Scents and Smellability—That’s Winter Daphne

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ Steve Bender

What do you consider the most fragrant plant in the garden? Gardenia? Excellent choice. Korean spice viburnum? Worthy candidate. Confederate jasmine, lilac, winter honeysuckle, Easter lily, bearded iris? All good names. Yet there is one shrub we haven’t mentioned that if it isn’t the most fragrant surely shares that designation with another. The unsurpassed winter daphne.

As you might guess from its name, winter daphne (Daphne odora) blooms in winter. I took these photos at Aldridge Gardens in Hoover, Alabama this week. I didn’t know it was there, until a wave of sweet, spicy perfume nearly knocked me off my feet. All this from a dense, rounded shrub less than 18 inches high.

This is why it ranks so highly on Grumpy’s exclusive Scents and Smellability Scale. The fragrance is wonderful and you can smell it from far away.

Native to China and Japan, winter daphne grows bigger with time, eventually reaching 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide after many years. At all times, it remains neat and tidy, seldom needing pruning – not even from deer, who won’t touch its evergreen foliage. Garden centers typically sell two kinds. My favorite, ‘Aureomarginata’ (shown here), combines yellow-edged leaves and waxy, light pink flowers. Daphne odora alba offers solid green foliage and pure white blooms.

Image zoom Steve Bender

This shrub is notoriously finicky about its growing conditions and will kick off in a heartbeat if you fail to meet them. Excellent drainage is essential. Plant it in heavy clay and you might as well throw it into a wood chipper. It needs a lot of air around its roots, so plant in loose, porous soil containing lots of organic matter. Always set the plant a bit high in the hole, so that the top of the root ball is 1 to 2 inches above the soil surface, and then cover the top with mulch. Water thoroughly once a week during summer droughts.

Winter daphne doesn’t like to cook. Plant it where it receives at least three hours of light shade during the middle part of the day. I found this one growing in the shade of tall pine trees. It doesn’t like to freeze either. It grows best in USDA Zones 7-8.

Daphne odora: How to grow

Good companions

Low, slow shrubs such as Daphne odora are not suitable for a crowded, mixed border where they can get pushed about by more exuberant bedfellows. I favour planting daphnes as part of an area of mixed scented evergreens in a woodland garden, perhaps with fellow smellies such as Eleagnus ebbingii, skimmias and sarcococcas to give a succession of pleasures to the nose for most of the winter. If the site has winter sun, so much the better and it should be an area you pass by regularly at this time of year. Daphne odora is not just a plant for big gardens. I have seen Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ growing valiantly in a tiny London front garden, flowering its socks off – to the delight of passers-by who catch its sweet fragrance.

Growing tips

Daphne odora is a slightly tender evergreen, surviving best in the south and west of Britain. Soil pH is not important, but all daphnes dislike heavy clay and winter waterlogging, and prefer soil that is free-draining and rich in humus. A leafy annual mulch is beneficial. Though not suited to containers, it will do fine in light shade and grows well in a woodland garden. Daphne odora is never cheap, presumably because it grows slowly, and care after planting involves patience. By cutting sprigs off as it flowers, you are doing all the pruning required.

Buy Daphne odora ‘Auromarginata’ from

Daphne Odora Aureomarginata

Available Sizes to buy online All Prices Include VAT Height Excluding Pot:
20-30cm (0ft 7-0ft 11)

Pot size: 2 Litres

Plant ID: 2304 1
Click to view photo of this size

Daphne Odora Aureomarginata

This image displays plant 20-30 cm tall.

Height Excluding Pot:
20-30cm (0ft 7-0ft 11)

Pot size: 2 Litres

Plant ID: 2304 1
Buy 12 for £375.00 40% Off – Now £225.00 Note: This plant can only bought in set of plants.

Buy 12 for £375.00 40% Off – Now £225.00 Note: This plant can only bought in set of plants.

