This evergreen, rounded shrub has dark green leaves irregularly edged in yellow and, in late winter until early spring, it bears clusters of small, very fragrant flowers which are deep purple/pink at the base, fading to white inside. The flowers may (rarely) be followed by red, rounded drupes.
What to use it for
As this plant is usually grown for its winter fragrance it’s best to plant it near a path or doorway which is used over the winter months, so you’ll really benefit from the scent. Its compact habit suits most garden styles and it can be planted in beds or borders, or against a wall (where it will benefit from the additional shelter). It’s ideal for woodland planting where it will get dappled shade and the shelter of trees. It will also grow in containers.
How to look after it
Daphnes are relatively low maintenance, but can be perceived to be temperamental plants as they are quite exacting in their requirements. Even the most experienced gardener can have problems keeping daphnes healthy. But if you have planted the daphne in the right conditions then it should thrive.
It helps to apply an annual organic mulch in early spring to add humus to the soil and keep the roots cool. If you have risked planting your daphne in an exposed spot then it will need winter protection.
Daphnes do not respond well to being transplanted, so choose your location well and ensure that it meets the daphne’s rather fussy requirements as you may not be able to move the plant successfully once established. Even if grown in a container it’s best to keep it in the same location.
How to prune it
Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ doesn’t require regular pruning, in fact it’s best to keep pruning to a minimum as it can encourage die-back, which daphnes are very susceptible to. If necessary, it can be trimmed lightly after flowering to maintain its compact habit.
If any stems show dieback then prune them out as soon as you notice it, cutting back to the point of origin.
How to propagate it
When propagating daphnes the plants should be kept moist, but not waterlogged, at all times as they will wilt quickly if the conditions are dry or overly wet.
They are most easily propagated by greenwood (from spring to early summer) or semi-ripe (in summer) cuttings using nodal stem-tip cuttings which are 5 to 10cm long. Use hormone rooting compound and put them into free-draining cutting compost. Giving them bottom heat of about 15°C will help your chances of success. They should root within 6 to 10 weeks.
You can also graft daphnes, which should be done in the winter. Ensure you water the rootstock well before you start and use healthy cuttings about 4cm long from the previous year’s growth for the scion. You can use various grafting techniques including spliced side-veneer, whip-and-tounge, whip or apical-wedge. Keep the roots just moist after grafting.
While generally problem free daphnes dislike wet conditions at their roots so water-logged soil can be a real problem. They can also be at risk from daphne leaf spot, viruses including cucumber mosaic virus, aphids and wilts.
Other useful information
All parts of the plant are highly toxic if consumed and the sap can be a skin irritant.
The genus name Daphne may have originated from the Greek myth about Daphne, daughter of the river-god Peneus, who had decided to spend her life in perpetual virginity. Apollo, the god of prophecy, archery, music, medicine and poetry, fell in love with Daphne and pursued relentlessly. Begging the gods to protect her, Daphne was transformed into a laurel tree to help her escape from Apollo. Apollo used his powers of immortality to render the plant evergreen and declared that he would henceforth wear bay leaves instead of oak and that great leaders should do the same, and he was thereafter associated with the laurel. The similarities between a daphne and a laurel (particularly in terms of the foliage) may be the reason why this name was chosen. The species name odora relates to the plant’s scented flowers.