How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Winter Daphne

Winter daphne is a beautiful shrub that will add interest and wonderful fragrance to the winter garden. Gardening expert Melissa Strauss shares how to grow this plant and enjoy its sweet winter blooms in your garden.

A close-up of clusters of purple winter daphne flowers, blooming delicately amidst lush green leaves. Brown stems gracefully intertwine with the green foliage, providing sturdy support to the fragrant blossoms.



A close-up of delicate pink winter daphne flowers nestled on a brown stem, their petals unfurling gracefully. In the background, a soft blur reveals a lush tapestry of more daphne blooms and green leaves.
Winter Daphne is an evergreen shrub belonging to the Thymelaeceae family.
Plant Type Evergreen shrub
Family Thymelaeceae
Genus Daphne
Species Odora
Native Area China
Exposure Partial shade
Height 6’
Watering Requirements Moderate
Maintenance Moderate
Soil Type Humus, sandy, well-draining, moist
Soil pH slightly acidic to neutral (6.0-7.0)
Zones 7-9

What is Winter Daphne?

Winter daphne, as its name suggests, is a wonderful, winter-blooming, evergreen shrub. When most plants in the garden are taking a well-deserved winter nap, this medium-sized shrub is gearing up for a big bloom. This bloom will fill your garden with a wonderful scent, and your neighbors might get the occasional whiff as well. 

Typically, when asked to rattle off the most fragrant flowers in the garden, my mind goes to a specific set of plants. Gardenias, tuberose, jasmine, and mock orange are some of the most fragrant flowers in my garden. Winter daphne rivals all of these most fragrant of bloomers. As an added bonus, it does this in fine fashion, just as the last chills of winter are taking their turn. 

History and Native Area

A flowering shrub stands with glossy oblong leaves, catching the sunlight. Clusters of delicate white flowers bloom amidst the foliage, their petals glowing in the warmth of the sun's embrace.
This shrub is used in ancient Chinese medicine despite its high toxicity.

Winter daphne has its earliest roots in China. The start of its cultivation happened around the time of the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). Because of how long the plant has been in cultivation, it can be difficult to determine if any wild specimens exist. It grows widely throughout the southern parts of the country. 

In 1309, the shrub was first recorded in Japan. While it grows plentifully in both Japan and Korea, China is still believed to be the original home of the plant. Its use in ancient Chinese medicine included use as a cure for sore throats and a treatment for smallpox. This is surprising, as all parts of the plant are highly poisonous

The genus earned its name in the 1750s by Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus. The name hearkens back to Daphne, a nymph of Greek myth. Her father turned her into a laurel tree to avoid overtures from Apollo. Though daphne plants are not in the laurel family, there is some resemblance. 


Delicate white flowers up close, each petal carrying a hint of creamy elegance. The tight cluster of blooms creates a captivating display, each blossom exuding an enchanting fragrance.
This plant blooms with fragrant pink or white flowers from January to March.

As a landscape element, this beautiful plant can serve the purpose of a low hedge, background plant, or focal point. Over time, this shrub will reach about four feet tall and six feet wide. It grows in a nice, even, rounded shape that requires little pruning. 

The leaves are leathery, ovate, and smooth. They can be solid green or variegated with white edges. The foliage is evergreen and quite hardy, remaining on the plant as far north as zone 7. This is not a plant for long, cold winters, but in moderate climates, it is wonderful in winter. 

The plant blooms right around the end of January and continues in most cases until the beginning of March. Clusters of small pink buds open to pale pink or white flowers. The individual flowers have four petals and an amazingly strong and wonderful fragrance. On warmer days, your neighbors will be able to experience this scent from quite a distance.


 dense leaves in varying shades of green, creating a lush foliage backdrop. Clusters of delicate, deep purple flowers nestled amidst the verdant foliage, adding a splash of rich color to the shrub.
Winter daphne makes a great low hedge.

