Sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans) is a large upright shrub native to many parts of Asia and belonging to the Olive family (Oleaceae). This plant can reach up to 20 feet tall with a 6-8 feet wide span, but is usually seen in our landscapes at around six feet high. Its opposite leave arrangement are a dark, shiny green and the edges may be finely toothed or smooth with both types present on the same individual. As the plant matures, most of the foliage is held at the outermost ends of the stems, but the plant retains a handsome appearance despite their leggy ness. In autumn, winter and early spring white flowers cover the shrub. It blooms intermittently throughout the summer. Individually the blossoms are small and inconspicuous, but the fragrance is powerful and exquisite. Sweet olive is rather slow growing and is usually quite long lived.
Sweet olive prefers reasonably good soil, but is adaptable except in the poorest, sandy soil. May be pruned to maintain size and encourage branching, but thrives equally well with neglect. Sweet olives are sometimes attacked by scale insects, usually only when growing conditions are poor.
Plant sweet olives where their lovely fragrance can be enjoyed! Situate a sweet olive wherever there is foot traffic near windows or doors and in outdoor sitting areas. Incorporate sweet olive into foundation plantings at the corners or use as an accent between windows. A row of sweet olive makes a very attractive hedge or screen. In areas where it is tender, grow sweet olive as a container specimen so it can be protected indoors in winter.
Sweet olive has deliciously fragrant flowers that smell a lot like those of a fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus), which is in the same family. Sweet olive is a traditional element in the southern garden landscape and a whiff of its apricot-scented blossom carried on a cool winter breeze makes a memorable impression.
Light: Sun to partial shade; morning sun with afternoon shade or high, shifting shade is ideal.
Moisture: Moist to average.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 to 10.
Propagation: From medium wood cuttings
Other common names: Fragrant Olive and Tea Olive
David Rodriguez is County Extension Agent-Horticulture, Bexar County. For more information, call the Master Gardener ‘Hotline’ at (210) 467-6575 or visit our County Extension website at http://bexar-tx.tamu.edu, click under Horticulture and Gardening.