Prized for its late spring blooms and citrusy aroma, mock orange is an attractive addition to the ornamental garden. A reliable deciduous shrub, as the name suggests mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius) is not a true orange plant. Like the orange jasmine plant, the name is inspired by the plant’s citrus smelling flowers.
A versatile plant, you can use a single mock orange shrub as a stand alone feature in a floral border, or plant a group of them for screening. Rich in nectar, mock orange flowers are also a popular draw for butterflies and other pollinators.
The fragrant, nectar filled flowers draw scores of pollinators to your garden.
If you want to add this attractive multi-stemmed plant to your garden, this guide will take you through everything that you need to know. From planting to pruning, here is your complete guide to the mock orange shrub.
Different Varieties of Mock Orange
Mock orange is a pleasingly balanced plant. Its height is usually equal to its spread. Depending on the variety and growing conditions the plants can reach a height and spread of 6 to 12 ft. The majority of varieties are hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8.
The variety Philadelphus Virginal is one of the most popular mock orange plants. Reaching a height of about 9 ft, in early summer the plant produces masses of attractive white double flowers.
Aurea is prized not only for its cream flowers but also for its golden foliage. One of the more compact varieties, Aurea grows to a height of about 7 ft and has a spread of almost 5 ft. Another compact option is Sybille. Achieving a height and spread of around 6.5 ft, Sybille produces masses of attractive white flowers on elegant arching stems.
Avalanche is named for its flowering habit. As mid-summer arrives, Avalanche’s arching stems are covered with fragrant white flowers. Rarely exceeding 5 ft in height, the plant has a spread of around 6.5 ft.
The small showy white flowers of Lemoinei are possibly the most fragrant of all the mock orange varieties. While its early summer flowers may be small, Lemoinei makes up for it by producing masses of fragrant blooms. This cultivar has a height and spread of about 4.9 ft.
Don’t just buy the first mock orange shrub you see. There are a number of interesting cultivars available if you are prepared to do a little research.Take the time to find a plant that not only suits your situation but also appeals to your taste.
Most mock orange blooms are white. If you want something with a little more colorful try Belle Etoile. This variety produces single white blooms with a light red center. Flowering from late spring onwards it rarely exceeds 4 ft in height. Belle Etoile’s spread, of around 8 ft, more than makes up for its limited height.
Another attractively different cultivar is Variegatus. This compact plant, rarely exceeding 6 ft in height produces white and green variegated foliage.
With over 60 varieties of mock orange available take the time to find a variety that suits your growing conditions. Specialist nurseries often have a wider range of plants available than your local garden center. Many also operate online stores and deliver your plants to your door.
Planting a Mock Orange Shrub
These are full sun loving plants. Your chosen position should be as sunny as possible. Mock orange also grows in partial shade, however the plants flower more profusely in sunnier spots. A sunny position with some shade from the afternoon sun is perfect.
Mock orange does best in well-draining loamy soil that has a pH level of between 6 and 8. The plants can grow in conditions slightly outside this, but avoid planting in anything too extreme.
If you are unsure of the makeup of your soil, a soil test kit is a great investment. The information it provides can be used to create the ideal growing conditions for your plants. If your soil is particularly poor try planting in large pots or raised beds.
Your soil should be as light and well draining as possible. Work the soil over well before planting. Dig organic matter such as compost into the soil to lighten it.
The best time to plant mock orange shrubs is in the fall. You can also plant the shrubs during the early spring months. Shrubs planted in the spring require regular watering for the first year. This helps the plants to become established in their new position.
How to Plant
Before planting work the soil over, breaking up any large clumps of earth. This removes weeds and improves drainage. Working compost or organic matter into heavy soil also helps to improve drainage and enriches the soil.
Use a sturdy shovel to dig a deep hole. The hole should be deep and wide enough to comfortably hold the root ball. Work a spadeful of compost into the bottom of the hole. This gives the plant a nutritional boost that helps it to settle into its new home.
Mock orange plants are often sold in pots. Carefully remove your plant from its pot, trying not to damage the roots. If the plant is difficult to remove, squeeze the sides of the pot to loosen the soil. If the plant still refuses to move you may need to cut the pot away.