Although once used medicinally in ancient China, winter daphne is toxic, so it is no longer used this way. Rather, this is a lovely ornamental shrub that you can use in many ways, in the garden landscape.

A row of these shrubs with their dense foliage makes a good windbreak or low hedge. This plant can stand alone as well, making it a pretty focal point in the winter when other plants have lost their leaves.

Where to Buy

Lavender flowers and deep purple buds peeking through lush green leaves of a winter daphne shrub. The sunlight filters through the foliage, casting a warm glow on the delicate petals and creating a serene natural scene.
The plant is commonly available at hardware stores and nurseries

Winter daphne is a fairly common plant that you will often find at hardware stores and nurseries. You are more likely to find it in early spring or fall, which are the ideal times to plant it.


A small winter daphne shrub with delicate, slender leaves stands amidst a backdrop of grasses and dry foliage, offering a serene sight. Its petite form exudes resilience, thriving amidst the changing seasons.
Locate plants in an area with good drainage and partial sunlight.

This shrub is not picky about planting time. Spring or fall are both great times to plant as the weather is more temperate. Planting in winter is difficult because of frozen soil. Summer and winter weather tend to be more extreme, as well. This is more stressful for the plant, so it will adapt faster and better in milder weather. 

Choose a location with good drainage and partial sun exposure or filtered but bright light. Take into consideration that the ultimate size of the plant will be about four feet tall and four to six feet wide. 

Water well a few hours ahead of planting. Dig a hole that is as deep and twice as wide as the root ball. Just a note, planting this shrub near an outdoor living space or entryway is a great idea. This way you can truly enjoy the scent of its blooms as much as possible. 

When you’re ready to plant, orient your shrub in the hole according to how you would like it to grow. Backfill the hole and water your new plant thoroughly. Watering a new plant deeply will encourage the roots to grow deeper, giving the plant a better anchor. Strong, deep roots make a healthier plant.

Add a nice thick layer of mulch around the bottom of your shrub to help protect the roots and retain moisture. Daphne plants like moisture, so make sure to keep the soil moist while your plant establishes roots. Once established, it will be somewhat drought-resistant. However, in general, these plants are moisture lovers, so don’t neglect to water, especially while the plant is young. 

How to Grow

As long as you plant it in a proper location, your shrub should be fairly easy to maintain. These plants prefer moist soil, and too much sun will scorch the leaves. Otherwise, once you plant this shrub, you really can sit back and enjoy the wonderful flowers it produces.


A close-up of pink  flowers, delicate petals reaching for sunlight, contrasted by glossy leaves. In the background, a blurred sea of greenery creates a serene backdrop, enhancing the flowers' natural beauty and tranquility.
Excessive shade results in leggy growth.

Your plant will look best if it gets four to six hours of daily sun. Full sun is too much for this shrub. The morning sun is cooler and less likely to give your daphne sunburn than the hot afternoon sun. 

It can also grow well in dappled sun as long as it spends most of the day in that state. Too much shade will lead to leggy growth and a less attractive plant overall. 


Leaves, green with delicate white edges, glisten with dew droplets, hinting at a recent rain. In the blurred background, an array of plants provides a backdrop, adding depth to the serene botanical scene.
They require regular watering except for newly planted shrubs.

Once established, your plant will not need much in the way of supplemental watering. During times of prolonged dry weather, water once per week to keep it healthy. As long as your climate gets an inch of rain weekly, your established shrub should be happy.

This doesn’t apply to newly planted shrubs, as they will need supplemental water more regularly. Daphne prefers moist soil, but not soggy soil. I would consider this to be a plant that likes an average or moderate amount of water. 


A rich, fertile brown soil, its loose texture hinting at the potential for growth and cultivation. Specks of sand and organic matter are scattered throughout, promising nourishment for seeds and roots to thrive in its nurturing embrace.
Winter daphne thrives in slightly acidic to neutral soil.

