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Growing Tea Olive Trees? Focus on 5 Factors

Growing Tea Olive Trees? Focus on 5 Factors

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Beautiful and fragrant, evergreen tea olive trees are tough, low-maintenance plants that work as shrubs, hedges, and specimen or landscape trees. They produce flowers with a sweet fragrance reminiscent of peach, orange or jasmine blossoms, and varieties such as the fragrant tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans) bloom for up to four months.

There are more than 20 cultivars and each has its own growing preferences, but there are commonalities that apply to most. For the greatest success, focus on these five factors:

  1. Climate. Tea olives do best in a mild climate. Most are cold hardy to USDA zone 7b, and a few are hardy in zone 6. Use these ratings as a guideline only. Some areas of Alaska are classified as zone 7b, but the weather is dramatically different from Tennessee, much of which is also zone 7b. Extended periods of below-freezing temperatures are rare in Tennessee, but common in Alaska.
  2. Planting conditions. Tea olives prefer a sunny setting, but some will tolerate a mix of sun and shade. This is especially true of variegated forms, whose leaf color will wash out with too much sun. They thrive in acid to neutral soils with good drainage, but most don’t do well in heavy clay or soggy soils. (Devilwood is an exception.) Most also can’t tolerate sea spray, something to consider if you live on the coast.
  3. Location. Because of the fragrance, many people plant tea olives near windows, doors or patios, so the scent wafts inside or envelops an outdoor living area. In actuality, you can place your tea olive almost anywhere, because the scent is discernable 50 to 100 feet away especially if you plant several.
  4. Care. Provide an inch of water a week throughout the first growing season. By the second year, tea olives should be able to thrive with less water, and once they’re firmly established, they’re relatively drought tolerant. Use compost to enrich the soil, mulch to preserve moisture and reduce weeds, and apply a basic, slow-release fertilizer every year or two.
  5. Pruning. The tea olive’s fragrant flowers are a major attraction. Most produce blooms on new wood (branches formed during the current growing season), so prune lightly in early spring before growth starts. A few, such as O. americanus and O. delavayi, bloom on old wood (branches at least a year old), so they should be pruned after the flowering season has ended. Superfluous branches and deadwood can be removed at any time.

Because tea olives are slow growers, invest in the largest plants you can obtain. Most also have small, inconspicuous flowers, so don’t expect a lavish flower display. Instead, choose tea olives for their appealing combination of evergreen leaves, attractive form and delightful fragrance, which make them an asset in any landscape.

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