Daphne

Daphnes are grown for their beautiful and intensely fragrant blooms which are usually produced in winter or spring. They are best planted near paths and doorways or at the front of borders where it is easy to enjoy their heady fragrance when in flower. Some have attractive foliage or berries as well.

Daphne

Quick facts

Common name Daphne
Botanical name Daphne
Group Range from large shrubs to small alpines
Flowering time January-December
Planting time Spring
Height and spread Various
Aspect Sun, partial shade, shade
Hardiness Hardy
Difficulty Moderate

Cultivation notes

Site and soil

  • Daphnes do best on well-drained, moisture-retentive, humus-rich soil. They will not tolerate drought or waterlogging
  • They will establish best when planted in spring
  • On sandy soils incorporate organic matter and on heavy soils plant in a raised bed. Daphne laureola and D. mezereum are more tolerant of heavier soils than other daphnes
  • Neutral to slightly alkaline soil suits most species. D. mezereum is the most chalk tolerant. D. arbuscula AGM, D. blagayana, D. pontica AGM and D. tangutica AGM demand lime-free conditions
  • Choose an open sunny well-drained situation in the garden for dwarf alpine species such as D. arbuscula AGM, D. cneorum and D. genkwa. Grow others including D. bholua, D. blagayana, D. mezereum, D. odoraD. pontica AGM and D. tangutica AGM in a sheltered position in partial shade or in sun if roots are kept shaded. D laureola will grow in deep shade and even tolerates dry shade under trees once established

Planting and aftercare

  • With grafted plants, bury the union at least 5cm (2in) below soil level – this will encourage better rooting and improve vigour
  • Mulch in spring with well-rotted organic matter to keep the roots cool, but keep the mulch away from the stem
  • Most daphnes are reliably hardy in sheltered gardens. D. mezereum and D. odora are good choices for cold gardens. D. bholua will not tolerate temperatures below -5ºC for prolonged periods
  • Established plants should not be moved

Growing in containers

  • Daphnes are deep-rooting and many, other than the smaller alpine species, may not thrive in containers
  • If growing a daphne in a container, choose a deep container and use a mix of equal parts of John Innes No 3, multipurpose compost (including peat-free) and coarse sharp sand
  • Roots need to be kept cool, so place containers where they will not get baked in hot sun
  • Top dress replacing the top 5cm (2in) of potting media in early spring, and apply a foliar feed two or three times during the growing season - April to September

Pruning and training

Choose a plant that will grow to fit the situation as daphnes do not respond well to pruning and often suffer die-back. Damaged, diseased or wayward growth can be removed in early spring or immediately after flowering. Otherwise, restrict pruning to light trimming within the area of healthy leaf growth.

Propagation

Daphnes are slow-growing and many are grafted, making them relatively expensive. Cultivars can be grafted by whip grafting in late winter.

Species can be propagated from seed sown when ripe. Before sowing remove the fleshy exterior and sow in pots of John Innes seed compost with added grit. Place pots in a sheltered shady spot or cold frame. Expect germination to take up to two years.

Both species and cultivars can be propagated by semi-ripe heel cuttings in mid- to late summer.

Spreading species such as Daphne blagayana and D. cneorum are best layered.

Cultivar Selection

Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postil’ AGM: Evergreen, producing highly fragrant flowers in late winter which are deep pink outside and white within. Grows to a height of 2-4m (6-12ft) and spread up to 1.5m (5ft).

D. cneorum ‘Exima’ AGM: Low growing spreading evergreen, with strongly scented rose pink flowers in April and May. Grows to a height of 20cm (8in) and spread up to 2m (6ft).

D. laureola (spurge laurel): Bushy evergreen shrub, with pale green scented flowers in late winter and early spring, followed by black fruit. Grows to a height of 1m (3ft) and spread up to 1.5m (5ft).

D. mezereum (mezereon): Upright deciduous shrub, growing to a height 1.2m (4ft) and spread up to 1m (3ft). Bears fragrant pink flowers in late-winter, followed by red fruit.

D. odora ‘Aureomarginata’ AGM: Evergreen with leaves with yellow wavy margins, red-purple flowers, paler within produced in early spring. Grows to a height of and spread of up to 1.5m (5ft).

D. × transatlantica ETERNAL FRAGRANCE='Blafra' (PBR): Slow growing evergreen, reaching a height and spread of 70-90cm (28-36in). Flowers pink in bud opening white produced from April–October.

Links

RHS Plant Selector
RHS Plant finder
RHS AGM’s

Problems

Daphne can suffer from a number of disorders and diseases which can lead to sudden die-back or yellowing of the foliage. They are also prone to establishment problems, leaf browning, waterlogging, nutrient deficiency, honey fungus, Phytophthora root rot, fungal leaf spot and virus. Daphne laureola, D. mezereum and D. odora are particularly susceptible to virus infection.

On more alkaline soils, yellowing of the foliage due to nutrient deficiency may be remedied by application of chelated iron, such as sequestrine.

All parts of daphne are toxic if ingested and contact with the sap may cause skin irritation.

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