Glorious Daphne! A Temporary Treat

This year our Daphne bush burst into profuse and fragrant bloom earlier than usual, due to our mild winter. Its lovely pink blossoms are wafting a wonderful welcome to all visitors. If we could bottle this sensational smell, we would call it something like Delicious Daphne, or Spring Siren.

Daphne odora 1 (2)

We are indeed fortunate here in the Willamette valley to be able to grow several species and varieties of Daphne. Most of them are fragrant; a few of them can live up to at least 10 years and one of them really likes it here well enough to self-sow.   I will focus here on our most well-known Daphne, Daphne odora (Daphne o).

This Daphne has glossy evergreen foliage that in the most common variety available, has variegated leaves. That means they are white and cream, so that even when not in bloom, this wondrous shrub is attractive.  Daphne odora begins to bloom here in March and in a really mild winter, such as the one we just had, it can begin blooming in February.  The fragrance is beguiling, and to me it is a mixture of lemon and jasmine.

It is especially great to establish your Daphne near the front door, so it can be enjoyed as you walk up to the house.  There are some challenges in providing just the right place to keep it happy, though:

  • The location must be well drained, and the ground must be slightly raised around it. Another option is to put it in a raised bed. It works best if the soil has been well worked up with compost. Daphne will die quickly in heavy clay and poor drainage.
  • Daphne odora doesn’t like to be planted in a situation where it gets reflected light in the heat of the day. It will pout, burn, turn yellow, not bloom well and slowly die.
  • Daphne o. doesn’t do well where it gets shade more than half a day. It will bloom only occasionally and the growth will be lanky and unattractive.
  • Daphne o. prefers good strong morning sun and some afternoon shade. It does not mind being planted where it must compete with smaller lower plants as this seems to help its drainage.
  • Daphne o. must be pruned right after it blooms to keep it from getting top-heavy and splitting. The best way to do this is to trim out the extending branches back to a bud. This is easily seen if one looks at the branches with a critical eye. Daphne o. Does not like to be severely pruned, so pruning lightly regularly is best.
  • Daphne o. does not like to be transplanted. I have yet to be successful at this and not have the plant die a year later.
  • The oldest Daphne o. that I have seen is 15 years old. It is not a long lived plant.  If you can get one to live past 10 years you are doing well.
  • Do not over fertilize them or they will only grow excessive foliage and not bloom. Just some good compost and mulch around their roots is all that they need.