11 Great Fragrant Trees for Your Landscape

Make Your Selection Based on Color, Height, Care, and More

Snowy white cherry plum blossom in winter
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If an appealing scent is the goal, most of the trees that qualify are not towering shade trees reaching for the sky, but are more likely to be smaller flowering species. Think about it: A fragrant flower does you little good if it's way up in the air where you can't smell it. Smaller specimens carry the day over their taller cousins almost every time when it comes to bringing sweet scents to the yard. You can also train some shrubs and vines to grow as small trees by removing their lower branches—such creations are called "standards."

Caution

One person's perfume can be another's foul stench. Be aware that not all your neighbors—or even all the members of your own family—will treasure the scent of a flowering tree the same way you do. There are many people who react badly to the perfume of flowering trees, and some are even allergic to it. It's a good idea to consult neighbors and family members before choosing a flowering tree. Strong-smelling species such as lilac can be especially troublesome to some people.

Here are 11 good choices if you are looking for a tree to add fragrance to your landscape. The variety is selected so that you can base your choice on whatever characteristics are most important to you: foliage, fruit, maintenance, flower color, or size.

  • 01 of 11

    Apple Trees (Malus domestica)

    White apple blossoms.

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    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9 (depending on variety)
    • Color Varieties: White or pinkish white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Medium-moisture, slightly acidic, well-drained soil

    The Malus genus includes roughly 50 species of apple trees, ranging from dwarf varieties that are barely 6 feet tall to species that can serve as small shade trees at 30 feet or more. Apple trees yield not only sweet-smelling fragrant flowers but also edible fruit, provided there is suitable pollinator present.The varieties grown for edible apples are mostly cultivars from Malus domestica. One of the more popular multitasking varieties to grow is 'Honeycrisp', which matures to about 20 feet tall with a similar spread. The flowers generally appear in April, giving way to full-bodied fruit that matures in early to mid-fall.

    The Cameron Select brand of 'Honeycrisp' is a dwarf tree, standing just 8 to 10 feet tall.

  • 02 of 11

    Crabapple Trees (Malus spp.)

    White crabapple flowers in bloom.

    Cimmerian/Getty Images

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: White, pink, purple, red
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Medium-moisture, slightly acidic, well-drained soil

    Closely related to the Malus domestica varieties of eating apples, the crabapple species within the Malus genus are grown principally for the profuse flowers appearing in early spring. Crabapples come in a variety of sizes, from 7 feet to 20 feet or more, and feature a broader range of flower color variations. There are also fruitless cultivars available (such as the white-flowered 'Spring Snow') if you don't like the mess created by the dropping fruit.

    Crabapples produce a spectacular flush of blooms for about 10 days in mid- to late spring. The fruit is sometimes used in pies and jams, but these trees are generally grown for their flowers, which have a decidedly sweet smell.

  • 03 of 11

    Lilac (Syringa spp.)

    Lilac bush blooming with lilac-colored flowers.

     Antema/Getty Images

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Color Varieties: White, lavender, reddish-purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained soil

    Even though they're technically classified as shrubs, lilacs can grow so large (up to 16 feet) that they can serve as small trees in many landscape applications. If tree-like height is the goal, choose cultivars from the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) species, not more compact kinds such as Syringa pubescens subsp. patula 'Miss Kim' (4 to 9 feet tall).

    Another lilac species, Syringa reticulata, is known as a Japanese tree lilac. It grows with a more classic tree-like habit to a height of up to 30 feet. Its fragrance is attractive but considerably less intense than common lilac.

    Lilacs generally bloom in May, near the same time as crabapples. The scent is very potent and the bloom period lasts for about two weeks. These shrubs can colonize quickly unless you keep suckers trimmed off at ground level.

  • 04 of 11

    Golden Chain Tree (Laburnu x watereri)

    Golden chain trees pleached to form an archway.

    Richard Klune/Getty Images

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, medium-moisture, well-drained soil

    The golden racemes of Laburnum x watereri trees are bound to delight you most with their visual beauty, but they also pack a potent scent. Golden chain's display is like a shooting star, bursting onto the scene with incredible brilliance for a short period (spring, when the tree blooms) but then leaving just as suddenly with no bonus features to replace the floral display. So take sequence of bloom into account when planning your yard's design.

    These trees grow 15 to 25 feet tall with about the same spread. A similar plant for warmer zones is Gardenia jasminoides. These shrubs can become 8 feet tall (5 to 6 feet wide), essentially functioning as small trees if trained properly. Grow them in zones 8 to 11, in partial shade.

