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wide shot of a daphne plant
An attractive shrub with sweetly perfumed flowers, daphne is high on many gardeners’ lists of “must haves”. It is compact, flowers freely and adds colour to the garden during the colder months, when flowers are scarce. Daphne is fussy about growing conditions, but it will reward you well for your efforts.

What you need to know about daphne

Name: common daphne (Daphne odora).

Height: average 1.5m high, with similar spread.

Foliage: elongated, glossy deep green or variegated.

Climate: sub-tropical to cool temperate; tolerates cold nights.

Soil: well-drained, fertile, slightly acidic loam (pH 5.5–6).

Position: full sun to partial shade; avoid dense shade.

Flowering: very fragrant, fleshy, pale pink to white with darker centre.

Feeding: use a long-term controlled-release fertiliser for acid-loving plants.

Watering: keep moist but not too wet; do not allow to dry out over summer.

Appearance and characteristics of daphne

There are many different daphnes available, with the most common being the evergreen D. odora and its variegated forms. They are neat shrubs growing to about 1–1.5m in height, and about the same spread. Leaves are usually deep green (or green with gold variegations), with young leaves bright green and darkening as they mature.

Shrubs can become quite woody as they age. The trick is to trim them back after flowering so they produce lush new growth every year. Dense clusters of waxy small flowers are carried at the tips of these new shoots.

Flower colour can vary according to growing conditions and variety, from white to deep pink-mauve.

close up of a daphne flower

Other daphne varieties

In recent years, a new form of daphne has become available. The white-flowered “Eternal Fragance” (Daphne x transatlantica) and the pink-flowered “Spring Pink Eternal Fragrance” are the results of a breeding program to introduce new daphne varieties that will grow well in areas where D. odora types will not. Frost hardy, heat and dry tolerant and spot flowering well into summer, these new varieties grow in sunny positions without burning, and are not fussy about soil pH.

How to plant and grow daphne

Growing daphne in the garden

Daphne needs a moist, free-draining, rich soil that is acidic (pH 5 to 5.5 is optimal). It will not tolerate lime or alkaline soil at all. In areas with pH neutral or slightly alkaline soils, daphne should be grown in a pot.

Before planting daphne, dig the soil over well and add in plenty of compost and weathered manure. Include a controlled-release fertiliser for acid-loving plants in your preparation.

When transplanting from a pot, avoid breaking up the ball of potting mix—daphne dislikes having its roots disturbed.

Choose a semi-shaded spot where your plant will be protected from frosts, strong winds and hot afternoon sun in summer. Avoid dense shade, which will inhibit flowering.

Spread a sugarcane or lucerne mulch over the roots in summer to keep the soil cool.

Daphne thrives in cool temperate to temperate climates. While it will tolerate light frost, it does not thrive in sub-tropical or tropical areas with high humidity.

While daphne likes soil that holds some moisture, it does not like wet feet, and will develop root rot in soil that stays wet for long periods. Let the soil dry out after watering or, in high rainfall areas, plant into a raised bed that drains freely.

Growing daphne in pots

Daphne doesn’t like being disturbed, so choose a pot that is large enough to allow for several years of growth before the plant will need to be re-potted. Make sure there are plenty of drainage holes, and place a piece of flywire mesh in the base to keep the potting mix from washing out.

Use a premium-quality potting mix that is specially formulated for acid-loving plants (often labelled as being suitable for azaleas, camellias and gardenias).

Over summer, move the pot to a shaded spot to prevent leaf burn. Remember to water when the top 5cm or so of potting mix is dry to the touch.

Feeding daphne

A controlled-release fertiliser for acid-loving plants should be applied twice a year, in early spring and early autumn. This can be supplemented with a water-soluble plant food, again for acid lovers, from mid-spring to late summer to keep plants healthy.

Occasionally daphne may develop yellow leaves. Possible causes include a deficiency of a trace element, magnesium (Mg). This can be fixed with Epsom Salts. Dissolve a level tablespoon in 4L of water in a watering can and sprinkle over the root system.

A yearly application of iron chelates (as per label directions) after flowering may also be beneficial to the overall health of the plant.

Diseases and pests that affect daphne

Strong, healthy daphne plants are seldom troubled by pests, but occasionally there may be an infestation of scale – small circular brown or black dots on the upper and undersides of leaves and stems. Each small dome protects an insect. If there are only a few present, peel them off and squash them. When large numbers are visible, apply a horticultural oil as directed.

How to prune daphne

  1. Prune your daphne after flowering.
  2. Cut below buds or nodes.
  3. Cut at a slight angle. This will help prevent rot.

How to propagate daphne

  1. Take 6-inch long cuttings and strip the leaves off the lower half.
  2. Dip the cutting in rooting hormone.
  3. Plant the cutting in a pot filled with a damp mix of six parts compost and one part perlite. The lower half of the cutting should be under the mix. Firm down to keep the cutting in place.
  4. Place the pot in partial shade, and keep moist and protected from wind.
  5. Roots should form in about six weeks. Transplant into the garden two weeks after roots have formed.

If you like this then try

Azalea: evergreen late winter and spring flowering shrub enjoying similar conditions to daphne.

Hellebore: shade-loving perennial with attractive foliage and many-hued flowers, perfect for borders.

Liriope: low, grass-like plant ideal for garden edging in front of shrubs like daphne.

Start growing today

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Health & Safety

Asbestos, lead-based paints and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber are health hazards you need to look out for when renovating older homes. These substances can easily be disturbed when renovating and exposure to them can cause a range of life-threatening diseases and conditions including cancer. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page.

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