Sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans)

Quick facts and care essentials

• Evergreen
• Climate zones 8, 9, 12-24, 26 (Northern part), 28-31
• Full sun or partial shade
• Regular to moderate watering

Though it naturally forms a mound, this background shrub can be pruned to grow upright where space is limited. It is favored by many for the intense fragrance of its tiny white flowers; just one or two plants can scent the entire garden for months (bloom is heaviest in spring and early summer). Leaves are glossy green, pointed ovals to 4 inches long. Sweet olive grows moderately fast, reaching 10 feet tall and 8 feet wide (if not pruned) in just a few years. With age, it can reach 20 feet. Cold-winter gardeners will have best success with the hybrid O. fortunei, which has a slightly wider range than O. fragrans (Zones 5-10, 14-24, 28, 31, and warmer parts of 32).

Sweet olive is an easy-care plant that performs well in all soil types. It enjoys sun but appreciates afternoon shade in the warmest zones. Pinch out stem tips after bloom to increase bushiness. Where space is limited, stems can be cut back to main branches or to the ground.