What Are the Best Fragrant Shrubs?

— Written By and last updated by Sarah Roberson

Fragrance according to Webster’s Dictionary is an agreeable sweet odor. Evergreen plants provide great backdrops for interesting foliage and flower colors. Variegated plants brighten up dark areas. There is nothing that provides greater delight in the garden than wonderful fragrance from flowers or foliage. No garden is complete without it. It is even better if you can select a group of plants to provide fragrance for each season of the year. Here are a few fragrant winners that are hardy in eastern NC

Butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) is a deciduous shrub available in slow and fast growing forms up to 10 to 15 feet high and 10 to 15 feet wide. Deciduous leaves are often gray underneath. Lavender, white, yellow, purple, and pink flowers grace the garden with their butterfly attracting fragrance from June to September. Full sun and well drained to moist soil provide best growth.

Sweet shrub (Calycanthus floridus) is a traditional southern landscape plant since it grows naturally from Virginia to Florida. This 6 to 9 foot high by 6 to 12 foot wide shrub is deciduous, grows best in partial shade, and deep moist soils. Green leaves are often shiny with a quilted appearance due to vein patterns. Reddish brown or maroon flowers with a fruity fragrance are prevalent in April and May. It is best to purchase plants in flower to ensure fragrance.

Winter daphne (Daphne odora) is one of my favorites due to early flowering time and powerful fragrance. It has rose to purple flowers in February and March. This evergreen plant grows 3 to 4 feet high by 4 to 5 feet wide in a mound that rarely need pruning due to the slow growth rate. There are a number of cultivars available but the most common seems to be ‘Variegata’ with its yellow leaf margins and pink flowers. The lighter markings help brighten up lightly shaded areas that this plant likes to grow in. It is best planted in well drained and prepared soil.

Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) is a southern favorite. Some grow only 2 to 3 feet high and spread like ground covers while others reach 8 to 10 feet high and 4 to 6 feet wide. White flowers that fade to yellow occur from May through July with some repeat flowering into September and October. ‘August Beauty’ is still one of the standards growing 4 to 6 feet high and 4 to 6 feet wide. ‘Radicans’ is a spreader at 2 feet high and 4 feet wide. ‘Kleims Hardy’ with its single flowers has become popular and is sized between the others mentioned here. They flower best in full sun and need good drainage. Gardenias drop yellow leaves when drought stressed.

Small anise-tree (Illicium parviflorum) is an evergreen shrub with olive green leaves that are held upright on a plant that grows 8 to 12 feet high and 8 to 12 feet wide. It is tolerant of sun or shade and moist or dry soil. The plant blooms in May and June with small yellow-green non-fragrant flowers hidden by the foliage. Star-shaped fruit display in the fall. The leaves of this tough screening plant smell like licorice when you brush by them.

Perhaps the toughest deciduous fragrant shrub is winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima). The plant grows 10 to 15 feet high and 10 to 15 feet wide in sun to partial shade and moist to well-drained soil. Creamy white, lemon scented flowers grace the garden from January through March.

Fragrant osmanthus (Osmanthus fragrans) is an evergreen shrub that looks like a holly and grows 10 to 15 feet high and 6 to 8 feet wide. Small white flowers have long distance fragrance that will get your attention from across the yard during September to November. It grows in full sun to light shade and moist, well-drained soil. I have three of these in my back yard. On warm fall days with low humidity you can smell them from the driveway. Wow!

I can’t mention fragrance and brushing into plants without mentioning rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). Although there are spreading and weeping types, the normal one can grow to 6 feet high and 6 feet wide in our area. This plant is loved when grown as an herb but when grown as a shrub it seems to be a love it or hate it plant. Of course the fragrance comes from the foliage which some describe as potent versus fragrant. Full sun and well-drained soils are needed to grow it best and flowers occur in January through March.

To learn more about plants that grow well in eastern North Carolina visit the Pitt County Arboretum at 403 Government Circle, Greenville, NC 27834, contact the Pitt County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers at 902-1705 or pittcomgv@hotmail.com, or visit http://pitt.ces.ncsu.edu.

Written By

Photo of Danny LauderdaleDanny LauderdaleArea Specialized Agent, Nursery and Greenhouse, Eastern Region Serves 44 CountiesBased out of Wilson County(252) 237-0111 danny_lauderdale@ncsu.eduWilson County, North Carolina
Posted on Sep 9, 2013
Was the information on this page helpful? Yes check No close
This page can also be accessed from: go.ncsu.edu/readext?242039