By Ellyn Pelikan, Sonoma County Master Gardener
Winter in Sonoma County can bring on days of cold, gray doldrums. Even when the garden seems to have the winter blahs there is a wonderful plant that will puncture the gloom. This shining star is Daphne. In myth, Daphne was the daughter of a river god who was so pursued by Apollo that her father changed her into a laurel tree to escape him (just to make things confusing, Daphne is the Greek name for the laurel, even though botanically Daphne and laurels are not related!) A delicious, sweet odor is the hallmark of this lovely shrub, which is native to Europe, North Africa and Asia.
An evergreen or semi evergreen shrub with pinkish-white to pink flowers, divine-smelling Daphne can be grown in varied locales. However, all Daphnes require well amended and fast draining soil that retains enough water to prevent it from drying out completely, semi shade and a cover of mulch over their roots. During the dry season water infrequently, as less water increases flowering next spring. Daphnes do not require much pruning but may be tip pruned for shaping after flowers fade. Feed right after bloom with a complete fertilizer with a neutral pH. Daphnes are great companion plants in an herbaceous border or as a foundation planting around a house. As their flower smell is so intoxicating they are a great choice for a walkway or a semi shaded porch or deck. Their growth habit is slow to moderate and size amongst varieties varies from a low mat to shrubs that can reach 5 feet tall. Most Daphne do not transplant well, so site the plant where it will live permanently. All parts of Daphne plants are poisonous. Daphne is deer resistant.
Some Daphne selections for Sonoma County:
D. odora (winter daphne)
D. cneorum (garland daphne)
D. x burkwoodii