A six-year old ‘Carol Mackie’ daphne in bloom.
Daphnes have a reputation as finicky, often short-lived shrubs. These slow-growing, deciduous, semi-evergreen or evergreen shrubs with fragrant flowers are native to Europe and Asia. There are numerous species, hybrids and cultivars of this group in the thyme family (Thymelaeceae), but one that stands out both for its foliage and cold hardiness is Daphne xburkwoodii* ‘Carol Mackie’.
A young specimen plant.
This variegated selection, probably the most popular daphne in the US, is a genetic mutation of D. xburkwoodii ‘Somerset’ and was named for the woman who discovered it in her New Jersey garden in 1962. It is an attractive, low-maintenance shrub that can be used as a specimen plant, or planted in groups where space permits.
‘Carol Mackie’ grows 3-4 feet tall and at least as wide. Typically it has a dense, round, mounded form. The small, narrow, oblong leaves edged in gold to creamy white remain fresh-looking throughout the growing season.
The variegated leaves are edged in gold to creamy white.
Daphnes bloom in spring with a profusion of small pink to white flowers.
In mild climates it is evergreen, but the leaves eventually fall off in colder climates. It may be slow to leaf out in the spring, and even plants growing adjacent to each other may leaf out weeks apart. It is often rated as hardy in zones 5-9, but has survived in Wisconsin gardens in zone 4 for many years, so is definitely hardy in zones 4-9.
In spring the plants burst into bloom from pink buds with a profusion of small, pink-tinged white flowers that are highly fragrant. Masses of tubular, star-shaped flowers are borne all along the terminal shoots. The scent can be almost overpowering from larger plants, so these can be located a distance away to still appreciate the fragrance. There may be a second, much smaller flush of flowers in late summer or early fall. The flowers may be followed by tiny red fruits (drupes) in the fall.
Masses of star-shaped flowers are produced in abundance.
Daphnes do best planted in sun to part shade in any type of well-drained soil. Mine is growing in unamended clay, but on a slight slope for better drainage. They resent transplanting, so it is best to site them properly to begin with. Once established, it may be impossible to successfully move a large daphne. Many daphnes also have the annoying habit of dying unexpectedly without any apparent reason. Daphnes are susceptible to root rot, so need good drainage to avoid this problem. Although they like consistent moisture, they are drought tolerant once established but may shed many leaves in dry summers. They have few insect pests, but may be infested with scales or aphids.
Daphnes are evergreen in mild climates, but often lose all their leaves in winter in colder areas (L), with a new leaves coming out in spring (R).
Daphnes are evergreen in mild climates, but often lose all their leaves in winter in colder areas (L), with a new leaves coming out in spring (R).
The Burkwood daphnes are susceptible to splitting under heavy snow loads.
They are supposedly resistant to deer, but those animals may browse the stems in the winter. Minor pruning by deer should not harm most plants, and may actually be beneficial. Heavy snow can be an issue, with the weight breaking branches or splitting open the whole plant, leaving an open center. ‘Carol Mackie’ is particularly prone to such damage, and will benefit from regular pruning. Although tradition advice was to never prune daphnes, many experts now recommend hard pruning of many types – and especially ‘Carol Mackie’ – to keep the plants in good shape. One recommendation is to treat this plant like a forsythia, removing up to ¼ of the old growth annually after the plant has matured. Others suggest heading back after blooming to stimulate growth. Be careful when pruning, as the bark is susceptible to tearing. Also, resist heavy fertilization as this will promote soft growth that’s susceptible to damage.
Occasionally variegated plants will produces shoots with green leaves. These should be entirely removed so the plant does not revert back to the more vigorous green form. There is also the cultivar ‘Briggs Moonlight’ with reverse variegation (white leaves edged in green) that was a sport of ‘Carol Mackie’, as well as several other named variegated cultivars that are not commonly available in the US.
Daphnes can be propagated from stem cuttings. Getting cuttings to root is very challenging, however. Softwood cuttings can be taken in early summer or hardwood cuttings in late summer. They may take up to a year to root.
– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison
*The Burkwood daphnes are a cross between D. cneorum and D. caucasica, originally made by Arthur Burkwood. They tend to be more vigorous growers than the species, but with softer woody growth that seems to weaken with age making them more prone to breakage.
