How To Grow And Care For Tea Olive

This fragrant, flowering evergreen shrub delights the senses.

What's that fragrance perfuming the garden air? It's tea olive, the glossy-leaved shrub known by the scientific name Osmanthus fragrans. Commonly, you can call the plant tea olive or sweet olive, as both names nod to the sweet scent emitted by the plant's tiny, white blooms. This species belongs to the genus OsmanthusOsmanthus species are drought-tolerant, evergreen shrubs that thrive in full sun or partial shade. Their calling card is their deeply fragrant blooms, which appear throughout the year. The flowers appear as tiny, white blossoms, but their size belies their big, floral perfume.

Their biggest bloom happens in the spring and summer, but they also bloom intermittently throughout the year, even in the final days of fall. The New Southern Living Garden Book describes the stats of the evergreen shrub this way: "Long a favorite of Southern gardeners, [tea olive is] broad, dense, compact. Grows at a moderate rate to 15 feet tall and 8-10 feet wide, though older plants may reach 30 feet tall and 12-15 feet wide."

The plants' foliage is very attractive, with glossy, medium-to-deep-green leaves that grow to around four inches long. They can be toothed or have rounded, smooth edges. The New Southern Living Garden Book notes the plants' intense perfume: "Flowers are powerfully fragrant, with a scent like that of ripe apricots. Bloom is heaviest in spring, but plants flower sporadically throughout the year."

Tea Olive
Masao Akiyama / Sebun Photo/Getty Images

This versatile group of easy-to-grow, broad-leafed evergreens combines handsome foliage with fragrant—though inconspicuous— flowers (white, in most cases). Most are large shrubs that can eventually reach the size of a small tree. Use them as tall screens, hedges, or foundation plantings. They tolerate many soils (including heavy clay), accept heavy pruning, and do well with little moisture or regular garden watering. Somewhat resistant to damage by browsing deer.

Here is everything you need to know about growing and caring for tea olive in the South.

Plant Attributes

Common Name  Tea Olive, Sweet Olive, Fragrant Olive, Sweet Osmanthus
Botanical Name  Osmanthus fragrans
Family  Oleaceae
Plant Type  Shrub
Mature Size  6–30 ft. tall, 6–30 ft. wide 
Sun Exposure  Full, Partial, Shade
Soil Type  Moist, Well-drained
Soil pH  Neutral to acidic
Bloom Time Spring 
Flower Color  White
Hardiness Zones  8–11(USDA)
Native Area  Asia

Tea Olive Care

This is a very versatile planting and can thrive even with extreme pruning. It can be shaped to fit in small spaces or can be allowed to grow big and sprawling where there is a lot of empty space. It can also take many shapes and can be trained into nearly every planting form you can imagine: shrub, tree, hedge, screen or privacy planting, espalier—even a container plant. In the way of garden responsibilities, there's not much that this plant can't take on.


Tea olive grows best in full sun to partial shade and is known to be drought-tolerant.


Plant tea olive in moist, well-drained soil with a neutral to acidic pH. Tea olive won’t do as well in soil that holds too much water; it will cause root rot.


Regular, natural rainfall should be enough to keep this drought-tolerant plant happy once established, but if you observe drought conditions, give it good drink about once a week.

Temperature and Humidity

Tea olive love our Southern heat and humidity and will do well planted here. This shrub does not like arid conditions.


No extra fertilizer is necessary when planted in moist, well-drained soil with a neutral to acidic pH.

Types of Tea Olive

According to The New Southern Living Garden Book, "'Butter Yellow' produces lots of butter-yellow flowers. 'Fudingzhu' is an outstanding form, more cold hardy and not as large as the species, and it blooms for a much longer time with large, showy clusters of blooms. 'Orange Supreme' is a well-shaped plant with bright orange blossoms. O. f. aurantiacus has narrower, less glossy leaves than the species; its crop of wonderfully fragrant orange flowers in concentrated in early fall." Here is more info on some of our favorite tea olive species.

O. americanus. (Devilwood) Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Native to Mexico, and from North Carolina to Florida and Mississippi. Grows rather slowly to 15–25 ft. tall and 15–20 ft. wide, though it may eventually become much larger. Neat, upright, oval form. Handsome, leathery, shiny olive- green foliage: smooth-margined leaves to 7 in. long, 21⁄2 in. wide. Creamy flowers in spring; dark blue, 1⁄2-in. fruit in early fall. Very cold hardy. Tolerates wet soil.

O. x burkwoodii. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Hybrid between O. delavayi and O. de- corus. Slow growing to 6–10 ft. tall, 8–12 ft. wide. Densely clothed in 1- to 2-in., glossy, bright green, tooth-edged leaves. Blooms in spring. Makes a good hedge.