Once the plant is free of its pot, gently tease the roots apart. This encourages them to spread out into the soil.
Position the shrub in the hole. The top of the root system should sit just below the level of the soil. When you are happy with the position of the plant, backfill the hole. Water well.
Planting in Containers
You can also grow mock orange shrubs in pots.
Select a medium to large container, it should be large enough to comfortably hold the plant’s root system. Your chosen pot should also be clean and have drainage holes in the bottom. Adding a layer of crocks or small stones to the bottom of the pot helps to further improve drainage.
Planting in self watering pots is a low maintenance way to keep your plants hydrated.
Fill the pot partly with potting soil and position the plant in the center of the pot. The top of the root system should sit just below the top of the pot. You may need to add more soil, or take some away to find the right level.
When you are happy with the position of the plant, continue to fill the pot with potting soil. Water well.
Can I Transplant My Shrub?
While planting can be done at any time of year, transplanting is best done when the plant is dormant. This is usually in the winter, from November until spring arrives in early March. Don’t transplant when there are fresh green leaves on the plant.
To transplant, use a shovel to dig a wide trench around the plant. The trench should be at least 1 ft from the trunk and at least 24 inches deep. As you dig down, sever any roots that reach beyond the trench circle.
Use your shovel to lift the root ball out of its old position.
Plant in the new position as described above.
Caring for Mock Orange
Once planted caring for your mock orange shrub is pleasingly straightforward. A hardy plant, they do not require any winter protection.
Once established these are pleasingly low maintenance plants. With just a little regular care they will produce masses of attractive blooms.
Regularly weed around the base of your plants. Weeds can drain water and nutrients from the soil, stunting your plants growth. There are a number of weeding tools available to help you keep your garden weed free.
When to Water
Established mock orange shrubs have an extensive and robust root system. This means that they cope well with only occasional waterings.
Younger plants that are still developing their root system, require more frequent watering. If you have planted in the spring the plant requires regular watering in the first year. This helps to establish the shrub in its new position.
Never let the soil dry out. Additionally, try to avoid watering too often. This can drown the plant or cause the roots to rot.
Knowing how often to water can be difficult. A good rule is to water only when the top inch of soil is dry to the touch.
A soil moisture meter is a useful little tool that helps you to know exactly how dry your soil is. The Atree Soil Meter not only monitors the moisture level of your soil it also tells you the soils pH levels and how much sunlight the plant is receiving. This is all useful information that can help you to better care for your plants.
Drooping foliage or foliage that feels softer than usual is a sign that the plant needs water.
Remember, plants in containers require more frequent watering than those in the soil.
How Often Should I Fertilize?
Top dress the soil around the plant with compost in late spring. Organic mulches can also be applied. As well as helping to keep the soil moist these slowly break down adding nutrients to the soil.
Alternatively, an all purpose fertilizer can be added in spring, once new growth begins to emerge. This encourages lots of new, healthy growth to emerge. Water soluble or liquid fertilizers are easily incorporated into your watering routine.
Never apply nitrogen heavy fertilizers. These promote leaf growth and can, in some cases, deter flower production.
Pruning Your Shrub
Mock orange flowers emerge on the previous year’s growth. Pruning immediately after flowering has finished reduces the chances of you accidentally removing next year’s flower buds. Cut away stems that have just finished flowering to the first outer-facing bud.
Be careful when pruning. This shrub sets next year’s flowers on this year’s growth. If you accidentally prune away the developing buds the plant won’t flower next year.
Prune by cutting away any dead, diseased, disfigured or entangled branches. Pay particular attention to any entangled or bunched branches in the center of the plant. Cutting these away opens up the center of the plant, allowing light and air to reach all parts of the plant. Opening up shrubs in this manner helps to keep them healthy.
Older plants can become overgrown. Prune as you would prune lilacs, adopting the one-third rule. This means that each year you prune one-third of the oldest branches down to ground level. After 3 years all the old growth is removed and you are left with a healthy looking shrub.
In the worst cases completely overgrown, but otherwise healthy, shrubs can be pruned completely down to the ground. Do this in early spring, before new growth emerges. The plant won’t flower in the first year after such a heavy pruning. Instead it puts all its energy into producing fresh, healthy branches.