Drainage is key when we talk about soil. Because daphne likes moisture but not soggy roots, your soil should drain freely. Loose soil will help aid in root development, and a healthier plant altogether. This plant doesn’t mind sandy soil, and in fact, it prefers some air circulation around its roots. 

In terms of pH, this plant prefers slightly acidic to neutral soil. Testing your soil is always a good idea. If you have hard or compacted soil, consider amending it with some sand and organic compost. This will loosen things up and add a bit of acidity to the soil at the same time. 

Temperature and Humidity

A close-up of lavender  flowers blooming amid variegated leaves on brown branches, emanating a delicate fragrance. In the background, blurred foliage offers a glimpse of additional variegated leaves, creating a lush and vibrant botanical scene.
Humidity levels between 60-80% are ideal.

Winter daphne is flexible when it comes to temperature. It won’t tolerate long periods of extreme cold weather. However, heat is not a problem and your plant will be fine in temperatures up to 95°F (35°C). Ultimately, the ideal temperature range for this plant is between 59-95°F (15-35°C) in the summer and 41-50°F (5-10°C) in winter. Your plant should be cold hardy to about 10°F (-12°C). 

If you live on the colder end of the range for this plant, give it some protection when you plant it. Keep it in a spot with some wind protection. Add a thick layer of mulch around the base of the plant in the fall to help insulate the roots. 

Daphne enjoys higher humidity. Ideally, a humidity level between 60-80% will keep your plant happy. That may seem high in some climates, but even staying around the low end will be just fine. 


A close-up of a hand holding granules of black slow-release fertilizer, ready for planting. The granules are textured, promising nourishment for vibrant growth. In the background, a multitude of granules awaits their turn to nurture plants.
Fertilize the plants twice yearly with a balanced slow-release formula after blooming.

Winter daphne is not a heavy feeder, so you won’t need to fertilize it often. Fertilizing twice yearly with a balanced fertilizer will keep your plant growing and blooming nicely.

Feed your plant after it has finished blooming and then again near the end of summer. Use a slow-release formula with a balanced ratio of nutrients, such as a 10-10-10 formula. 


A close-up of delicate white  flowers contrasted with purple buds. Variegated leaves gracefully accompany the blooms, adding a touch of elegance and texture to the floral composition.
Prune lightly post-flowering to maintain the shape.

This shrub doesn’t need regular pruning, and in fact, pruning too much can be harmful. Winter daphne does not heal well from cuts to the mature wood. Don’t ever hard prune this plant, as it is unlikely to recover. Limit pruning to new growth and only prune for shape or to encourage branching. 

A light pruning after the plant flowers is fine to help the plant maintain a nice shape. It’s not usually necessary though, as this plant grows in a naturally pleasing shape. Remember that your shrub will get leggy, with sparser growth, if you plant in a shaded spot. Since hard pruning is not encouraged, make sure to give your plant the right amount of sun from the start. 

Growing in Containers

A plant with glossy, deep green leaves, flourishing within a pot. In the backdrop, a wall is painted in a harmonious blend of brown and white hues, providing a serene contrast.
Select a spacious container with sufficient drainage.

Daphne doesn’t care much for living in a container long term. While some smaller varieties may technically fit in a container, it isn’t ideal. While I don’t recommend it, there are some factors that will improve the chances of your plant thriving in a pot. 

Start with high-quality potting soil and increase the drainage by adding about 20% perlite or coarse sand. Choose a pot that is large enough for two to three years of growth so that you don’t have to re-pot it often. Go four or five inches larger than the root ball of your plant.  Make sure that your chosen container has adequate drainage in the bottom to avoid root rot


You can propagate daphnes from seeds, but it takes a long time to get a decent-sized plant, so it’s not recommended. Typically, successful propagation is the result of cuttings or layering. 


A close-up of pink flowers, their delicate petals reaching towards the sun's warmth. Surrounding elongated leaves frame the cluster, capturing the essence of a tranquil garden scene with blurred hints of more flowers and foliage in the background.
Propagate by taking 6-8 inch cuttings.

