Winter can be bright, happy, hopeful, and smell as sunny and warm as an early spring day if you have one very special 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 with a waxy, translucent appearance erupting along each branch.
The slow-growing 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. It makes a beautiful addition to winter-interest Japanese gardens.
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 perfect addition to any landscape that needs some winter interest; plant it in the spring or summer. 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||10-15 ft. tall, 8-12 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Moist, fertile, well-drained|
|Flower Color||Yellowish with purplish-brown centers|
|Hardiness Zones||7-9 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to humans and animals|
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 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 3-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.
To encourage your wintersweet to produce more blooms, plant it in a location that receives full sun.
Wintersweet thrives in moist, fertile, well-drained acidic or alkaline soils.
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 is not needed but can help with flowering. A 5-30-5 liquid fertilizer will help produce more blooms on your wintersweet.
- 'Grandiflorus': offers sweetly-scented blooms and butter-yellow flowers
- 'Luteus': has fragrant flowers and dark-green leaves
- 'Chimonanthus nitens': features evergreen leaves and white flowers
After the plant is established, the shrub has bloomed in the winter, and the flowers have fallen 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.
Since wintersweet grown from seed can take nearly 15 years to flower, the best way to propagate wintersweet is by creating stem-cuttings. To do so: Using clean, sharp garden shears, create cuttings but snipping 5-inch lengths, about 2-inches below a flower node on a healthy softwood stem. Dip ends in rooting hormone. Place each stem into a terra-cotta pot filled with seed-starting mix, right up to the nodes. Keep moist. Within six weeks, give or take, you should notice roots. When cuttings are sturdy, replant.