A good pair of garden scissors easily cuts through most soft stems. You may need to use shears or a saw to tackle older or thicker branches. Remember to clean and sterilize your tools before and after use.
Propagation is easily done by taking cuttings. Softwood cuttings, those taken from new growth that is still soft or green, are best taken in the summer. Hardwood cuttings, taken from older stems, should be taken in the fall or winter. Whichever type of cutting you take, the propagation method is the same.
Cut a healthy stem about three inches long from the plant. The cutting should have several pairs of leaves on it. Remove the lowest set of leaves.
Use a sharp knife to carefully scrape away the outer bark from the base of the cutting. This helps roots to emerge. A whetstone is a great investment if you want to keep knives and other garden tools sharp.
Place the cutting in a glass of water while you fill pots with fresh potting soil. This prevents the cutting from drying out.
When you are ready to plant, shake excess water away from the cutting and dip the end in rooting hormone. This encourages root production.
Make a small hole in the center of the pot and position the cutting in the hole. Gently firm the soil down and water gently.
Place the cutting in a large propagator. This helps the soil to retain moisture. The EarlyGrow Propagator is particularly useful because it comes with height extenders, allowing you to propagate cuttings of different heights.
You can also place the pots in a clear plastic bag. This is an easy way to simulate the effects of a propagator. Don’t allow the plastic bag to touch the cutting. Use bamboo sticks to form a protective frame around the cutting, holding the plastic cover up. Place the cutting in a shady position.
Regularly check the cutting to make sure it isn’t drying out. After a few weeks new growth begins to emerge. Once new growth emerges, remove the cutting from its protective container and allow it to grow on.
Propagation by Layering
You can also propagate by layering. To do this peg a healthy branch to the ground. The pegged section should be about 12 inches from the tip of the branch.
Prolonged contact with the ground encourages roots to form from the branch. Once roots are established, the branch can be cut away from the parent plant and grown on as a new plant.
Growing From Seed
Finally, you can propagate these shrubs by seed. Seeds can be purchased from recognized suppliers or harvested from the seed pods that replace the spent blooms. Compared to the other methods of propagation this can be a slow process. The mock orange shrub has to grow and mature before it begins flowering.
While purchased seeds are usually ready to sow you may need to stratify harvested seeds. This means exposing the seeds to a period of cold temperatures.
To do this place the seeds in a plastic bag filled with peat moss or a similarly sterile medium and a little water. The mixture should be evenly moist, not soggy. Seal the bag and place it in the fridge for a few weeks.
After a few weeks of exposure to colder temperatures, the seeds can be sown in pots or trays filled with a well draining potting soil. You can also sow the seeds in pots filled with an even mixture of compost and sand. Adding a handful of slow release fertilizer granules to the mix gives the seeds some extra encouragement.
Sow the seeds about half an inch deep and gently moisten the soil. Place the pots or trays in a light position, or a propagator.
Following germination, allow the seedlings to develop at least one true set of leaves before placing the pots in a shady area. Grow the seedlings on, keeping the soil moist, until they have doubled in size. They can then be potted on.
Common Pests and Diseases
If planted correctly and well cared for mock orange is a pleasingly problem free plant.
Regularly check your plants for signs of infestation. Aphids, scale and mealybugs can all target the plants. Infestations can be either washed away with a blast from a hosepipe or treated with an application of insecticidal soap.
A failure to flower can be a sign of incorrect fertilization. Nitrogen heavy fertilizers encourage foliage production but this comes at the expense of flowering. To encourage flowering apply a phosphorus rich fertilizer.
Plants may also fail to flower if they are planted in too dark a position. Cut back any plants that are shading your mock orange. If the position is still too dark you may need to transplant the shrub into a lighter part of your garden.
Plant your mock orange shrubs in as light a position as possible. Plants growing in shade, or in the shadow of other plants can struggle to flower.
An old fashioned favorite, mock orange is an attractive and aromatic addition to the late spring garden. Pleasingly hardy and low maintenance, it is easy to see why the aromatic flowers of mock orange are one of the most popular additions to the ornamental garden.