Originally created 02/15/02

Tough to tame



NORTH AUGUSTA - The heady scent of winter daphne in bloom is a harbinger of spring for gardeners who dare tame the temperamental bush.

Karen Oliver, a master gardener, is brave enough; she has two daphne odora, winter-blooming evergreen shrubs, in her Sedgewood Court yard. The shrubs produce fragrant clusters of tiny pink or off-white trumpet-shaped blooms from January through March, followed by attractive berries.

"They are just wonderful shrubs," Mrs. Oliver said. "They are temperamental, I hear. But the fragrance is terrific."

Mrs. Oliver's daphne is healthy and has given her no problems, but the shrub is considered finicky and difficult to grow. Sometimes a healthy-looking plant will suddenly droop as if scalded and quickly die.

Root rot may be the culprit, said Jennie Addie, sales associate at Green Thumb West nursery in Martinez. Winter daphne is more susceptible to root rot than other landscape plants, so good drainage is key to its survival.

Mrs. Oliver worked lots of compost into the heavy clay soil and planted the shrub in a mound, about 2-3 inches above the ground. The shrubs were mulched for protection.

Success with daphne also depends on placement.

An area in partial shade that gets morning sun is ideal for winter daphne, Ms. Addie said. Mrs. Oliver has a pink-blossoming shrub with solid green leaves (Greenleaf pink) in a mostly shaded area that has just begun to bloom.

An off-white blooming shrub with leaves bordered in yellow (Aureo-marginata alba) is in a location that only gets morning sun. It is a little more robust and began blooming at the end of January.

Once daphne is established, do not move it.

"You cannot transplant them," Mrs. Oliver said. "They are very temperamental about being transplanted."

With proper planting and placement, these dainty, sweet-smelling bushes need no pampering. Mrs. Oliver fertilizes them twice a year, in mid-March and mid-September, and limes them yearly, as she does her entire property.

"They get no special attention - no pruning, no spraying," Mrs. Oliver said.

Daphne is a hardy plant, so pruning some clusters to sweeten indoor air will not harm the shrub.

Daphne is poisonous, so no pests eat it. The shrub does not seem to be susceptible to any diseases, except for root rot. Daphne tolerates temperatures to 10 degrees before bud loss or defoliation occurs on unprotected plants.

"They are fabulous plants," Ms. Addie said.

The heavy scent of winter daphne reminds gardeners that spring is on the way.

"It just makes you feel so good to come out (and see something blooming)," Mrs. Oliver said.

Reach Valerie Rowell at (803) 279-6895 or valmac007@hotmail.com.