly-facing spot – anywhere that’s got shade from the hot afternoon sun. Don’t forget really good drainage is also important.

When you’re planting out a potted daphne, just be careful – the roots should be white and healthy. Try not to damage the roots as you’re planting, so there is no need to tickle them out. Just plant it and mulch to cool the roots, and when it finishes flowering in spring, fertilise with organic matter, and prune it at that time too. Keep it moist over summer, cool the roots and you’re home and hosed with your daphne.

The rewards of having a happy and healthy daphne plant become obvious in those months when their lovely scent wafts through your garden. Picking some and placing it in a vase inside will fill the house with perfume.

Most Read

Famed for its intense rose-citrus perfume, Daphne odora flowers in winter and spring, filling the air with its delightful fragrance. The waxy star shaped flowers bloom in tight clusters amid leathery dark green leaves.

This evergreen woodland shrub is fairly slow growing and does best in cool to temperate climates. Daphne doesn’t like its roots being disturbed, so avoid installing anything around the base of the plant.

Daphne tolerates light frosts and grows to about one metre high and wide. As the flowers offer fragrance but little visual impact, plant near other evergreen flowering shrubs or groundcovers like hellebores for colour.

If you have kids, remove the bright red berries as they’re poisonous and wear gloves to trim the plant because some people are sensitive to the sap.

TIP The bitter taste of the berries discourages animals from grazing.

In the garden

Use this easy-to-follow planting and maintenance guide to grow healthy daphne at home.

POSITION daphne in moist, rich, well-drained soil in a spot that gets morning sun, part shade or all-day winter sun and provides shelter from strong winds.

PLANT with care, ensuring you don’t damage the roots when you take the plant from the pot. Don’t tease the roots out before planting.

If your soil is heavy or has clay subsoil, plant daphne into an elevated mound, as good drainage is essential.

CARE for plants by feeding with a slow-release fertiliser in early spring and spray with a weak foliar fertiliser every two weeks during the growing season. Potted plants need fertilising more than those in the ground, which can often do without.

WATER regularly but check the moisture level in the soil with your finger first so as not to over or under water the plant. Cut back water a little in summer for more blooms.

Daphne likes damp, not wet, soil and tolerates short periods of drought much better than wet feet.

MULCH plants with a 70 to 100mm layer of well-rotted organic material to keep roots cool.

Keep mulch away from the stem to avoid any rot problems.

PRUNE lightly, just clipping flowers for indoors, or trim when blooms finish in spring and cut back any wayward growth to keep the plant’s shape.

WATCH FOR root rot from over watering and poor drainage, which can kill the plant. Let daphne dry out slightly between waterings or, if drainage is poor, plant in a raised bed.

Yellow leaves can be a sign of magnesium deficiency. Correct by spraying the plant with 20g of Epsom salts mixed with one litre of water.

Aphids and scale can attack the plant and lead to sooty mould. Hose or scrape off offenders and check leaves regularly so numbers don’t build up.

Pick small bunches of daphne for indoors, as the scent is intensified by warmth. Image: Getty Images

Container growing

Daphne can be grown in a pot but choose a large container with room for root growth as it doesn’t like being repotted. Use a good quality potting mix with water crystals and fertiliser.

Move the plant into the shade over summer, or keep the water up during hot, dry periods as potting mix will dry out more than garden soil.

TIP Position flowering potted daphne near windows and doors so the perfume can be enjoyed.

Beware the berries

Daphne’s red berry-like fruit is highly poisonous if eaten, although the plant will rarely produce berries after flowering. If you notice berries growing on daphne plants, remove them straight away, especially if there are small children around. In the case of berries actually being ingested, seek medical attention immediately.

Daphne’s red berry-like fruit is highly poisonous if eaten although the plant will rarely produce berries after flowering. Image: Getty Images

Choose a variety

Daphne has pink or white flowers, with some that open pink before fading with time. The leathery leaves can be completely green, or have yellow or white margins. The variegated leaf forms add colour year-round.


A neat yellow edge brightens the foliage on this variety and provides an attractive backdrop to red flower buds. Flowers open as a rosy purple then fade to white. It grows to a metre high, tolerates frost and thrives in dappled shade.

Flowers open as a rosy purple then fade to white, it grows to a metre high, tolerates frost and thrives in dappled shade

Eternal Fragrance

This new daphne is tougher than the old cultivars and spot-flowers throughout the year after the first flush in winter. It has a compact growth habit, just 600mm high, and is heat, frost and dry tolerant. It will also cope with alkaline soils.

This new daphne is tougher than the old cultivars and spot-flowers throughout the year after the first flush in winter


Featuring cream or white flowers with a rich fragrance, alba is best in a spot with dappled light and prefers acidic soil. Its low and compact growth habit makes it particularly good for pots, where it will flower over many weeks.

Featuring cream or white flowers with a rich fragrance, alba is best in a spot with dappled light and prefers acidic soil

Make stem cuttings

Propagate daphne from healthy stem cuttings in December. Allow six to eight weeks for roots to develop before gently tugging at the cuttings to check them.

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