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How to Grow: Daphne
full sun, part sun
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Pale pink, fragrant flowers in spring that may rebloom in early fall
Mature Height x Spread
2 to 3 feet x 3 to 5 feet
attracts beneficials, attracts hummingbirds, drought tolerant, deer resistant
This spring blooming shrub has small, pale pink flowers that grow in clusters on the stem ends. While the flowers are attractive, what you will really notice is the intense is the sweet fragrance they emit. Daphne is an evergreen in warmer parts of our region depending on the winter. In colder areas it will lose its leaves in winter, but survive. The naturally rounded plant is an attractive landscape shrub. Some varieties have variegated yellow and green leaves giving this shrub interest even when not in bloom. It can be a finicky plant to care for in colder parts of our region, with branch dieback a problem. But with a little winter protection, it will be a showpiece in the landscape for years.
When, Where and How to Plant
Daphne is hardy to zone 4 in New England, but will not be evergreen in cold areas. Purchase plants for a local garden center and plant from spring to early fall on well-drained soil with moderate fertility. Consider building a raised bed because poorly drained soil is a daphne killer. Plant daphne where it will be protected from cold winds in winter and shaded during mid day summer sun. Daphne doesn’t move well, so choose your location wisely. Space plants 3 to 5 feet apart depending on the variety.
Daphne grows best in a humus-rich soil that’s kept cool and moist. Apply mulch, such as bark mulch or wood chips, to maintain soil moisture levels. Fertilize in spring with a layer of compost. Add lime to raise the soil pH to around daphne to neutral.
Regional Advice and Care
With all its beauty in the landscape, daphne can be a temperamental plant. Branches may suddenly dieback seemingly without cause. Daphne can get various diseases, such as canker and crown rot, and insects, such as aphids and scale. Proper soil drainage helps avoid the diseases and sprays of insecticidal soap and Neem oil help with the insects. Prune plants to shape and remove errant branches after flowering. Prune back to a side branch or trunk and avoid trimming just the branch ends.
Companion Planting and Design
Daphne looks good planted in a mixed shrub border or with tall growing perennials such as peonies and baptisia. You can also plant daphne near walkways, windows and patios to enjoy the sweet fragrance in spring. Daphne is also an attractive woodland plant when grown in filtered light under tall deciduous trees. Often woodland plantings are more protected from winter winds as well as the intense summer sun.
‘Carol Mackie’ is vigorous growing daphne variety with creamy yellow leaf margins around green leaves. ‘Silveredge’ has white margins around green leaves. ‘Briggs Moonlight’ is not as vigorous a grower as other daphnes, but has white fragrant flowers and yellow leaves with green edges.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.