O. delavayi. (Delvay Osmanthus) Zones MS, LS, CS; USDA 7-9. From China. Slow-growing, graceful plant with arching branches; reaches 4–6 ft. tall, 6–8 ft. wide. Dark green, oval, tooth-edged leaves to 1 in. long. Blooms profusely in spring, bearing clusters of four to eight blossoms (blooms are 1⁄2 in. wide—the largest of any osmanthus). Attractive all year. Good choice for foundation plantings. Handsome on retaining walls where branches can hang down. Does best in partial shade.

O. x fortunei. (Fortune's Osmanthus) Zones MS, LS, CS; USDA 7-9. Hybrid between O. heterophyllus and O. fragrans. Slow, dense growth to an eventual 15–20 ft. tall, 6–8 ft. wide; usually seen at about 6 ft. tall. Oval, 4-inch leaves resemble those of holly (Ilex). Extremely fragrant flowers in autumn.

  • Selection ‘San Jose’ bears flowers ranging in color from cream to orange.
  • ‘Fruitlandii’ is a slightly more cold hardy, compact form with cream-colored flowers.

O. fragrans. (Sweet Olive, Tea Olive) Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Native to China, Japan, Himalayas. Long a favorite of Southern gardeners. Broad, dense, compact. Grows at a moderate rate to 15 ft. tall, 8–10 ft. wide (though older plants may reach 30 ft. tall, 12–15 ft. wide). Oval, glossy, medium green leaves to 4 in. long, toothed or smooth edged. Flowers are powerfully fragrant, with a scent like that of ripe apricots. Bloom is heaviest in spring, but plants flower sporadically throughout the year. This variety can be pruned to upright growth where space is limited; can be trained as a small tree, hedge, screen, background, espalier, or container plant. Pinch out growing tips of young plants to induce bushiness. Give afternoon shade.

  • ‘Butter Yellow’ produces lots of butter-yellow flowers.
  • ‘Fudingzhu’ is an outstanding form, more cold hardy and not as large as the species, and it blooms for a much longer time with large, showy clusters of blooms.
  • ‘Orange Supreme’ is a well-shaped plant with bright orange blossoms.

O. heterophyllus. (Holly Osmanthus) Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. From Japan. Grows to 8–10 ft. (possibly 20 ft.) tall and slightly wider, with 21⁄2-inch, spiny-edged, glossy, green leaves. Resembles English holly (Ilex aquifolium), but leaves are opposite one another on stems rather than alternate. Fragrant white flowers in late fall and winter are followed by berrylike, blue-black fruit. Useful as a hedge.

  • ‘Goshiki’. Erect growth to 31⁄2 ft. tall, 5 ft. wide. New leaves have pinkish orange markings; in mature foliage, the variegations are creamy yellow (on a deep green background). Few flowers.
  • ‘Gulftide’. Dense grower to 8–10 ft. tall and 10 ft. wide (may eventually reach 20 ft. high), with deep green, very glossy foliage. More cold hardy than the species. Probably the most popular selection.
  • ‘Purpureus’. Same growth habit as species. Leaves are dark purple when new, maturing to purple-toned deep green.
  • ‘Rotundifolius’. Slow grow-ng to 5 ft. tall and wide. Small, roundish leaves are lightly spined.
  • ‘Variegatus’. Slow growing to an eventual 8–10 ft. tall and wide, with densely set leaves edged in creamy white. Useful for lighting up shady areas. A bit less cold tolerant than the species.


You do not need to prune tea olive for it to thrive, but it can take aggressive pruning if you want to shape or train the plant. If you do prune, make this a spring activity before the plant starts to leaf out.

Potting and Repotting Tea Olive

Tea olive can be potted in a container for use on a patio, but it will require pruning to help it keep its shape and size.

How to Get Tea Olive to Bloom

For the best blooms, you need to start with where tea olive is planted. Pick a spot that will receive about 5 hours of sunlight a day with some afternoon shade so the leaves don’t burn. Tea olive blooms in the fall and smells especially fragrant after a rain when the humidity level is high. It is a natural fall-blooming shrub.

More Fragrant Bloomers

In addition to tea olive, Southern gardeners have many options for growing fragrant plants in their gardens that come in a variety of formats, including vines, shrubs, and trees. For climbers, there's always climbing roses, wisteria, and clematis. But honeysuckle, a sweet, honeyed scented vine, is a Southern favorite because it's heat tolerant and hardy. Heavenly scented jasmine is an evergreen vine that can also be used as a ground cover. Deeply fragrant 'Honey Perfume' roses are a deciduous shrub option, while intensely scented gardenias are a Southern classic, evergreen shrub. And don't forget Southern magnolia trees with their large, powerfully scented flowers that can grow 80- to 20-feet high depending on the species selected.

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