Propagation by cuttings is a straightforward process with daphne plants and is usually successful. Take your cuttings in late spring, after the plant finished flowering, and has some decent new growth. Choose branches with ample new growth. 

Take cuttings that are six to eight inches long, and strip the leaves from the bottom half of each branch. Dip the stripped end of the cutting in rooting hormone to promote faster root growth. You need a fast-draining medium for these cuttings, as too much water will cause rot. Plant your cuttings in moist potting material, keeping them moist but not soggy until the roots have formed

Once the roots have formed and you see new growth appearing, you can transplant your cuttings to larger containers. You can also plant them directly in the ground, but wait until they have a solid root system first. Keep your cuttings moist until your new plants are well established. 


Clusters of blossoms, delicate pink petals unfurling amidst lush green leaves. In the backdrop, a blur of verdant foliage accentuates the delicate beauty of the blossoms in this tranquil garden scene.
This is a propagation method where a branch is covered with soil until roots develop.

Propagation by layering is a bit less common, but no more difficult or time-consuming. It is a method that keeps the new plant partially attached to the parent plant until roots form. You can carry out this process through pinning or by using a layering cell. 

The process of layering involves stripping bark from a branch and surrounding it with soil. Over time, roots will grow from the barkless area of the branch into the surrounding soil. When a substantial amount of roots forms, the branch is then removed from the parent plant and planted on its own. 

Common Problems

As with most plants, winter daphne is not impervious to a certain group of issues. While most are manageable, there are some issues to look out for, as they can spread and infect other plants in the garden


A close-up of tiny black aphids clustered on a leaf's surface, their small bodies stark against the green backdrop. These pests are voraciously feeding on the leaf, their presence evident in their dark silhouettes against the vibrant foliage.
Control pests by utilizing natural remedies such as a mixture of castile soap and water.

The two main pests of concern are aphids and scale. Both pests pierce the leaves or stems of the plant and use their mouthparts to suck all the moisture and nutrients out. Needless to say, this can result in a very sad-looking plant. It’s always best to attract beneficial insects to the garden to help control pest insect infestation. 

It’s not always possible to let nature take care of pest management. Sometimes we have to take matters into our own hands. Try blasting pests with a direct stream from the hose, and opt for neem oil if they’re still present. Only use chemical pesticides as a last resort. They harm the pollinator population, as well as drive down the number of other beneficial insects.


A close-up of delicate pale pink  flowers nestled among green leaves. Noticeable brown edges on the leaves suggest a potential disease, adding a touch of complexity to the otherwise serene floral scene.
Try a copper fungicide for fungal diseases.

There are quite a few diseases that can affect this plant, both fungal and viral. Learning to spot and diagnose these issues is important, but it won’t always save your plant. You can treat fungal diseases like blight with an antifungal.

Copper-based fungicides are typically the most effective. Most viral diseases are either untreatable. Some mean certain death for the plant, while others may simply leave unsightly marks on the foliage. 

Lack of Flowers

elongated leaves reaching out gracefully, bear only a few small pink flowers amidst the lush greenery. Soft sunlight bathes the shrub, highlighting its graceful foliage and hinting at the promise of future blooms.
Proper sunlight exposure is crucial for abundant blooms.

Like all blooming plants, winter daphne needs a specific set of circumstances to set buds and produce healthy flowers. For this plant, the main culprit behind a lack of flowers is usually under-watering.

Too much sun can also stress this plant to the point that it won’t bloom. Making sure that your plant is in the right type of location and is getting its moisture needs met is key to having a big blooming season. 

Final Thoughts

Winter daphne has few rivals in the fragrance department. Its evergreen foliage makes it a wonderful garden element year-round. Adding one of these plants to your landscape will liven things up during the colder months. Under the right conditions, it is a low-maintenance addition to the garden with a lot of personality and charm. 

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