A daphne plant (Daphne spp.) adds to the excitement of early spring with showy, fragrant flowers perfuming the air and stirring enthusiasm for the upcoming growing season. While this shrub does have a reputation for being high maintenance, with well-timed care you can keep it strong and blooming well. Daphne shrubs grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9, depending on the species.
Water daphne shrubs with 2 to 3 gallons of water, applied slowly around the base, then allow the soil to dry out before watering again. The soil type and weather dictate how often you'll need to water -- sandy soil drains fast while heavier soils hold water. In general, plan to water once a week in winter and up to three times a week during hot summer weather, but adjust the frequency to allow the soil to dry out. Daphne plants prefer being a little dry rather than too wet.
Fertilize in Spring
Keep daphne shrubs growing lush and healthy with an annual, early spring application of fertilizer. Select a balanced fertilizer, like a 5-5-5 or a 10-10-10 formula in granular form. Base the amount on the size of your daphne shrub, using 1 tablespoon for each 1 inch of plant height, sprinkled evenly onto the soil around the base of the trunk and extending out to the area under the widest branches. Water the fertilizer into the soil. Check the product's label, as rates vary by brand.
Pruning and Trimming
Before pruning a daphne plant, clean a pair of hand-held pruning shears with a mix of equal parts rubbing alcohol and water. Prune daphne to shape in late spring or early summer after the flowering period ends. Clip off the tips of the growing branches to control the shape and stimulate new growth. If you prefer a more natural shape, don't prune the plant at all. Sanitize your tools after pruning and then allow them to dry before you store them.
Aphids and Scale Insects
Aphids occasionally plague daphne plants. Start by dislodging the insects with a blast of water from your hose. If they're still a problem, spray the affected part of the shrub with ready-mixed horticultural soap spray and follow up weekly until you eradicate the pests. Keep an eye out for scale insect problems. Scales appear as hard lumps on the branches that you can dislodge with your fingernail. Under the lump, you should see a small insect. Spray scales with a ready-to-use horticultural oil, but stay away from dormant horticultural oils, and reapply every four to five days until the scales disappear. Use these sprays on calm days and wear protective clothing and eyewear.
Diseases and Toxicity
Daphne plants are susceptible to crown and root rot, which cause leaf discoloration and may kill the plants. To prevent these diseases, grow daphne shrubs in loamy or sandy soil with good drainage and allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Stop watering affected plants to allow them to dry out. Beauty can be deceptive, as is the case with daphne plants. All parts, including the leaves, flowers and fruit that develops after the flowering season are poisonous. Grow daphne away from areas where children and pets play.