Osmanthus plants are wonderful shrubs that are sure to bring a lot of color and variety into your garden, which aren’t hugely picky about their growing conditions, making them suitable for a huge range of garden landscapes and designs.
They’ll provide color throughout the year with their attractive, evergreen leaves. If you pick the right variety, they will also flower in spring.
Interested? Here’s everything you should know about growing osmanthus.
At a Glance: What You Should Know About Osmanthus
Osmanthus are perfect for making a focal point in sunlight or shade, but one thing you do have to know is that they are slow to establish, and have a fairly slow-growth rate to begin with.
You’ll need some patience if you want to grow osmanthus, as they will take their time to establish their roots into new soil, up to two years, depending on the variety.
Osmanthus is part of the olive plant family, and you’ll also see it labeled under the fragrant olive, devilwood (see also Osmanthus Flower Meaning), or sweet osmanthus.
The evergreen leaves are holly-like in shape with toothed edges, in a glossy, rich green. During fall, they’ll transform into a sunshine-yellow, deepening into red.
Sometimes, with the foliage so like a holly, it can be difficult to tell the difference. The trick is in the way the leaves form along the stem. Osmanthus leaves grow in pairs, while on holly, the leaves grow across the stem.
In the right conditions, a mature osmanthus may get as tall as 25 feet tall if there’s enough room, but the more likely eventual height is about 12 feet by 8 feet wide.
You can also prune it to be smaller, if you prefer.
The flowers usually appear in spring, but you can get autumn-flowering cultivars, too. Typically, these flowers are ivory, sometimes orange, featuring four petals per flower, and appearing on the stalks, in between the leaves.
If given the right conditions, blue berries may also follow the flowers, which are a great food source for the birds in your garden.
How to Grow Osmanthus in Your Own Garden
The right time to introduce an osmanthus shrub into your garden is during spring and autumn, when the growth is less pronounced.
If your garden gets very cold during winter, plant your osmanthus in spring, so it can grow the necessary roots before winter descends.
Sunlight and Position
Pick a sheltered spot with well-draining soil that never gets too boggy. This soil can be acidic or neutral, as long as it drains well, your osmanthus will thrive.
In terms of light, osmanthus can survive in both sun and partial shade, but wherever you choose to position it, make sure there’s plenty of airflow around the plant.
It’s worth noting that the darker the position, the fewer flowers your osmanthus plant will produce.
If you pick a cultivar with variegated leaves, your osmanthus needs a bright position, but somewhere that gets some shade during the afternoon, as variegated leaves cannot stand as much direct sunlight as fully-green foliage can.
When to Water Osmanthus
For the first two years or so, you’ll need to keep an eye on your osmanthus during long dry periods.
Water deeply when osmanthus is suffering from a dry spell, which will encourage the roots to grow deeper into the ground, not only anchoring the plant but also helping it grow better.
Once it has settled into the ground, it should take care of itself after that, only requiring a good drenching when the soil has been dry for too long.
Remember, plants that are kept in pots need to be watered more often than if they were in the ground, as containers don’t retain moisture for anywhere near as long as in the ground.
Osmanthus likes warm temperatures in a sheltered position. It’s worth noting that it’ll survive winters as long as the temperature doesn’t drop below 10°F (-12°C), as long as the air is dry.
That might come as a surprise, but it’s not temperature that will kill off an osmanthus, as long as the temperature decline is gradual, and the air isn’t wet.
It’s the combination of moisture and freezing temperatures that are likely to kill an osmanthus.
Should You Feed Osmanthus?
Osmanthus benefits from a good yearly mulch in spring. Avoid covering the leaves or stems, but mulch well around the soil of the bottom of the plant, with bark, compost, or leaf mold.
This is also a good time to feed the plant, too. Use a balanced, all-purpose general fertilizer, but remember, you’ll need to water it well after feeding it, unless the fertilizer needs diluting to begin with.
With osmanthus, you won’t need to get out your secateurs very often. When you do take them to your osmanthus, it will likely be because you want to restrict the height of the shrub, or to reshape it.
When you should do this is dictated by the variety. For osmanthus cultivars that flower in spring, trim them back just after they’ve finished blooming.
For those you’re growing for their foliage, trim them back in the last few weeks of spring.
How to Propagate Osmanthus
You can use cutting or layering methods to propagate osmanthus, as both are pretty fool-proof. Make sure you take a few cuttings at a time to improve chances of success.
Pick young and healthy shoots in late summer, remove the lower leaves, and pop them into a container of damp, good quality compost. The best place to put these pots is in a heated propagator, until you see signs of new growth.
To propagate by layering, select healthy and new growth at the base of the plant. Use a sharp, clean knife to remove some bark and fix the new growth into place with a peg.
It may take up to a year for the roots to form, at which point you can remove the new plant and pot it up until it’s ready to go into the ground.
Varieties of Osmanthus You Should Try, At Least Once
Osmanthus x burkwoodii ‘Burkwood Osmanthus’
This type of osmanthus will reach a height of about 8 feet tall given the right conditions.
Because the leaves are a deep green, the burkwood osmanthus is suitable for growing in a position of full sunlight, where it will produce the most abundant, perfumed white flowers it is capable of in the first few weeks of spring.
Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘False Holly’
Often confused with a true holly plant, the false holly osmanthus is an autumn-flowering shrub, producing tiny, sweetly-perfumed flowers for lovely autumn color.
The leaves are very serrated and prickly, so avoid planting near paths or patios. In fact, it makes a good deterrent to have below downstairs windows, or by the side of your border fencing to deter intruders.
Osmanthus fragrans ‘Sweet Osmanthus’
Perhaps the most popular type of osmanthus available, sweet osmanthus is perfect for places that get a lot of warm weather, although you can grow it in colder places if you provide it with some winter protection.
When grown in the right conditions, it can grow up to 20 feet tall, spreading about the same. That’s provided that you don’t prune it to a more manageable size, however.
You can even grow it as a conservatory plant if you like.
How to Bring the Best Out of Osmanthus
Osmanthus is a very versatile plant, able to live in both containers and in the ground, although if you do pick a container, go for a large one, and make sure the osmanthus is small enough to live in it happily for a while.
For container planting, try mixing it with other plants with similar requirements, such as ivy or heather.
If you’d rather grow it in the ground, place it either in the middle or the back of a mixed bed.
To take advantage of its evergreen leaves and height, you could also train it into a hedge, using three plants per meter. With time, they will grow into each other and form a great privacy screen.
Osmanthus plants are perfect for providing your garden with early spring or late autumn flowers, covering the surrounding area with a rich, sweet perfume.
It will attract plenty of pollinators into your garden too, but its growth habit is slow enough that it won’t take over your garden completely, not unless you leave it to its own devices for a very long time.