How to grow sarcococca
Well worth growing for its rich winter perfume, this unassuming evergreen shrub is low maintenance, easy to grow and loves a shady spot
- Easy-to-grow evergreen shrub
- Small but richly scented winter flowers
- Grow in full or partial shade
- Best planted in spring or autumn
- Can be grown in borders or containers
- Cut flowers will fragrance the home
All you need to know
Choosing a sarcococca
There are several species of this woodland shrub to choose from, most with fragrant white flowers in winter, and preferring similar shady growing conditions. They differ mainly in overall size and shape.
The two most widely available are:
- S. confusa – a glossy-leaved, dense and slowly spreading shrub with white spidery flower clusters, highly scented, followed by black berries. It grows to 1.5–2m (5–6½ft) tall
- S. hookeriana – a suckering shrub with a more upright habit, growing to 1.5m (5ft), it has narrow leaves, fragrant white flowers and black berries. Some of its offspring, such as S. hookeriana var. digyna ‘Purple Stem’, have purple stems and pink-tinged flowers
You may also find:
- S. ruscifolia and its
‘Dragon Gate’ – more compact, up to 1m (3¼ft) tall, with scented white flowers and red berries cultivar
Gardeners often use the word variety when referring to a specific plant, but the correct botanical term is 'cultivar'. Whichever word you use, it means a distinctive plant or plants, given a specific cultivar name and usually bred to enhance certain characteristics, such as flower or fruit size, colour, flavour or fragrance, plant size, hardiness, disease resistance, etc. Additionally, it is worth knowing that, botanically, variety has another meaning - it refers to a naturally-occurring distinct plant that only has slight differences in its looks. For example, Malva alcea var. fastigiata differs from typical plants by having an upright habit.
- S. orientalis – has fragrant pink-tinged white flowers and black berries, and long, tapered leaves. It has upright growth to 1m (3¼ft)
- S. wallichii – a taller plant, up to 2m (6½ft), but only hardy in mild areas, where temperatures stay reliably above -5°C (23°F)
- S. saligna – hardy in an average winter, but shorter at 1m (3¼ft), with arching stems, willow-like leaves and unscented white flowers
How and what to buyThese shrubs are widely sold in garden centres and by online mail-order suppliers, usually in 2–3L pots. They are available all year round, but there is a better choice in autumn when they will soon be in flower.
To find specific cultivars use the RHS Find a Plant tool for stockists.
When to plant
Although they can be planted all year round, shrubs establish best when planted in spring or autumn.
Where to plant
Sarcococcas like rich, moisture-retentive soil, but will tolerate dry shade once established
They prefer partial or full shade. They can cope in sun, but only if they have plenty of moisture too
Although most of the commonly available sarcococcas are hardy, it is best to position them out of drying winds
They can also be planted in containers
How to plant
Sarcococcas are easy to plant in the ground or in containers – simply follow our guide to planting shrubs, below
Space plants according to the advice on the plant label
Little routine care is required once plants are established, although suckering species can be divided every few years if overcrowded (see Propagating below).
For the first couple of seasons after planting, water well during dry spells, aiming to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Once well established, no additional watering should be necessary
Plants in containers need watering regularly on an ongoing basis, as they dry out more quickly due to the limited amount of compost. See our guide to container maintenance
Tips on recycling and collecting water
How to water efficiently
- If your plant needs a boost, feed in early spring with a general-purpose fertiliser such as Growmore or fish, blood and bone
- Particularly in dry locations, plants will benefit from an annual mulch. Apply well-rotted farmyard manure or garden compost to damp soil around the plant, in a 5cm (2in) thick layer
When plants are large enough to divide, you can separate suckers and either replant in the ground or into a container filled with soil-based compost, such as John Innes No 2 or Melcourt Sylvagrow. Early spring is best, before active growth begins. New roots will grow quickly in the warming soil. Water regularly during the first season.
By seeds and cuttings
For easy but less speedy results, you can also:
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