DAPHNE
last updated 19/12/2014



DAPHNE

Guaranteed to produce gasps of wonder or grimaces of despair, Daphnes will always inspire comment with their exquisite fragrance and beautiful flowers! I should warn you that they are addictive (a bit like Acer, Cornus...............!)

There is such tremendous variety in shape, size and colour that there really is a Daphne for every site and with this versatility, it is almost possible to have continuous flower and scent all through the year.

Where should I plant them?
They have a reputation for being difficult to grow, but we believe that by considering their natural habitat or by grafting them, we can give you good garden worthy plants. Their biggest requirement is a constant moisture level at the roots. If they dry out, the roots will die almost instantly and if they are too wet they will develop all sorts of nasty fungus problems! Thus, the challenge is to find a moist, well drained soil which does not dry out in summer. The first part is more important, since it is easier to add water in the summer if necessary than it is to take it away in the winter! Summer drought can be eased to a major degree by ensuring that the roots are shaded or by mulching. However, avoid organic mulches in favour of gravel to prevent too much wetness around the stem in winter which could cause it to damp off at ground level. This will allow plants to be grown in full sun that might otherwise need light shade for the sake of the roots.

Soil requirements
Acid or alkaline is not usually an issue but consideration should be given to site. For example, D. cneorum comes from the mountains on poor stony soils. It would be unlikely to thrive in heavy shade in leaf mould. Conversely, woodland plants like D. pontica would not be happy on the rockery. Remember that Daphnes tend to root straight down - they rarely go out sideways. Thus when planting, ensure they have opportunity to develop a good deep root run. As their roots descend, they will more easily survive the vagaries of the English summer.

Can I grow them in a pot?
Daphnes are notoriously difficult to grow in pots due to their precise water requirements. Many will be happy, indeed, effective for a season, but the problems start when they need potting on. Compost in a pot will slump - ie it will become stale and loose the air pockets between the particles of compost which leads to waterlogging. Not good news for Daphnes. Unfortunately, they dislike root disturbance, so repotting is a risky business. Of course alpine enthusiasts have their own techniques which can result in some truly beautiful plants in pots, but it is not for the faint hearted!

How do we grow them on the nursery?
We grow them on capillary beds which provide this moist but free draining situation fairly well. The plants which we sell are in 1 or 2 litre pots depending largely on the variety. Some Daphnes are slow growing and eventually will only be the size of a football. Inevitably, these cultivars will be relatively small when acquired. They will however, be well established young plants, not just rooted cuttings. They are best planted as soon as possible after you receive them. If you tease out the root very gently and make the planting hole deeper than usual, it is possible to give the roots added depth straight away. This will help the water situation. All our Daphnes are now grown in a soil based compost. This minimises the difference between the growing media in the post and the soil into which it will be planted, by comparison with a peat based compost. Thus your Daphne should grow away more readily. However, you do need to handle them more carefully. The soil based compost lacks the "string bits" in the peat based mix, so does not hold together in quite the same way as you remove it from it's pot. A good watering before you try tipping it out will help release it and is good practise prior to planting anyway.

Larger plants for immediate effect
Changing to a soil based compost for Daphnes has also allowed us to pot some on to give more immediate effect. The different compost seems to work so much better, which is great news as so many of you have expressed an interest in larger plants. This first season will see various Daphne bholua available, which should also flower next winter.

How do we propagate them?
The majority will be grafted (it is probably obvious from the prices which are not!) We generally use D. tangutica as a hardy, evergreen rootstock which is one of the easier to grow. Some people use D. mezereum but we cannot agree with this since it freely produces suckers which need to be removed and it cannot help to graft an evergreen plant onto a deciduous rootstock! We find that most Daphnes will root readily enough, but persuading them to grow away subsequently is another matter. Therefore, by growing them onto an established vigorous rootstock, they grow away much more quickly. Thus although they may seem to cost a little more, we would like to stress that they are good strong plants which should thrive in the garden!

We have tried to make the choicer, more alpine types into useable garden plants rather than specialist plants for the collector. However, as a result of grafting, they are not suitable for growing in tufa or similar.

Nomenclature
In my efforts to comply with current naming policies, I have followed Plantfinder. The particular area of change is the introduction of species names for the new hybrids. So instead of a variety of unrelated cultivar names, they are now grouped by their breeding origins (ie parentage) under a specific epitaph. This should make things clearer in the long run, but in the short term it does make it harder to find plants which were previously known only by their cultivar name.

Toxicity
Please be aware that the sap of Daphnes can cause irritation to sensitive skin. The berries are also toxic. I am required to remind you not to eat them!

There are never half measures with Daphnes, they either do or die! If it does not thrive, get on and move it. If necessary, keep moving it until it does thrive!

Good Luck!


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