How to Grow Wintersweet

The Sweet Aroma Will Keep You Warm All Winter Long

Winter sweet blossoms set against a bright blue sky.

Tetsuya Tanooka/Getty Images

In This Article

Depending on where a person lives, winter can be a grey, cold, dreary time of year. Most plants in the landscape, except the random splash of green from a holly here or a conifer there, have left their color behind until the thaw of spring. 

Winter can be bright, happy, hopeful, and smell as sunny and warm as an early spring day. All this can be accomplished with the planting of one winter-blooming shrub. Chimonanthus praecox, or wintersweet as it is commonly called, will give anyone’s winter landscape that much-needed burst of color. 

Throughout most of the year, when other plants are in the spotlight, wintersweet is overlooked. The real show begins when the foliage falls away and reveals the stark gray stems that will soon have bursts of pendulous yellow flowers that have a waxy translucent appearance erupting along each branch.

The shrub’s whole aesthetic is an exercise in contrast. It is also called Japanese allspice and is especially loved in Japan where it was introduced in the 17th century from its native China. The design aspect of using negative space and the use of contrast is an excellent reason the shrub makes a beautiful addition to winter-interest Japanese Gardens, where the play on juxtaposition is highly desirable.

Adding wintersweet along with winter hazel, some well-placed dwarf conifers, striped bark Japanese maple or red twig dogwood makes a stunning statement using negative space, color, and line during the winter.

It has also been said that wintersweet has the most beautiful aroma of any flower. Like most beauty, it is fleeting. It only lasts around one month and then it is gone until the next winter. The smell is especially strong during relatively warm winter nights after cool days that allow the volatile oils to vaporize. These are usually the last days that the shrub is in bloom, and it is at this point that Wintersweet just needs to be breathed in. 

The availability of wintersweet online makes this shrub a no-brainer as an addition to any landscape that needs some winter interest. It is worth putting it in the landscape for the fragrance alone.

Botanical Name  Chimonanthus praecox
Common Name  Wintersweet, Japanese allspice
Plant Type   Woody shrub
Mature Size  10 to 15 ft. Ht.8 to12ft. in Width
Sun Exposure  Full sun to part shade
Soil Type  Moist, fertile, well-drained
Soil pH  6-8
Bloom Time  Winter
Flower Color  Yellowish with purplish-brown centers
Hardiness Zones  7 to 9, USA
Native Area   China
Toxicity  Yes

Wintersweet Care

When nurturing wintersweet it is best to plant from an established seedling, since growing a plant from seed means it can take years or decades before blooms will appear.

The plant's location should also be carefully considered. An area where the fragrance can be enjoyed and experienced without effort is a good bet. Along a path, by a door, or around a gateway are great options.

Also, think of the visual impact of the translucent yellow blooms. These really work best when they are cleanly backlit by the sun.

Once a suitable site is selected take care to plant wintersweet correctly. It should go in a hole twice as wide as the root ball or container is deep. Once planted, mulch the shrub to a depth of three inches out to the dripline but not allowing the mulch material to touch the trunk. This will aid in moisture retention while the plant is watered deeply until it is established. This should be about one full season.  

Light

To encourage your wintersweet to produce more blooms, plant it in a location that receives full sun

Soil

Wintersweet thrives in moist, fertile, well-drained acidic or alkaline soils.

Water

Water generously until established. Once established, regular watering is still needed during the summer and in cases of high temperatures or drought.

Temperature and Humidity

Wintersweet is hardy to USDA Zones 7-9, although there are cases of it growing in Zone 6 in protected areas. 

Fertilizer

Fertilizer is not needed but can help with flowering. A 5-30-5 liquid fertilizer will help produce more blooms on your wintersweet.

Is Wintersweet Toxic?

Although used in traditional Chinese medicine, all parts of the plant are toxic to humans if ingested in large enough quantities.

Pruning

After the plant is established, the shrub has bloomed in the winter, and the flowers have abscised (the botanical term for leaves or flowers falling off), wintersweet should have seasonal maintenance performed. 

The shrub’s oldest stems should be cut down to almost ground level to ensure new, healthy growth during the coming year. This will help to bolster the number of flowers that come on next winter’s stems and keep the wintersweet orderly

.