The Fragrant but Delicate Winter princess
Common Name: winter daphne
Botanical Name: Daphne odora
Form: tight, compact round shrub
Plant Type: broadleaf evergreen flowering shrub
Mature Size: 3 to 4 feet by 2 to 4 feet
Origin: Japan & China
Hardiness Zone: 7 to 9
Foliage: evergreen, deep green, leathery, glossy, narrow, and up to 4 inches long
Flowers: February - April, fragrant, pink, lavender or magenta, four petals, star-shaped
Fruit: occasional small red berries
Exposure: partial shade
Soil: moist, organic loam topped with 3 inches of an organic mulch
Uses: borders, foundations, accents, hedge
Invasive Tendencies: none
Propagation: stem cuttings after flowering
Pruning: remove dead growth after flowering
Problems: botrytis, aphids, mealybugs, scale
Winter daphnes are the sweet and pretty jewels of the winter garden with their star shaped fragrant blossoms that sit atop neatly rounded plants. Their forest-green glossy foliage is evergreen, so the plant looks good all year long, even without their cute flowers that appear in late winter through early spring.
There are numerous types of daphnes, but not all of them don their flowers offseason, except for the aptly named winter daphnes (D. odorata). All daphnes are coveted for their neat and tidy compact rounded forms and evergreen foliage. They have many uses in the garden and because they are condensed well-behaved little shrubs, they are perfect for small hedges. Include them in mixed borders, in foundation plantings around the house, rockeries, raised beds and planters.
These coveted little garden gems are desired by many gardeners; however, they are somewhat difficult to grow. They are tender, only hardy to about -12 °C (10 °F). Since they don’t do well in exposed areas where they are subject to cold, winter winds, plant them near the house or other structures.
Daphnes are the princesses of the garden. They are adverse of conditions that are too extreme from sunshine, wet, cold and wind – but they are so adorable they are difficult to resist. And they are not that difficult to grow if they are in the right spot. Morning sun is best and the open dappled shade of a tree such as a Japanese maple. Avoid full afternoon sun. Alternately, they become leggy when they receive too much shade.
Daphnes are not suitable for dry soils. They do best in moist, humus rich loam that drains quickly. Sandy soils are suitable, as long as lots of organic material such as compost, well-rotted manure and SeaSoil have been mixed in.
Select a protected area where there is partial shade or dappled shade. Avoid windy areas and full afternoon sun. Amend the soil by mixing in 2 to 4 inches of compost, composted manure and/or SeaSoil.
Dig a hole the same depth of the rootball and 3 to 5 times wider. Before planting, gently loosen the plant’s root ball then position it into the hole. The crown of the plant, where the stem joins the roots, should sit at soil level; no deeper nor higher. Firm the soil around the roots and the plant firmly into the soil to avoid air pockets. Water the entire root area and beyond well. Lay 3 inches of an organic mulch on top of the soil around the plant. Water thoroughly every other day for two weeks.
Since daphnes have a narrow hardiness range, they benefit from winter mulch. In autumn, pile fall leaves, wood chips or soil on top of their crown (where stems and roots meet). Remove this winter mulch gradually in spring as the weather warms.
Overwintering in Cooler Climates: To overwinter daphne in USDA growing zones of 6 or less, grow them in containers and overwinter them in protected location where they will receive light, such as a greenhouse or a shed with windows.
Variegated winter daphne, D. odora 'Aureo-marginata',
is an outstanding variegated variety with leaves striped with yellow.