These delightful, well-behaved shrubs merit a place in practically every garden. Having one or more on display earns you instant respect from the gardening cognoscenti. Although some daphnes are easier to grow than others, all require excellent drain- age, cool soil (accomplished with mulch and light afternoon shade), occasional watering during summer dry spells, and protection from hot sun and heavy winds. Plants respond well to pruning but rarely need more than an occa- sional snip to correct their shape cut back to lateral branches or just above a growth bud. Cut branches can be forced into early bloom indoors in winter. Daphnes are not browsed by deer.
D. burkwoodii. BURKWOOD DAPHNE. Evergreen or semievergreen to deciduous. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-9. Erect, compact growth to 34 ft. tall and wide, densely foliaged with narrow, medium green leaves to 1 in. long. Abundant small clusters of fragrant flowers (white fading to pink) appear at branch ends in late spring and again in late summer. 'Brigg's Moonlight' has pale yellow leaves with a narrow green border; 'Carol Mackie' has gold-edged green leaves. 'Somerset' is larger (to 4 ft. tall and 6 ft. wide) and produces pink flowers. Use all in shrub borders, at woodland edges, as foundation plantings.
D. cneorum. ROSE DAPHNE, GARLAND DAPHNE. Evergreen. Zones US, MS; USDA 6-7. From mountains of central and southern Europe. Matting and spreading; less than 1 ft. high and 3 ft. wide. Good container plant. Trailing branches covered with narrow, 1-in.-long, dark green leaves. Clusters of fragrant, rosy pink flowers appear in spring. Choice rock garden plant. After bloom is through, top-dress with mix of peat moss and sand to keep roots cool and induce additional rooting of trailing stems.
Selections include 'Eximia', lower than the species (to 8 in. high) and with larger flowers; D. c. pygmaea 'Alba', 3 in. tall, 1 ft. wide, with white flowers; 'Ruby Glow', with larger, more deeply colored flowers than those of the species and with late-summer rebloom; and 'Variegata', with attractive gold-edged leaves.
D. genkwa. LILAC DAPHNE. Deciduous. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. From China. Erect, open growth to 34 ft. high and wide. Before leaves expand, clusters of lilac-blue, scentless flowers wreathe branches, making foot-long wands of blossoms. White fruit follows flowers. Oval, medium green, 2-in.-long leaves. Use in rock garden, shrub border. Probably the easiest daphne to grow.
D. mezereum. FEBRUARY DAPHNE. Deciduous. Zones US, MS; USDA 6-7. From Europe, Caucasus, Siberia. Rather gawky, stiff-twigged, erect growth to 4 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide, with thin, roundish, 2- to 3-in.-long leaves in pale green to gray-green. Plant in groups for best appearance. Fragrant, reddish purple flowers in short, stalkless clusters are carried along branches in mid- or late winter before leaf-out and continue into spring. May go dormant in summer. Clustered red fruit follows flowers. D. m. alba has white flowers and yellow fruit and is not as rangy as the species.
D. odora. WINTER DAPHNE. Evergreen. Zones MS, LS; USDA 7-8. From China, Japan. So prized for its pervasive floral perfume that it continues to be widely planted despite its unpredictable behaviorit can die despite the most attentive care, or flourish with little attention until you invite all your gardening friends over to admire it, at which point it promptly succumbs without warning, just to show you who's in charge. Very neat, handsome plant, usually to about 4 ft. high and 6 ft. wide. Rather narrow, deep green, 3-in.-long leaves are thick and glossy. Nosegay clusters of charming, intensely fragrant flowerspink to deep red on outside, with creamy pink throatsappear at branch ends in winter.
The following are among the selections available.
'Leucanthe' is relatively disease resistant, with white-throated pale pink blooms; 'Aureomarginata' ('Marginata'), more widely grown than the species, has yellow-edged leaves. 'Mae-jima' has a compact habit with leaves edged cream and yellow and is an improvement over 'Aureomarginata'. D.o. alba has white flowers; terminal growth sometimes distorted by fasciation (convoluted-looking growths resembling cockscombs).
This species needs much air around its roots, so plant in porous soil (as you would rhododendrons). Always set plant a bit high, so the juncture of roots and stems is 12 in. above soil grade. Where soil is heavy and poorly drained, grow in porous, organic soil mixture in raised bed or container. Transplanting is risky, so choose site carefully.
Plant this daphne where it can get at least 3 hours of shade each day around midday. If possible, shade soil around roots with living ground cover. A soil pH of 6.0-7.0 is right for it. Feed right after bloom with complete fertilizer (but not with acid plant food).