10 Top Fragrant Shrubs

Shrubs have many uses in the landscape, but gardeners who appreciate sweet-smelling plants will be especially drawn to the most fragrant shrubs. Whether cold-hardy or tropical, bushes in this group are valued for scenting the air and thereby diversifying the enjoyment of your yard. The blooms on many of these also boast great beauty.

  • 01 of 10
    At Last rose in bloom.
    David Beaulieu

    Roses are practically synonymous with fragrant shrubs in the minds of many gardeners, although not all types of roses are aromatic. Rosa At Last is one type that does smell great. It is also compact (3 feet x 3 feet), has double blooms, is easy to grow, is disease-resistant, and blooms for a long time. Grow it in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 to 9 in full sun.

  • 02 of 10
    Lilac bush blooming with lilac-colored flowers.

     Antema/Getty Images

    Although there are other kinds of lilac bushes (Syringa) that give off a strong smell (many of them fairly new cultivars), the traditional common lilac (S. vulgaris) still offers the best fragrance. Miss Kim (S. pubescens subsp. patula Miss Kim) and Bloomerang (S. x Bloomerang), for example, have powerful scents and appeal to many gardeners because of their more compact size (S. vulgaris can become an unwieldy 20 feet tall), but they can't hold a candle to the common lilac when it comes to smell.

    Very cold-hardy bushes, common lilacs can be grown in zones 3 to 7. Locate them in full sun and in a rich, loamy soil.

  • 03 of 10
    Korean spice viburnum flower head.
    David Beaulieu

    Korean Spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii) is such a fragrant shrub that one of its other common names is "fragrant spicebush." Reaching 4 to 6 feet tall, it puts out clusters of sweet-smelling flowers. As a bonus, it is a great shrub for fall color.

    This bush is suitable for zones 4 to 7. Install it in full sun or partial shade.

  • 04 of 10

    Carol Mackie is a Burkwood cultivar of daphne (Daphne x burkwoodii Carol Mackie), another being Briggs Moonlight. It is not only one of the most fragrant shrubs but also one with variegated leaves. Carol Mackie is compact, maturing to about 3 feet tall.

    Recommended for zones 4 to 8, Carol Mackie should be grown in partial sun to partial shade. Provide the bush with a rich soil that drains sharply.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Purple-Leaf Sand Cherry

    Branch of sand cherry in bloom.

    Nancy Nehring/Getty Images 

    Purple-leaf sand cherry (Prunus × cistena) has sweet-smelling blossoms in spring, but this ornamental cherry has value throughout the growing season thanks to its purplish foliage. Purple-leaf sand cherry can reach a tree-like 14 feet tall if allowed to, but many choose to keep it pruned down to more of a shrub size of 5 to 7 feet.

    Very cold-hardy, purple-leaf sand cherry is suited to zones 2 to 8. Place it in a full-sun location, give it adequate drainage, and water it moderately. 

  • 06 of 10

    Andromeda

    Pieris japonica shrub in bloom.
    kate pabst/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

    For a fragrant shrub that blooms in very early spring, try Andromeda (Pieris japonica). The smell may be an acquired taste (some complain the fragrance is too sweet), but no one can deny that it gives off a strong aroma. The flowers look like those on lily-of-the-valley. The shrub can reach 6 to 8 feet tall.

    Grow this bush in moist, well-drained ground in zones 5 to 7. Partial shade is the best location. 

  • 07 of 10

    Angel's Trumpet

    Pink angel's trumpet shrub in bloom.

    Luis Diaz Devesa/Getty Images 

    Nothing scents the evening air during the summertime quite like an angel's trumpet bush (Brugmansia). This fragrant shrub can grow several feet tall if supplied with enough water and compost, in which case it will be covered with trumpet-shaped blooms (100 flowers on a large bush is common).

    A tropical plant, Northerners should grow it in a large pot in full sun in the summer, cut it back in fall, then overwinter the root system in a basement (watering infrequently). Angel's trumpet is a poisonous plant, so this is a shrub to keep away from children and pets.

  • 08 of 10
    Mock orange bush in bloom.
    David Beaulieu

    Philadelphus coronarius is one of the more popular mock orange bushes to grow, but the Buckley's Quill cultivar is one of the better performers. Buckley's Quill has double white flowers that give off a smell that will remind you of an orange (thus the common name of "mock orange"). Take advantage of their white flowers to include them in a moon garden. Buckley's Quill becomes 6 to 8 feet tall without pruning.

    Buckley's Quill is listed for zones 4 to 9. It has average water needs and will grow in full sun to partial shade, although, in the North, full sun is better to achieve the best flowering display.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10
    Privet shrub in bloom.

    Diane Macdonald/Getty Images 

    Most types of privet (Ligustrum) bear fragrant white flowers that are followed by black berries, even though most gardeners think of these plants mainly as hedge plants. Common privet (L. vulgaris) becomes 4 to 15 feet tall if left untrimmed. If you are growing privet for its smell but do not want such a big plant on your property, trim it after it is done flowering. But some homeowners growing it as an individual specimen (rather than in a hedge) prune away the bottom branches and let it become tree-like.

    You can grow common privet in zones 5 to 8 in full sun to partial shade, but most who grow a privet as a specimen choose one of the other species/cultivars, such as the Texanum cultivar of wax privet (L. japonicum).

  • 10 of 10
    Gardenia plant in bloom.
    Mas042/Getty Images

    Gardenia jasminoides is another bush that Northerners can't grow outdoors year-round. It is hardy only in zones 8 to 11. But that does not stop many Northerners from including it in their patio landscaping for the summer and then treating it as a houseplant for the winter.

    You can't really blame them. Gardenia is easily one of the most fragrant shrubs, and it offers dark-green, glossy foliage to boot. It gets 5 to 6 feet tall.

    When growing it outdoors, give it partial shade, good drainage, a moderate amount of water, and compost. It is one of the plants that like growing in acidic soil

Fragrance Does Not Come From Flowers, Alone

Lavender is an example of a shrub with great fragrance that gets that smell from its foliage, which is often dried and used in potpourri. A number of other perennials, ground covers, and herbs grace the landscape with aromatic leaves. The wonderful thing about relying on foliage (rather than flowers) for fragrance is that leaves stay around a lot longer than do flowers.