How To Care for Winter Daphne for Beautiful Blooms

Things aren't always cold and dreary in the winter.

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’
Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata'. Photo: Steve Bender

What do you consider the most fragrant plant in the garden? Several worthy candidates include jasmine, gardenia, lilac, and bearded iris. These plants, along with many others, exude a wonderful garden fragrance. Yet there is one shrub that undoubtedly belongs on this list—the winter daphne.

Native to China and Japan, winter daphne grows bigger with time, eventually reaching four feet tall and six feet wide after many years. It always remains tidy, seldom needing pruning—only to shape branches or to cut to force it to an early bloom for indoor plants in the winter. Deer typically won't eat winter daphne, so its evergreen foliage is safe from these animals. Here's more about the winter daphne, including how to care for this fragrant plant and when it will achieve its best blooms.

Winter Daphne Shrub
Steve Bender

As you might guess from its name, winter daphne (Daphne odora) blooms in winter. These photos are from the Aldridge Gardens in Hoover, Alabama. A sweet, spicy perfume wave alerted the winter daphne's presence as the fragrance lifted from the round shrub less than 18 inches high.

How To Grow and Care for Winter Daphne

Winter daphne grows best in USDA Zones 7-9. Plant it where it receives at least three hours of light shade during the middle of the day, but it doesn't like to freeze either.

This shrub is notoriously picky about its growing conditions and will kick off in a heartbeat if you fail to meet them. Excellent drainage is essential as well-drained soil prevents root rot.

It needs a lot of air around its roots, so plant in loose, porous soil containing lots of organic matter. Planting it in heavy clay will restrict the roots, and the plant will not grow.

Always set the plant a bit high in the hole so that the top of the root ball is one to two inches above the soil surface, and then cover the top with mulch. Water thoroughly once a week during summer droughts.

Once this plant starts to bloom, prune it sparingly.

The winter daphne fragrance is lovely. You can smell it from far away. It ranks very high on the Grumpy Gardener's exclusive Scents and Smellability Scale.

Types of Winter Daphne

Garden centers typically sell two kinds. 'Aureomarginata' ('Marginata') combines yellow-edged leaves and waxy, light pink flowers. Daphne odora alba offers solid green foliage and pure white blooms.

The Leucanthe variety is relatively disease resistant and contains white-throated pale pink blooms.

'Mae-jima' is typically smaller and has leaves with edges of cream and yellow.

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