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Charmed by Mock Orange

I am charmed by the old-fashioned mock orange growing in my garden. It is a tall, multi-stemmed shrub that produces copious, citrusy-smelling white blooms in spring that are attractive to butterflies.

The particular variety I have is Philadelphus coronarius, called the sweet mock orange. It is also sometimes called English dogwood, though there is no relation to the flowering dogwood tree. There are many Philadelphus species and cultivars, and not all of them are fragrant; so if fragrance is important to you, it is best to purchase your plant when it is blooming. Philadelphus virginalis and Philadelphus lewisii are also noted as fragrant species.

There are small varieties, such as Philadelphus virginalis, which grows to 4' tall x 2' wide, but many mock oranges are large shrubs or small trees, growing up to 12 feet or larger, often as wide as tall. Be sure to give them plenty of room! These are vigorous, easy-to-grow plants that are drought tolerant and that have few pests. Hardy in USDA zones 4-8, they will adapt to many soils but prefer well-drained, loamy conditions. They like full sun to partial shade.

Some people complain that mock oranges are one-season plants. Most mock oranges are deciduous but offer little fall color. The long, twiggy, often drooping branches can become dense and unkempt. I protest! There are newer cultivars for smaller gardens, and there are also some available with striking colored or variegated foliage. As for the larger types, I have easily maintained my mock orange in an attractive vase shape by selective pruning once a year after blooming. I remove unwanted runners and also prune out up to a third of old branches at the base. This promotes good air flow through the plant and improves blooming. 

Note: Do not confuse Philadelphus with the Japanese mock orange, Pittosporum tobira, which is a completely different plant. It helps to know the Latin!



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Reader Comments (16)

Oh, yes, I love my Mock Oranges! I believe they're the same species as yours, although I can't say for sure since they were here and unmarked when we moved in. Definitely Philadelphus, and they have a light sweet scent. They're great in cut bouquets, too. Mine usually bloom at the beginning of the summer, after the Lilacs. Lovely photos, Deb.

April 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBeth @ PlantPostings

I added a Philadelphus mexicanus 'Flore Pleno' to my garden in December. I've long coveted this genus of mock orange. (I grew Pittosporum tobira in my former garden and inherited with his one.)
P. mexicanus is moderately drought tolerant so it seemed the best bet for me. However, I got it by mail order in a 4-inch pot so it's going to be a long while yet before it looks like much. At least I lucked out on the winter rains this year to help it get established.

April 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

I love the sweet fragrance of Philadelphus. The vase-like shape of yours is gorgeous.

May 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPeter/Outlaw

I tried to love mock orange, but it never found a place in my heart...

I might have felt differently if I had a fragrant mock orange, but mine (a complex hybrid called 'Natchez') had only a faint whiff of fragrance.

If I lived in the Pacific NW, I definitely would be all over the Philadelphus lewisii (http://portlandnursery.com/plants/natives/philadelphus.shtml)

I do agree that it's an easy care plant - tough, drought tolerant, don't recall any pest troubles. I don't think I saw any butterflies on mine though. The flowers mostly seemed to attract ants.

I seem to remember appreciating that it leafed out relatively early in spring too, although I never did warm to its foliage for some reason.

May 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

I love the perfume of Philadelphus, mine has just started to bloom and by coincidence I saw one on Saturday that had been trained as a standard tree, so it could have planting underneath, it looked fabulous; I may try to take a cutting of mine to see if I can achieve something similar.

May 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

Hello Debs, sorry for being absent for so long, so much to do lately! Loved your photos, I have wanted a Philadelphus for many years but haven't got a good place to have one. Maybe I can make a standard as your previous commentator said? I have flicked through some of your previous posts, your garden looks absolutely lovely and the chipmunks were so cute - beats my pesky squirrels any day :-)
Enjoy your spring garden!

May 1, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterhelene

Hi Deb, thank for the informative post about Mock Oranges. Once when we still lived in the Bay Area in California, I got a flower arrangement from a friend from her garden containing besides other flowers branches of Mock Orange. I will never forget the lovely fragrance, such a joy!
Ever since then I have in mind to grow a Mock Orange in my own garden, but haven't gotten around to do the research if they can withstand our heat. You just reminded me to do that and determine if I could give them a try in my garden.
The Mock Orange in your garden is beautiful and perfectly trimmed. Good job!
Warm regards,

May 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

What a wonderful small tree. We have a Mock Orange in a hedge - it's not fragrant, though.

May 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJason

I need to try that prune out a third of the old growth trick.
Your tree looks beautiful!

May 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Studer

thank you for the details, I had heard about the fragrant mock orange but when I looked at them in a nursery I could not detect much fragrance and never considered this plant again. I must have come across the non-fragrant variety. Yours is beautiful!

May 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGone Tropical

This looks very much like the Georgia State Flower -- Rosa laevigata -- which tends to run unchecked in the woods of the South. That's how I got mine. Finally, after 20+ years of constantly having to whack at it to keep it in bounds, I chopped it down.

When I bought my house, it came with a mature mock orange growing outside the bedroom window; but it wasn't a fragrant variety. That plant had to go to make room for my new addition on the house. I've replaced it with a fragrant dwarf cultivar called "Snowbelle," which now anchors one end of my new fragrant garden.

May 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Thanks for featuring Philadelphus (Philadelphi?) I love that bush, and also find it easy to grow and maintain. The only trouble is that the lovely scented flowers seem to last about 5 minutes a year. But i guess it's worth it.

May 8, 2017 | Unregistered Commentercatmint

I must admit that I also considered mock oranges to be untidy one-season plants. Until now. Pruned like yours it looks very nice.

May 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

One of Myra's favourite shrubs Debs. Just off to order 'Belle Etoile' which has a fantastic fragrance. Love how you are managing to keep it in shape.

May 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAlistair

I'm not sure what species I have (grew it from a cutting). It's large, sweetly fragrant, and wilts rather dramatically when it's dry. I think everyone who has enough room should have one. It's a spring classic for a reason! I should probably follow your lead and shape mine a little bit. I haven't pruned mine and it's getting ginormous.

May 11, 2017 | Unregistered Commentersweetbay

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