We think every garden should have at least one Daphne. Their richly fragrant flowers and charming — usually evergreen — leaves, make them some of our absolute favorite shrubs. With a variety of bloom times, leaf variegation, and habits to choose from, you're sure to find the perfect Daphne to enhance your garden design, and with the proper site selection and a little extra care at planting time, these beautiful shrubs will reward you with blooms for years to come.
When most people think of a Daphne, they picture the classic Winter Daphne (Daphne odora) — and for good reason! We carry many varieties of this evergreen shrub, many of which feature variegated leaves, but the star of the show is the plant's starry, pink flowers. These appear in clusters in February and March when little else is blooming, and their fragrance is potent enough to perfume an entire block! Here in Portland, these shrubs perform best when planted in a site that receives morning sun and afternoon shade to help prevent their leathery leaves from burning in our summer heat.
Not all Daphnes are winter bloomers, though. Other Daphnes like the low-growing Rock Daphne (Daphne cneorum) pictured above will bloom in the spring, and Daphne x transatlantica hybrids like 'Eternal Fragrance' will periodically send out a flush of blooms from spring through fall. Both of these varieties are semi-evergreen and will hold up better to full sun conditions than their winter-blooming counterparts. Although they are less commonly grown, there are also some species that are deciduous, such as the Lilac Daphne (Daphne genkwa), which puts on a fabulous show of precocious light purple flowers in the early spring on its otherwise bare branches. Occasionally we will carry this one, and if you are lucky enough to see it in bloom, it is truly a sight to behold!
It is always a good idea to read a plant's tag and do a little research before adding it to your garden, and with Daphnes this is especially important. Most issues that gardeners tend to run into with these shrubs stem from improper site selection. The good news is, if planted in the right spot and left alone, Daphnes are long-lived shrubs that are easy to care for.
The following tips should get you off to a good start with any Daphne, based on their common cultural requirements:
- Daphnes do not respond well to hard pruning, and they loathe being moved once established, so pay attention to your plant's mature size when selecting a planting site. It is tempting to place a young Daphne right beside a pathway; just be sure to give it room to grow!
- As they are intolerant of both drought conditions and waterlogged soils, be sure to plant Daphnes in a well-drained site with humus-rich soil.
- Daphnes are good candidates for container culture, but keep in mind that they are deep-rooted. If growing your Daphne in a container, it's important to select a pot with enough space for your plant's roots.
- Depending on the variety, choose a sunny or part-shaded position for your Daphne that provides shelter from cold winds.
- For best establishment, plant Daphnes in spring.
- Care in planting is essential to ensure that the root ball stays intact. If a Daphne's root ball falls apart, it may not survive! (If your plant is purchased in a peat pot, the entire pot can be planted for less disturbance of the roots.)
- Mulch in spring with well-rotted organic matter to keep the roots cool and well fed, being sure not to pile mulch around the trunk of your shrub.
Although they may take a bit more effort to ensure their happiness, Daphnes are well worth it. With careful planning and mixing-and-matching of varieties, you could feasibly have a fragrant Daphne blooming somewhere in your garden for three quarters of the year — and that's a goal we'd all like to aspire to!
Cornell Farm has a wide selection of Daphnes and other blooming shrubs and trees, and our knowledgable staff are always happy to assist you in picking out or caring for the perfect plants for your garden. Just ask us!