Winter Daphne is a Cold Weather Delight
Plus Garden To-Do’s for FebruaryBy L.A. Jackson
Natural fragrance can be elusive in the winter garden. That’s why cold nostrils warm up quickly to the sweet, unexpected blooms of winter daphne (Daphne odora), which brave the chill of February to saturate the cool air with their surprising aroma, reassuring gardeners that, yes, spring is coming soon.
For all the positive mojo winter daphne brings to the landscape in February, it is a modest plant. This small, rounded shrub usually only grows to about 4 feet high and wide. Its evergreen foliage is plentiful, yet just plain green, although the popular variegated cultivar “Aureo-marginata” has leaves buttered with soft yellow on their edges. Visually, the scented flowers are also humble, being tight clusters of small, rose-pink or white stars.
But, oh, what a scent!
With such nose candy coming from its blooms during the chilliest times, winter daphne should be the darling of gardeners yearning for year-round interest in their landscapes. But the popularity of this cold-season cutie has been tempered by its reputation of being a short-lived plant.
True, winter daphne doesn’t seem to be as stout as many other woody ornamentals, but oftentimes, its fleeting presence in the garden is the result of improper planting.
Winter daphne is susceptible to root and crown rot when grown in soggy soil, so plant it in an area that has excellent drainage such as a mounded site or raised garden bed. Heck, I even planted three of them in separate, 18-inch diameter pots five years ago, and, although not as big as my ground-bound winter daphnes, they are all still going strong.
When planting winter daphne, make sure its soil has been heavily amended with compost or a soil additive like PermaTill to lighten the growing ground up while, at the same time, retaining some moisture because winter daphnes don’t like completely drying out either. Adding a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch around the plant — being careful to keep it a few inches away from the trunk —will help even out its ground moisture supply.
Once your winter daphne has been planted, do not disturb its roots. This means no digging around the root zone. (And don’t even think about moving it!)
A properly established winter daphne can live for many years. But whether one graces your garden for two, 10 or more years, its intoxicating perfume filling the air in deep winter makes this special plant worthy of a try in your garden.
Garden To-Do's for February
Bare-root roses can be planted now. Get your beauties-to-be in the garden as soon as possible after buying them this month, but first hydrate the roots in water for about a half a day before planting. Dig the hole 12 to 18 inches deep and about 2 feet in diameter — wide enough to spread the roots out. Forming a dirt mound in the hole’s center will help stretch and support the roots while they are being firmed into the planting site. Also remember, for the best performance, roses should be placed in a spot that receives at least six hours of full sunlight.
- If rampant vines tried to eat your landscape last year, now is the time to tame them before excessive foliage, pesky bugs and rising temperatures make this chore a misery. Feel free to whack back such nuisance crawlers and climbers like bittersweet, wild grape, kudzu, poison ivy (wear gloves), wisteria, Virginia creeper and Japanese honeysuckle.
Pansies still perky? To continue their pleasant flower shows into the spring, deadhead spent blooms and water the plants with a diluted fertilizer solution every three to four weeks. Ditto for the closely related Johnny jump-ups.
More February gardening tips