Your daphne seems to be very happy where it is, which is quite an accomplishment as these plants have a reputation for being a bit finicky (sometimes undeservedly so — in the right conditions, they can be quite undemanding and rewarding to grow). One thing that they absolutely do not like is being moved, so I would advise you to try pruning your handsome shrub instead of transplanting it.
Daphnes should be pruned after flowering, but before about mid-July. Although daphnes can be pruned, they don’t often recover from a hard pruning. If you must prune, lightly shear the tips of the stems. Some experts report that daphnes are susceptible to fungal disease, so take care to clean your pruners and keep the blades sharp to reduce the chances of your shrub succumbing to a disease. Bear in mind that pruning of any kind on any shrub or tree actually promotes new growth, so your daphne will always need to be pruned to keep it within bounds. Instead of pruning it annually, you may want to let it spill gracefully over the edges of your garden bed rather than worry about controlling its size.
Here’s some information on how to go about caring for and pruning your daphne:
- The best daphne for year-round colour and scent
- Winter flowering
- Spring and summer flowering
- How to grow daphnes
- Daphnes to try
- Q&As/Flowering Shrubs and Trees/Growing Daphne Plants
- Daphne Plant Types: Growing Daphne Plants In The Garden
- Growing Daphne Plants
- Daphne Plant Varieties
- How to Care for Daphne
The best daphne for year-round colour and scent
For those of us bewitched by the magical power of their fragrance, daphnes are impossible to resist. They may not be the most robust garden plants, and they may make you work to meet their demands, but your senses will convince you they are worth it. Here are some of the best daphnes for year-round interest.
Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’
An evergreen cultivar with leathery, mid-green leaves that is strong growing once established. Large clusters of mauve-pink flowers cover the plant for weeks from midwinter into early spring. The fragrance is powerful, sweet and delicious, even on cold days. It was raised at Hillier Nurseries by propagator Alan Postill and named for his wife. Height 1.8m.
D. mezereum f. alba
A deciduous shrub with upright stems and small, narrow green leaves. The starry, highly fragrant flowers cluster on stems in winter before the leaves appear, and are often followed by yellowish berries. Needs chalk soil to thrive.Height 90cm.
D. odora Rebecca (= ‘Hewreb’)
A surprisingly robust form of D. odora with green leaves, boldly edged with creamy gold. A showy foliage plant it has the bonus of fragrant winter flowers. A better garden plant than previous cultivars with a similar variegation. Height 1m.
D. bholua ‘Darjeeling’
A semi-evergreen shrub with tan-coloured stems and pointed mid-green leaves. Clusters of fragrant, pale-pink flowers, which fade to white, appear from early winter. The original was raised at RHS Wisley from seed collected in Darjeeling. Height 1.8m.
D. bholua ‘Limpsfield’
Rich purple-pink flower edges merge into white faces Blooming from midwinter and heavily fragrant, it is a good evergreen shrub to grow close to the house in a sheltered position. Height 1.8m.
D. bholua ‘Peter Smithers’
An evergreen or semi-evergreen shrub. In midwinter, clusters of deep, purple-pink buds open to paler blooms, which then become darker with age. Selected at RHS Wakehurst Place from seed Sir Peter Smithers collected in Nepal. Height 1.8m.
Spring and summer flowering
Small, deciduous shrub, which blooms from late spring well into summer, sometimes into autumn. The clusters of white flowers are fragrant and often followed by yellow fruits. Best grown in dappled shade on moist, acid soil. Height 1.2m.
A small, spreading, evergreen shrub that is happiest under the light shade of trees and tolerant of heavy clay soils. Glossy green leaves show off the large clusters of fragrant, yellow-green flowers that are produced freely in late spring. Height 60cm.
