Sweet Olive

Osmanthus fragrans

  • Favorite old-fashioned shrub or small tree.
  • Grown for its sweetly fragrant flowers.
  • Requirement for a country or Victorian garden.
  • Magnificent bee, butterfly and hummingbird magnet!

Sweet Olive, a large evergreen shrub or small tree, is capable of reaching 20 to 25 feet in height and width but is most often seen at 10 to 12 feet high with an 8-foot-spread. Older plants grow as wide as tall and develop a vase shape with several main trunks typically originating close to the ground.

The lustrous, medium-green leaves have paler undersides and are joined from October through March by a multitude of small, but extremely fragrant, white blossoms. They perfume a large area of the landscape and can be showy in some years. With its upright oval to columnar growth habit in youth, Sweet Olive is ideal for use as an unclipped hedge or trained as a small tree, and should be placed where its fragrance can be enjoyed.

Since the flowers are not particularly showy, people will wonder where the delightful fragrance is coming from. Plants thin somewhat in the partial shade, but form a dense crown in a sunny location. Planted on 4 to 6 foot centers, Sweet Olive can form a wall of fragrance from fall to spring and should be planted more often. They will not grow as fast as Leyland Cypress, but think of this Sweet Olive as a substitute for use in a sunny spot.

Plants can be clipped to form a denser canopy, but flowers form on old growth and removing branches will reduce the flower display. With time, older plants can be trained into a small, multi-trunked tree. Sweet Olive should be grown in full sun or partial shade in well-drained soil. Plants are fairly drought-tolerant once established but will perform their best with ample moisture.

Common Names: Fragrant tea olive, Sweet Osmanthus.