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Coming home to Daphne odora in winter and early spring is heavenly. Put one in a corner near your front door and appreciate the welcome home perfume which says spring is not far away now. This beautiful, elegant plant is right in there with the Jasmine for perfume and flowering time.
And the perfume is almost as strong as the Gardenia, but more delicate. It is the perfect plant to fill any corner with heady exquisite fragrance. It is really supposed to be a cool climate plant, but I grew mine in Temperate NSW without any problems.
Plant a Daphne at your front door and a Pink Jasmine Polyanthum (my favourite) at the back and enjoy the result. Of course you will have to train the Jasmine which can get seriously out of hand (even bringing down a paling fence), but they are delightful together, flowering at the same time. And if you don't have a corner close to your front door, you can even put a Daphne in a medium to large pot and move it where you will get the most benefit from its fragrance. I had Daphne odora at the front facing east so it got the morning sun. That is its favourite position. It hates hot afternoon sun and prefers dappled sun to part shade.
And do cut it and bring it inside (along with the Jasmine) to appreciate the scent for as long as possible.
I found this excellent description of Daphne odora perfume. It comes from Atlantic Avenue Garden:
"Daphne odora is one of the most sought after flowering shrubs, not for the beauty of her flowers, though they are pretty enough, but for their fragrance. It is like no other, sweet and clean, a little like jasmine, a little like orange blossom, but mostly like itself and no other. And she blooms in the winter, when we all need a lift". I can assure you that every word is true.
Daphne odora belongs to the family Thymelaeaceae which has about 50 different types. It originated in Europe and North Africa and is also found in temperate and subtropical Asia and Japan. There are several species available in Australia:
Daphne odora 'alba' - a very popular white flowering form, lemon scented perfume. It is also known as the 'Star White' Daphne. See below:
Daphne odora 'Aureo-marginata - pink flowers with narrow yellow leaf margins. See below:
Daphne odora 'Marginata' - the leaves have a wider yellow margin than the one above and the flowers are a deeper pink than Daphne odora, fading to white.
Daphne odora 'Rubra Variegata'. This is also known as the Red Winter Daphne. Its flowers are an even deeper pink and it has clearly defined leaf margins.
Daphne odora 'Rebecca' has much wider leaf margins and deep pink flowers fading to pale pink.
Daphne odora 'Sakiwaka' is another type, but it is very hard to find.
A very important point to note is that it grows very slowly, but this hardly matters when even a small shrub gives a lot of perfume, so buy one when it is flowering. Being a perennial it will live for up to 10 years or so and will grow to about 3 - 4 feet and about the same in width or even bigger. However, it's best to be prepared from the start for the possibility that the Daphne you start off with may not be the one you end up with.
It can succumb to various pests and diseases which should be relatively easy to keep in check as long as you are on the lookout for them, but don't give up if it suddenly or slowly dies no matter what you do. Just go out and get another one right away. A lot of fungal problems can be remedied simply by cutting back on the watering. A damp Daphne is not a happy one. Plenty of drainage and plenty of air around it will help.
Keep it trimmed or pinched back at the end of every flowering season to keep its lovely shape. The more flowers in its spread, rather than in its height, the better. Compact is the word.
Please be aware that Daphne odora is toxic to kids and animals, especially the flowers.
Another form of Daphne is the Native Daphne or Mock Orange (you can see the 'Orange Blossom' type flowers) which is nothing like the tender Daphne odora. Its botanical name is Pittosporum undulatum or Sweet Pittosporum. It flowers off and on throughout spring, summer and autumn and is an excellent sun shade for the side of your house when several are planted in a row. For more information on this somewhat controversial type of Daphne, visit the Australian Native Plant society. This one is not considered toxic.
While most people won't experience any problems other than wrong soil quality and too much water or even drying out, there are several pests and diseases which may affect your Daphne. Make sure of good drainage and if you are having problems such as leaves turning yellow and falling off, and you are not watering too often, one idea would be to check that your soil does not contain too much clay.
If it does, then the simple solution is to add Gypsum. Clay does not disperse easily in water, so to find out, fill a beaker 1/4 full of soil, add water to the top and shake well. Leave it overnight and the next day check to see if the soil is all in a gluggy lump. If it is, you have clay soil which Daphne odora cannot survive in. Buy some liquid Gypsum and water in according to the directions.
I mention this because I had clay soil which was totally impenetrable, but with a bit of Gypsum and a lot of patience I was able to grow a few trees. But Daphne would never have survived that. The best thing in the long term would be to risk moving it and losing it, in which case you can buy another one and begin all over with ideal conditions. Daphnes are worth all this effort!
The worst thing which can happen to your Daphne is a Virus. Viruses are almost impossible to get rid of, even in humans. Daphne odora does sometimes suffer from DSDS: Daphne Sudden Death Syndrome. This sounds weird, but it is real and is caused by just such a Virus. So always be ready to buy a new plant if this does happen. but don't give up on Daphne. After all, none of these things ever happened to me, and I know of one person whose Daphne lived to the ripe old age of 17!
Daphne is also susceptible to the normal garden problems but mainly Aphids, Mealy Bugs and Leaf Scale. Choose a good organic or natural old-fashioned remedy for these. You can buy Pyrethrin Spray for the insects, Neem Oil for the Scale and even sprays containing natural soap. This really clogs up the workings of insects. Fungi are another common problem, so a good organic anti-fungal spray will be needed. And always remember to remove completely, wrap up and burn or throw in the bin any affected parts of the plant or all your efforts will be wasted.