D. x burkwoodii ‘Astrid’
A rounded, bushy shrub with narrow, blue-green leaves finely edged with creamy yellow. Clusters of fragrant, pink flowers, appear from late spring through to midsummer. A good shrub for foliage interest. 60cm. 10
A dwarf shrub with prostrate branches and narrow evergreen leaves. The large clusters of sweetly fragrant, pink flowers appear in mid to late spring. Often tricky to establish, it needs a sheltered, open situation on chalk soil. Height 15cm. 11
D. x burkwoodii ‘Lavenirii’
A cross between D. cneorum and D. caucasica that was raised in France in 1920. Has clusters of extremely fragrant, pale-pink flowers, darker in the centres, from late spring well into summer. A spreading shrub, it grows best on alkaline soil. Height 60cm. 12
Daphne x rollsdorfii ‘Wilhelm Schacht’
Bushy and upright in habit with glossy, evergreen leaves this small shrub has particularly showy clusters of highly fragrant, purple-pink flowers in mid-spring. Grows on alkaline or acid soil. Height 45cm.
Where to see
- Brandy Mount House, Alresford, Hampshire SO24 9EG. Tel 01962 732189.
Open by appointment. Home to National Collection of Daphne, held by Mr Michael Baron.
Where to buy
- Junkers Nursery Ltd, Higher Cobhay, Milverton Somerset TA4 1NJ. junker.co.uk
- Larch Cottage Nurseries, Melkinthorpe, Penrith, Cumbria CA10 2DR. larchcottage.co.uk
- Pan-Global Plants, The Walled Garden, Frampton Court, Frampton-on-Severn, Gloucestershire GL2 7EX. panglobalplants.com
How to grow daphnes
Daphnes are guaranteed to lift your spirits in the depths of winter.
When there’s not much else in flower and you catch an amazing scent, it’s mostly likely to be from the beautiful flowers of a daphne. They’re an ideal shrub for smaller gardens and work well near paths and doorways where the sweet fragrance of the flowers can be appreciated. Most are evergreen, too, providing extra colour and structure. They also make good cut flowers and the scent intensifies when brought indoors.
Take a look at our handy daphne grow guide, below.
When there’s not much else in flower and you catch an amazing scent, it’s mostly likely to be from the beautiful flowers of a daphne. Planting Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’
Where to plant daphnes
Daphnes are woodland shrubs and need a spot in dappled shade. If possible, plant your daphne near a door or pathway, to catch the stunning scent as you pass by each day.
Purple-pink flowers on bare Daphne mezereum stems
How to plant daphnes
Make sure the soil is light and free-draining. If your soil is heavy clay, try a raised bed filled with plenty of garden compost and leaf mould.
Follow our step-by-step guide to planting evergreen shrubs.
Smaller species of daphne can be grown successfully in containers if you pay attention to adding plenty of drainage and choose a pot deep enough to accommodate the roots.
Pink and white flowers of Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’
Daphnes have a reputation for being tricky to grow. However once established, they should flower reliably, providing they’re not disturbed.
They only required minimal pruning – if you’re cutting flowering stems to bring indoors, this should suffice, plus a little trim in summer to remove any damaged stems or any that spoil the overall shape of the shrub.
Protect during longer periods of cold weather with a generous mulch and cover with horticultural fleece.
Water regularly, but don’t overwater – daphnes don’t like extremes of drought or cold, damp roots. Apply a generous mulch in spring and autumn to feed and protect the roots.
It’s worth noting that daphne is highly toxic if eaten and the sap can irritate skin and eyes, so handle with care.
Propagating a daphne by layering
Daphnes can be grown from seed, but this is a very long-winded process and isn’t as reliable as taking semi-ripe cuttings in late summer. Daphnes can also be propagated by layering.
Follow our guide to taking semi-ripe cuttings.
Yellow-bordered leaves and pink flowers of Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’
Daphne: problem solving
Root rot, usually due to poor drainage, is one of the most common problems. Make sure the right soil conditions are right and don’t overwater. Yellowing foliage or die back can be caused by lack of nutrients in the soil or waterlogging.
Daphnes can also succumb to honey fungus, phytopthora root rot and fungal leaf spot as well as virus infections.
Daphnes don’t respond well to hard pruning.