    All parts of the golden chain plant are poisonous. Although fatality is rare, ingestion may cause symptoms ranging from severe vomiting to coma.

    Continue to 5 of 11 below.
  • 05 of 11

    Purple Leaf Sandcherry (Prunus x cistena)

    Branch of sand cherry in bloom.

    Nancy Nehring/Getty Images 

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained soil

    This tall shrub is best known for the purple color of its leaves. The sweetly fragrant white flowers blooming in mid-spring are a bonus, and the fruit that follows is attractive to birds. Purple leaf sandcherry grows 7 to 14 feet high, with a spread of 7 to 10 feet. The flowers are mainly pink when they first open; as the color fades, the blossoms become white. This is an excellent small specimen tree or accent tree.

  • 06 of 11

    Silk Tree (Albizia julibrissin)

    Silk tree branch in bloom.

    BasieB/Getty Images 

    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil

    Albizia julibrissin is known as a high-maintenance plant in some regions, mostly because its invasive growth habit requires constant attention. The pink flowers appear later than most flowering trees, in June and July. The flowers are not only fragrant but also exotic-looking, and the fern-like foliage is also interesting. Silk trees have mature dimensions of 20 to 40 feet tall, with a slightly wider spread.

  • 07 of 11

    Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia spp.)

    Beautiful crepe myrtle blooms in morning light with blue sky in background. Crepe myrtle or Lagerstroemia indica or Saru-suberi.
    Tony Nguyen / Getty Images
    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 10
    • Color Varieties: Rose to red
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil

    Unlike many flowering trees and shrubs, the crape myrtles from the Lagerstroemia genus fill the landscape with color in late summer and early fall rather than in spring. Lagerstroemia indica may be the best-known crape myrtle in the U.S., along with the hybrid cultivar, 'Natchez'. But only one species myrtle has truly fragrant flowers—the Japanese type (Lagerstroemia fauriei). This 35-to-50-foot plant (25 to 35 feet wide) is suited to zones 6 to 10. Beyond the fragrance of its flowers, its benefits include resistance to powdery mildew and attractive peeling bark in a cinnamon color.

  • 08 of 11

    American Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens)

    American Wisteria
    Jim McKinley / Getty Images
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Humusy, well-drained, slightly acidic soil

    Wisteria is a climbing woody vine, but it can easily be trained as a standard to look and function like a tree. There are three main species of wisteria—American (W. frutescens), Chinese (W. sinensis), and Japanese (W. floribunda). While the Asian forms are the most fragrant, they can be seriously invasive in North America, so the American wisteria, which grows to about 16 feet long, is the recommended type.

    Continue to 9 of 11 below.
  • 09 of 11

    Cherry Plums (Prunus cerasifera)

    Snowy white cherry plum blossom in winter
    Whiteway / Getty Images
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained loam

    The cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera) is a tall shrub (up to 30 feet) with notably fragrant flowers that appear in April. Shorter cultivars are also available if you prefer a more shrubby plant. With the species form, it's best to remove the lower branches to give it a tree form.

  • 10 of 11

    Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)

    Arbor Day
    susan.k. / Getty Images
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 10
    • Color Varieties: White
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Acidic, medium moisture to wet soil

    Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) ranges in size from 10 to 60 feet in height and from 10 to 35 feet in width, depending on the zone in which grows. Its flowers appear in late spring, emitting a lemony scent, At the northern end of its hardiness range, this tree will need protection from the cold to survive the winter. In colder climates, it tends to grow as a multi-stemmed shrub, remaining only about 10 to 20 feet tall, but in the warmer south, it often grows as a single-trunked evergreen tree as much as 60 feet tall.

  • 11 of 11

    Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

    Green Foliage of the Evergreen Coniferous Weeping Eastern Hemlock Shrub (Tsuga canadensis 'Pendula') in a Park
    pcturner71 / Getty Images
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Non-flowering
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil

    Canadian hemlock is the exception on this list when it comes to choosing fragrant trees that are short enough to easily enjoy their sweet-smelling flowers. Not only is this a very tall tree (as much as 80 feet), but it doesn't flower at all: Tsuga canadensis is a conifer. Its fragrance comes from the evergreen needles covering the branches.

    As an evergreen, this plant is also great for the winter landscape. In fact, you can harvest the sweet-smelling boughs and use them in natural Christmas decorations. Canadian hemlocks can make for great hedges if maintained as shrubs.