What’s that fragrance perfuming the garden air? It’s tea olive, the glossy-leaved shrub known by the scientific name Osmanthus fragrans. Commonly, you can call the plant tea olive or sweet olive, as both names nod to the sweet scent emitted by the plant’s tiny, white blooms. This species belongs to the genus Osmanthus.
Osmanthus species are drought-tolerant, evergreen shrubs that thrive in full sun or partial shade. Their calling card is the deeply fragrant blooms that decorate the branches, which appear throughout the year. The flowers appear as tiny white blossoms, but their size belies their big, floral perfume. Their biggest bloom happens in the spring and summer, but they also bloom intermittently throughout the year, even in the final days of fall.
|10.00 to 15.00 feet High, 10.00 to 15.00 feet Spread
|Full sun to part shade
|Average, consistently moist, well-drained
|5.0 to 7.5
|9 to 11
|Himalayas, Japan, China
Care For Your Tea Olive Tree
This is a very versatile plant that can thrive even with extreme pruning. It can be shaped to fit in small spaces or can be allowed to grow big and sprawling where there is a lot of empty space. The fragrant tea olive is a great option, if you are looking for a small tree that is easy to grow.
These sweet little ornamentals bring great atmosphere to your outdoor living space, if not for their fragrance alone. This plant is perfect for novice gardeners as it has very few basic demands. This low maintenance plant will have the time of its life if you find a spot for it where it can benefit from full sun. Consider partial shade in the afternoon, especially if your summer months are especially hot.
The tea olive tree can also take many shapes and can be trained into nearly every planting form you can imagine: shrub, tree, hedge, screen or privacy planting, espalier—even a container plant. In the way of garden responsibilities, there’s not much that this plant can’t take on.
On the other hand, if your area experiences very hot months during the summer, we recommend you plant your fragrant tea olive where it will experience some partial afternoon shade.
Although the tea olive tree can thrive in full sun, summer heat that reaches extremes does not allow this plant to thrive. Partial shade, especially in the afternoon, can really help along the growth of this easy going ornamental.
This friendly plant will appreciate almost any ordinary garden soil as long as it is of good quality. It also prefers an acidic to a neutral substrate that comes along with very nice drainage overall. Aim to plant your tea olive in soil that features a pH ranging from 5.0 to 7.5.
When young, the tea olive tree will require some water to establish roots. As with so many other ornamental plants, they will not tolerate constantly soggy or wet soil conditions, which can lead to root rot and other harmful plant diseases. Be careful to avoid overwatering.
Fertilize with a well-balanced, slow-release blend once or twice yearly, before new growth begins in the spring and again at the end of summer. Alternatively, you can feed with a natural organic plant food. To avoid stimulating new growth that could be damaged by an early frost, cease fertilization two weeks prior to the average first frost date in your area.
Tea Olive Tree Selections
«Butter Yellow» produces lots of butter-yellow flowers. «Fudingzhu» is an outstanding form, more cold hardy and not as large as the species, and it blooms for a much longer time with large, showy clusters of blooms. «Orange Supreme» is a well-shaped plant with bright orange blossoms. O.f. aurantiacus has narrower, less glossy leaves than the species; its crop of wonderfully fragrant orange flowers in concentrated in early fall.
Common Problem With Tea Olive Trees
Common pests and diseases can interfere with growth, and Osmanthus shrubs can sometimes lose their foliage suddenly. This happens more frequently with plants that are grown indoors, but it can happen in the garden also. The most common issues that can lead to leaf drop in Osmanthus include sudden and extreme changes in temperature, under watering, insufficient lighting, and fungal infections.
More Fragrant Bloomers
In addition to tea olive, Southern gardeners have many options for growing fragrant plants in their gardens that come in a variety of formats, including vines, shrubs, and trees. For climbers, there’s always climbing roses, wisteria, and clematis. But honeysuckle, a sweet, honeyed scented vine, is a Southern favorite because it’s heat tolerant and hardy. Heavenly scented jasmine is an evergreen vine that can also be used as a ground cover. Deeply fragrant «Honey Perfume» roses are a deciduous shrub option, while intensely scented gardenias are a Southern classic, evergreen shrub. And don’t forget Southern magnolia trees with their large, powerfully scented flowers that can grow 20- to 80-feet high depending on the species selected.
Do you have any tea olives growing in your garden? What’s your favorite fragrant Southern bloomer?
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- Russ K, Williamson J. Tea olive. Home & Garden Information Center, Clemson University, South Carolina.