Advertisement Pale-pink Daphne x transatlantica ‘Pink Fragrance’
Daphnes to try
- Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ RHS AGM – an upright growing evergreen shrub with pink and white very fragrant flowers
- Daphne x transatlantica ‘Pink Fragrance’ – a compact, semi-evergreen shrub with richly scented, pale-pink blooms. As the flowers are produced on new growth, it keeps flowering from spring through to late autumn
- Daphne mezereum – a shade-loving woodland shrub that will also tolerate full sun provided its roots never dry out. The clusters of pink, lilac and violet flowers appear on bare stems in late winter, fading as the new spring foliage appears
- Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ RHS AGM – the evergreen leaves have delicate yellow borders that offset deep red flowers in early spring
- Daphne laureola – also known as spurge laurel, this species daphne has pale green scented flowers in late winter and early spring, followed by black fruit
Q&As/Flowering Shrubs and Trees/Growing Daphne Plants
Known for its wonderfully fragrant flowers, Daphne is a favourite with many people. There are lots of different varieties of this shrub available, some more woody and shorter lived than others.
In almost all gardens, no two sites are exactly the same – even if they are close together. The difference can apply to soil types, sun and wind exposure. The Daphne that is not as successful may be growing in an area of poor or possibly wetter soil, is open to full sun during the summer months or exposed to strong winds. Any of these factors could be responsible for the lack of growth.
If you do not wish to shift the Daphne to a new site, apply regular side dressings of a good quality acid fertiliser such as Daltons Premium Acid Fertiliser in the early summer months, in combination with applications of compost. This should help improve the health of your Daphne plant. Remember to water the fertiliser in well and add a good layer of mulch on top, especially during summer to stop the soil and plant from drying out.
For those wanting to plant Daphne in their garden, make sure the location has good morning sun and filtered light in the afternoons. Avoid spots with heavy shade or exposure to hot afternoon sun. Daphne can be a bit fussy as it prefers a fertile well-drained soil that is slightly acid. When planting, add in generous amounts of organic matter such as peat or compost; try Daltons Compost.
Daphne Plant Types: Growing Daphne Plants In The Garden
Lovely to look at and enticingly fragrant, daphne is a delightful landscape shrub. You can find daphne plant types to suit most any need, from shrub borders and foundation plantings to stand-alone specimens. Find out about the different daphne plant types and how to care for them in this article.
Growing Daphne Plants
Before you decide that this fragrant beauty is just what you want, there are a couple of things you should know about daphne. First of all, the plant is poisonous. In fact, it is so toxic that chewing on the flowers, foliage or red berries can be fatal. You should never plant daphne shrubs where pets or children play.
Another potential problem with daphne is that it is known to die suddenly and seemingly without cause. Because of this tendency, you should think of it as a temporary plant. Place the shrub in areas where you can easily remove and replace it as it becomes necessary.
If you can live with these two drawbacks, you’ll find that caring for daphne plants is not difficult. Grown as an informal shrub, it doesn’t need pruning, and this makes the plant practically carefree. For a more formal appearance, trim the tips of the stems after the flowers fade.
Daphne Plant Varieties
One challenge of growing daphne plants is choosing a type. There are several varieties of daphne, and these are the most commonly grown and easily available:
- Winter daphne (D. odora) is the variety to choose if you like a powerful fragrance. Four feet tall with narrow, glossy leaves, it is the type most likely to suffer from sudden death syndrome. The flowers bloom in late winter. ‘Aureo-Marginata’ is a popular winter daphne with variegated leaves.
- Garland daphne (D. cneorum) is a low grower that reaches heights of less than a foot, making it ideal for rock gardens and edging pathways. The trailing branches spread about three feet. Covered with flowers in the spring, you can cover the stems with mulch after the flowers fade to encourage rooting. The best varieties include ‘Eximia,’ ‘Pgymaea Alba’ and ‘Variegata.’
- D. x burkwoodii can be evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous, depending on the climate zone. It grows three to four feet tall and blooms in late spring, often followed by a second flush of flowers in late summer. The popular ‘Carol Mackie’ is a variegated variety.
How to Care for Daphne
Daphne grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 or 5 to 9, but check the type you want to grow since there is a lot of variation from plant to plant. It needs a location with full sun or partial shade and moist soil. Well-drained soil is a must. Choose your site well because daphne doesn’t like to be transplanted.
Plants grow best if they are given a thick but light layer of mulch. This helps keep the roots cool and the soil moist. Even though the soil is covered, check to make sure it never dries out. It’s best to water the shrub when rainfall is scarce.