Winter scented shrubs

yellow spidery flowers on a deciduous bow
Grow Witch Hazel to enjoy unusual flowers with an intoxicating scent
Image Source: Shutterstock

Winter scented plants will lift your spirits at any time of year. When the long, warm days of summer are a distant memory, the delicious scent of fragrant flowers is a welcome tonic.

Many winter flowering shrubs are perfume powerhouses, and their fragrances can be enjoyed from all around the garden. Their blooms have such heady scents to attract pollinators, which is no mean feat, given that there are relatively few pollinators around in winter. It works, though! On a sunny day, the sight of early emerging bees homing in on scented flowers is a wonderful sight.

Fragrant winter flowering shrub varieties

Pollution-resistant Sarcococca Confusa is a good choice for city-dwelllers
Image Source: Sarcococca Confusa Large Plant from Van Meuwen

Fragrant winter shrubs thrive in most gardens, large or small. They come in a variety of forms, and suit a broad range of conditions, so even novice gardeners can enjoy winter scents. Grow them in containers on a small patio, or plant individually as specimen plants for a strong architectural statement (Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’ is particularly attractive for this). Alternatively, plant them as hedges – Elaeagnus x ebbingei works well for this.

In suntrap gardens, grow Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’, which thrives in full sun or partial shade. If you’re an urban gardener, try Sarcococca confusa, a tough shrub that even grows in shady spots in polluted city centres.

Many deciduous shrubs flower on naked stems, and stand out so even smaller blooms are a cheery sight from across the garden. For a more dramatic display in the deepest winter, evergreen Sarcococca confusa has an abundance of flowers in bloom at the same time as holding berries on its stems.

Making the most of winter fragrance

pink blooms of viburnum
Plant Viburnum x Bodnantense ‘Dawn’ near your door to enjoy the scent
Image source: Vibunrnum x Bodnantense ‘Dawn’ at Van Meuwen

There is a small hedge of Sarcococca confusa growing in deep shade in the courtyard through which we walk to access our house. Its position means we can enjoy its heady scents with no extra effort as we go about our day.

Plant winter scented shrubs near a path or door you use regularly to make the most of their fragrance. If you can, position your plant in an enclosed space like a courtyard, so its perfume is held there by the walls. You’ll get much more enjoyment from your winter flowering shrubs if you plant them somewhere you walk past every day, or in a spot where the scent lingers.

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a delightful, but rather neglected Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ in a garden. I smelt its perfume and followed my nose, only to discover this sweetly scented plant hidden behind a summerhouse at the end of a large garden. Had the wind been in any other direction that day, that enticing fragrance would have been wafting around a flock of sheep.

When siting your winter scented shrubs, be aware of your property boundaries. Pick a spot that maximises the opportunity for the prevailing wind to pick up the perfume and bring it into your garden, rather than buffeting it towards neighbouring properties – although your neighbours will appreciate a midwinter gift of floral perfume.

Of course, there are days in winter when even the most sublime fragrance won’t tempt us outdoors. Cut small branches of beautifully perfumed winter flowering shrubs and enjoy an attractive, fragranced display in the house, even during bad weather.

Pruning winter flowering shrubs

 lovely yellow flowers
Try elegant Chimonanthus Praecox in a well-trodden path border, or against your house wall
Image source: Chimonanthus Praecox at Van Meuwen

Evergreen winter flowering shrubs are very low-maintenance and require little pruning, so it’s fine to leave them be. If they really need a tidy, prune them after they have flowered to avoid any frost damage to new shoots.

Deciduous winter flowering shrubs may be pruned immediately after flowering. They flower on the previous year’s wood, so prune them as soon as you can. Try not to prune the shrub too late, as this removes next year’s flowers too.

It’s best to leave early flowering magnolias until midsummer, as they bleed when pruned too early.

Top winter scented shrubs for your garden

lovely pink blossom plants
Daphne bhoula ‘Jacqueline Postill’ has a spring-blossom feeling in the depths of winter
Image source: Daphne bhoula ‘Jacqueline Postill’ at Van Meuwen

Here are a few of my favourite winter scented plants to try out.

Sarah Shoesmith

Author: Sarah Shoesmith

Sarah Shoesmith was awarded the Centenary Prize by the Royal Horticultural Society in 2003, and gained a Distinction in the Diploma in Garden Design from The English Gardening School. She is passionate about gardening for wildlife and growing food, and writes about gardening for magazines and other sites.

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