Daphne Odora Aureomarginata
Known as variegated Daphne or gold-edged winter Daphne, Daphne Odora Aureomarginata is an evergreen shrub with a winter interest. The variegated foliage and lovely pink flowers bring liveliness and colour to the garden, at a time when there’s little of it to be found. When compared to other Daphne varieties, Aureomarginata is fairly easy to grow and care for.
Daphne Odora Aureomarginata’s blush, waxy flowers emerge from purplish-pink buds in late winter/early spring. Although small, the clusters of heavily fragrant flowers are striking when in contrast with variegated foliage. Lance-shaped, deep green leaves with creamy-gold, thin edges look stunning throughout the year.
Variegated Daphne prefers partial shade, but tolerates full sunlight if sheltered. When it comes to soil, this rounded, compact shrub feels best in well-drained, fertile soil, rich in humus. In perfect conditions, Daphne Odora Aureomarginata has a life expectancy from 10 to 20 years and can grow to be 1 to 1.5 metres tall and wide. This plant has a slow growth rate, so it won’t reach its full size quickly. Although hardy in Britain and Ireland, this variety of Daphne won’t survive if the weather gets too cold. It’s best suited for parts of UK with milder winters, but it can survive in harsher conditions, if not exposed when the temperature starts dropping below zero. Variegated Daphne can be grown in large containers, which gives you the option to move it to a more sheltered location during winter, in case you don’t have a spot in your garden where this evergreen shrub would be protected from cold winds.
Pruning should be kept to a minimum since leaves can be easily damaged, causing branch dieback. Daphne Odora Aureomarginata strongly dislikes disturbance and it’s not advisable to move it once established, so chose the spot wisely. Disease and pest free, Aureomarginata is surprisingly resistant and doesn’t require much care, unlike some other Daphne varieties.
Although it tolerates being a part of a mixed shrub border, the low-growing habit and slow growth rate make Daphne Odora Aureomarginata easily overpowered by fast-growing, invasive shrubs. If you’re planning to include this winter gem in a mixed border, group it with compatible plants, such as different evergreen shrubs or slow-growing, tall, deciduous shrubs that will provide shelter and won’t interfere with its development. Due to the sweet fragrance of the flowers, variegated Daphne works well planted near a patio, along paths or even under your window, where it can be easily enjoyed. Since it’s slow-growing, this compact, evergreen shrub will be perfectly happy in a container. However, make sure to choose one that will provide enough space for the plant to thrive and won’t need replacement as the shrub matures.

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The winter flowering daphne is Daphne odora, a fragrant low growing plant and the most popular of all Daphnes. Both pink and white flowering varieties are available, and this is regarded as the best winter flowering shrub of all. They grow well in the garden and can also be grown in pots.

Reaching around 1m in height, the flowers are pretty, but small, however what they lack in size they make up for in fragrance. Dark green foliage is a feature through the year some varieties have a cream leaf. Daphne odora ‘Aureo-marginata, has more of a variegated look and is regarded as hardier than Daphne Odora itself.

Sometimes regarded as tricky to grow, these are actually a very hardy and easy care plant in the right conditions. They need shade, a humus rich soil and they do resent root disturbance.

Growing and Care for Daphne Odora

Daphne Odora species and cultivars all require a cool shaded position with protection from hot afternoon sun a must. A humus rich well drained, but moist soil will provide Daphne Odora with a cool root run which is essential. They also do not like frosts, so choose a position accordingly.

They need little in the way of pruning, they are slow growing, and only require any damaged stems removed, or light shaping if required. If you regularly pick a few sprigs for indoors, you will find that this alone keeps the plant bushy and in shape.

They are a plant that do not like to be overwatered or under watered, and we find fertilising with a liquid seaweed solution and topdressing with well rotted compost and cow manure seems to be all of the fertiliser that they need.


  • Yellowing leaves – This is generally an indication of overwatering.
  • Drooping foliage – Also caused by overwatering.
  • Leaves curled – This can be caused by aphids and other insects.
  • Sudden death – Often caused by humidity and therefore fungal problems.

