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My Sweet Daphne

Winter daphne will seduce you. In January and February, just when you are desperate for flowers, this beautiful shrub begins to appear in garden centers. Daphne odora may have solid, glossy green leaves (Daphne odora 'Alba'), or it may be variegated (Daphne odora 'Marginata'). All have wondrously fragrant winter blooms that occur, depending on the weather, from early January to early March.My Daphne odora 'Marginata' has glossy leaves with creamy edging. The buds appear in January and are rosy pink.The blooms are white with a hint of pink and are heavenly fragrant.

However, you should know a few things about this shrub before you buy it. These plants are not long-lived, perhaps living a decade or so, though in the perfect environment they may live longer. Daphne has a finicky reputation that is well-deserved. They are known for sudden death spiral. One day a shrub begins to look a bit droopy. A week later it is stone-cold dead.

Daphnes grow in hardiness zones 7-9. To keep a daphne happy, one MUST provide excellent drainage. They will suffocate in clay soil. The soil should be fertile with a slightly acid to slightly alkaline pH. Plant them somewhat above ground, atop a mound. They should be watered regularly, but remember: the soil must drain well. Gravelly, sandy soil may work, or add lots of soil conditioner to other types of soil. Mulch well. They like high, filtered shade or morning sun. They must be sheltered from wind and hot afternoon sun. Daphnes require minimal or no pruning and can grow up to 4 feet tall by 5 feet wide. They don't like to have their roots disturbed; so once planted, it is best not to transplant them.

I planted my winter daphne in a pot, in a good organic soil mixture with lots of soil conditioner. In winter I move the pot from its place in the garden to the patio. Under the eaves by our large glass kitchen door, it is protected from frequent drenching winter rains; and we can enjoy the blooms while we eat. After it finishes blooming in early spring, I move it back into the garden. I fertilize with an organic fertilizer when it begins to put out new growth. My daphne is several years old, and so far it is happy, though I wonder what will happen when I have to move it to a larger pot. 

Daphne odora has completely seduced me, and if mine dies, I am sure to get another. I may even try my luck with planting a few out in the garden, as I have seen some older daphnes in my area growing successfully in the ground. If I give them the cultural requirements they crave, and if I talk to them sweetly, maybe they won't die. Maybe.

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Reader Comments (17)

So pretty! I tried one in my old (shady) garden years ago, where it did well for awhile. I can't recall now what happened to it. I seldom see them in nurseries here and, as my new garden is plagued by wind, it would probably be a poor investment but it's tempting.

January 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

Daphne is worth persevering with even if it can be finicky. The scent it gives at a time when not much else goes in the garden is simply divine!

January 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

A beautiful shrub that I haven't planted because of its fussy reputation and tendency for sudden death. But your experience (and careful care) are encouraging -- it's good to know what you do to keep yours healthy and beautiful.

January 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLaurrie

One of the plants I would really love to grow. They would like my very free draining soil but I think it would be too hot for them in summer and they would definately need a lot of watering. They aren't often seen in nurseries here so I don't suppose I'll even get the change try. Enjoy yours! It is beautiful and from its leaves it looks very happy.

January 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

They say ignorance is bliss, I planted mine in the woodland here and she is doing very nicely. She has no extra treatment and rewards me each year by being covered with the most delightfully perfumed flowers. When flowering , I just have to go to the woodland for my daily fix of that heavenly perfume.

January 13, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterpauline

Mine did the sudden death thingy but I enjoyed it for many years. Maybe it just died from old age?

January 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPhillip

Your Daphne is very beautiful!

Michael :-)

January 13, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermichael

It does look like a seductive shrub. Sadly it won't tolerate our winters. The closest we can come is witchhazel.

January 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJason

I have considered trying to grow daphne in a pot, since I figured it wouldn't last if it was put in the ground. lol I have experienced the fragrance at the JC Raulston Arboretum and it is divine!

January 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commentersweetbay

You are so fortunate to live in that narrow range for this beautiful shrub! I've noticed them on some other blogs and I think I would plant them if I lived in the right place. I think the buds are prettier than the actual blossoms. Gorgeous!

January 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPlantPostings

No garden of mine can be without daphne, that sweet, sometimes fickle plant. Your sweet talk is working.

January 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLee May

I love it too! I have read too about its finicky reputation, but so far so good. Mine has been in the ground for about 6 years now and shows no signs of decline. The fragrance is wonderful.

January 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMasha

I don't think I've ever had the right conditions in my garden to suit daphne. They are so pretty! I don't know if I've even every smelled one - I know they are supposed to smell divine.

January 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterIndie

I'm glad yours is still going strong. Mine bit the dust a few months ago, as you may remember from my posting about it. It was healthy as a horse for about 8 years and then poof. At least it's reliable!

Hi Deb
I will live vicariously through your Daphnes - the words "Zones 7-9", "Excellent drainage" and "Clay soil" pretty much sum up why I can't grow them here. Yours sure are beautiful!! Jealous!

January 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAstrid

Wonderful flowers and amazing colors

January 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEla

I so enjoyed seeing these gorgeous images, and reading your oh so true words...I love Daphne, but I fear that "she" would not like it up here. I think I've mentioned before the beautiful shrubs that scented the entire nursery where I used to work. It made coming back to work in January even more delightful.


January 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJen @ Muddy Boot Dreams
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