In choosing the best fragrant trees to grow, don't get too hung up on your image of what a "tree" is. That word may conjure up a picture in your mind of a gigantic plant that reaches to the sky, but their very height can disqualify such trees. Think about it: A fragrant flower does you little good if it's way up in the air in a place 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.
That's why some of the taller shrubs, too belong in this conversation. They're practically small trees, and your nose can easily reach the aromatic delights they have to offer. You can also train some shrubs and vines to grow as if they were small trees by removing their lower branches, thereby exposing the trunk; such creations are called "standards."
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Apple trees (Malus) yield not only fragrant flowers but also (where a suitable pollinator is provided) edible fruit, making them one of landscaping's multitaskers. A popular variety to grow is Honeycrisp, which:
The Cameron Select brand of Honeycrisp is a dwarf tree, standing just 8 to 10 feet tall.
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Even though they're technically classified as shrubs, many think of lilacs as trees and wouldn't take any list of the most fragrant trees seriously if it didn't include lilacs. Just make sure that, if you want height, you grow the traditional French lilacs (Syringa vulgaris), not more compact kinds such as Syringa pubescens subsp. patula 'Miss Kim' (4 to 9 feet tall). French lilacs (full sun, zones 3 to 7) can get to be as big as 20 feet high, although you'll probably want to prune them to keep them a bit shorter, else your nose won't be able to reach their aromatic flower clusters.
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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 and be sure to complement your golden chains with specimens that are showy at other times of the year so that you achieve a four-season landscape.
These 15-to-25-foot specimens (with a similar spread) grow best in partial sun and in zones 5 to 7. Since that leaves you out if you garden in the South, consider growing a Gardenia jasminoides as a standard, instead. 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.
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This tall shrub is best known for the purple color of its leaves. Its fragrant flowers are a bonus. Prunus x cistena is a very cold-hardy hybrid plant, listed for zones 2 to 8. Locate it in full sun. It becomes 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, they become white.Continue to 5 of 11 below.
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Albizia julibrissin is invasive in some regions, so maintenance can be high: You'll have to pull out any new plants that emerge (if you don't want them around). But if you're willing to put up with the extra care, this is a delightful plant to grow. 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. Grow them in full sun to partial shade, zones 6 to 9.
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'Spring Snow' crabapple has fragrant white flowers. This cultivar is fruitless. That can be a benefit or a drawback, depending on your goals:
It reaches a height of 20 to 25 feet, with a spread of 15 to 20. Grow it in full sun in zones 4 to 8.
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Lagerstroemia indica may be the best-known crape myrtle in the U.S., along with the hybrid cultivar, 'Natchez.' But only one kind of crape myrtle has truly fragrant flowers, and that's the Japanese type (Lagerstroemia fauriei). This 35-to-50-foot plant (25 to 35 feet wide) is suited to zones 6 to 10. Grow it in full sun. Beyond the smell of its flowers, its benefits include that:
- Its powdery-mildew resistance is superior to that of other crape myrtles.
- It displays a pretty peeling bark of a cinnamon color.
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There are three main types of wisteria:
- American (W. frutescens)
- Chinese (W. sinensis)
- Japanese (W. floribunda)
The latter two are the most fragrant. Unhappily, they're both invasive in North America, so the American wisteria is the recommended type to grow there. Any wisteria vine can be trained to become a standard so that it looks like a tree.
American wisteria becomes 16 feet long. Grow it in zones 5 to 8, in full sun.Continue to 9 of 11 below.
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The cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera) is a tall shrub that has fragrant flowers. Although it has shorter cultivars, the species plant (full sun, zones 4 to 8) can reach 30 feet in height (remove the lower branches to give it a tree form if you so desire).
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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 you landscape. While it is listed for USDA planting zones 5 to 10, it needs protection from the cold in zone 5 to survive a winter. This means that, practically speaking, it is more of a tree of the Mid-Atlantic U.S. and of the Southeast. It is, however, hardier than another fragrant tree, the Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), which is best grown in zones 7 to 9.
Give sweetbay magnolia full sun to partial shade. The zone you're growing it in also influences whether it will have broadleaf-evergreen leaves or deciduous foliage: It's more likely to be evergreen the farther south you are. But the tree is grown mainly for its fragrant flowers, which give off a lemony scent.
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Canadian hemlock is the exception on this list when it comes to choosing fragrant trees short enough for you to be able to access their sweet-smelling flowers easily. But that's because it doesn't flower: Tsuga canadensis is a conifer. The fragrance to enjoy from it comes from the evergreen needles of its branches, which you should be able to access for years, even though the plant does eventually reach 80 feet tall (and if that height is an issue, just prune it to keep it at a smaller size).
If appreciating heady aromas is a big part of the gardening experience for you, then you will want to leave no stone unturned in seeking fragrant options. Lesson #1 is to realize how many great-smelling plants there are that don't have fragrant flowers: It's their vegetation that has such a wonderful scent. Evergreens such as Canadian hemlock trees aren't the only plants that fall into this category. In fact, the most popular plants with fragrant leaves are herbs.