Growing Daphne Odora (and other daphne species) in Pots or Containers

Daphne Odora can be grown in pots or containers if you provide the right conditions. The pots need to be well drained, the potting mix you use needs to be kept moist and the pots themselves need to be kept cool, no full sun on the pots, so a shaded position near a doorway might be ideal.

Remember if repotting, that they do not like to have their roots disturbed, so be gentle and water in well with some seaweed fertiliser after repotting. As they are slow growers you should not have to do this very often.

Daphne odora alba

Daphne odora varieties

  • D. odora – the widely grown pink flowering form
  • D. odora ‘alba’ – a very popular white flowering form, lemon scented perfume.
  • D. odora ‘Marginata’ – pink flowers and yellow margined foliage.
  • D. odora ‘Aureo-marginata – pink flowers narrow yellow margined foliage.
  • D. odora Rebecca has wider margins and is an attractive addition, although not in Australia as yet.
  • D odora ‘Rubra Variegata’. – deeper pink flowers and stronger margins.
  • D odora ‘Sakiwaka’ is another form not easily found. Pure white flowers from a Japanese cultivar.
  • D odora ‘Star White’ – pure white flowers, claimed to be naturally bushier and said to be hardier than Daphne odora ‘alba’

John Allman

You may also be interested in these Daphne varieties

  • D plants for sale
  • D. cneorum
  • D. eternal fragrance
  • D.perfume princess
  • D. pontica
  • Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’
  • D genkwa
  • D tangutica

Looking for Daphne Plants ?

Daphne Plants in the USA
Daphne Plants in the UK


Winter in Sonoma County can bring on days of cold, gray doldrums. Even when the garden seems to have the winter blahs, there is a wonderful plant that will puncture the gloom. This shining star is Daphne. A delicious, sweet odor is the hallmark of this lovely shrub that is native to Europe, North Africa and Asia. In myth, Daphne was the daughter of a river god who was so pursued by Apollo that her father changed her into a laurel tree to escape him. (Just to make things confusing, daphne is the Greek name for the laurel, even though botanically daphne and laurels are not related.)
An evergreen or semi-evergreen shrub with pinkish-white to pink flowers, divine-smelling daphne can be grown in varied locales. However, all daphnes require semi-shade, well amended and fast-draining soil that retains enough moisture to prevent it from drying out completely, and a cover of mulch over their roots. During the dry season, irrigate infrequently, as restricted water increases flowering next spring. Daphnes do not require much pruning but may be tip pruned for shaping after flowers fade. Feed right after bloom with a complete fertilizer.

Daphnes are great as companion plants in an herbaceous border or as foundation plantings around a house. Because their flower scent is so intoxicating, they are a great choice for a walkway or a semi-shaded porch or deck. Their growth habit is slow to moderate; size among varieties varies from a low mat to shrubs that can reach 5 ft. tall. Most daphnes do not transplant well, so site the plant where it will live permanently. All parts of daphnes are poisonous and all are deer resistant.
Daphne odora (winter daphne) is an evergreen shrub with perhaps the most strongly scented flowers of all daphnes, as its species name suggests. It can sometimes display unpredictable behavior: It can flourish for years and then die without warning. Winter daphne is a very neat plant to 4 ft. high and wide with narrow, thick glossy green leaves and masses of fragrant flowers in late winter. ‘Aureo-Marginata’ is widely grown and has variegated leaves with cream-colored margins.

Daphne cneorum (garland daphne) is a pretty rock garden, front of a border, or pathway plant. It is evergreen and matting, less than 1 ft. high, with a spreading habit to 3 ft. wide. Trailing narrow glossy green branches are covered with fragrant spring blossoms. After bloom, top dress with compost or similar material to encourage additional rooting of stems. Cultivars include ‘Eximia,’ ‘Pgymaea Alba,’ and ‘Variegata.’

Daphne x burkwoodii is evergreen to semi-evergreen in Sonoma County. It develops into an attractive, well-formed shrub 3-4 ft. tall with narrow leaves. Blooms appear in spring and often repeat in late summer. ‘Carol Mackie’ is a variegated version, with a gold edge to green leaves.

September 2019

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