Fragrant Daphne odora are extremely sensitive to soil conditions and will grow better in a large pot than planted in the ground.

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In the Garden

Q: I love the fragrance of Daphne odora. Can I raise one in a pot on my balcony at my new apartment?

A: When Daphne odora blooms in February, irresistible fragrance fills the air. It is extremely sensitive to soil conditions; hence it is no surprise that it often does better in a pot than planted in the ground.

In order to be successful, however, it’s important to meet the plant’s needs. Begin by choosing a good-sized pot. Daphne odora is deep-rooted and needs a pot that is at least as big as a whiskey barrel. It also requires excellent drainage. Make sure the container has sufficient drainage holes and, if the bottom is flat, place it on bricks or pot feet to elevate it above the ground.

Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Picks

Tacoma Home and Garden Show:

Jan. 28-31. 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Display gardens, plant sales and seminars. Cost: $12 general admission; 16 and under are free. Address: Tacoma Dome.

Richie Steffen lecture:

7 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 28. Richie Steffen, curator of the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden, lectures at the Kruckeberg annual meeting. Steffen will share his insights about the friendship of Art and Maureen Kruckeberg influencing the development of the Miller Garden. Suggested donation: $5 (Kruckeberg garden members are free). RSVP to Address: Shoreline City Hall, 17500 Midvale Ave. N., Shoreline.

“Plan & Prep Your Edible Garden”:

10 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 30, at Swansons Nursery. Bill Thorness, author of “Cool Season Gardener,” will share tips to help you get growing early. Cost: Free. Address: 9701 15th Ave. N.W., Seattle.

Ask at your local nursery for a potting soil that is slightly alkaline, has plenty of organic matter and drains well. When it comes to watering, it’s better to err on the side of too dry than too wet. Water thoroughly, but allow the soil to dry a couple of inches from the top between watering.

Feed monthly, April through August, with a balanced soluble houseplant food applied half-strength. Locate your potted Daphne in a bright location sheltered from afternoon sunshine. The soil in the pot must never be allowed to freeze, so cover the plant, including the container, when temperatures plummet, but remove the protection as soon as conditions moderate.

The most common variety, Daphne odora ‘Marginata’ has attractive cream-colored edging on the foliage, but ‘Mae Jima’ (dark-green leaves broadly edged in gold) is hardier and less likely to drop its leaves in winter cold.

Even more resilient is Daphne odora ‘Zuiko Nishiki’. This hybrid has solid-green leaves, but is an upright, vigorous grower, with an extended bloom period.

Finally, don’t be too disappointed if one morning you discover that your prized Daphne kicked the bucket overnight. Even if you do everything right, these finicky plants seem to die just for spite.

Q: Last spring I purchased some colorful auricula primroses. They’re out in my garden, but look sickly. Do these primroses normally survive the winter here?

A: Auricula primroses (Primula auricula) hail from the mountains of Europe. They aren’t as colorful and showy as bedding primroses, but they have a refined beauty that is best appreciated seen close up. The gray-green, evergreen foliage is compact and somewhat succulent, while the pleasantly fragrant flowers can be single or double, and come in a wide variety of deeply saturated solid or multi-patterned colors.

These gems are hardy to well below freezing, but unless they have almost perfect drainage, tend to rot in our rain-soaked winters.

For most home gardeners, the best way to keep auricula primroses alive is to pot them in fast-draining cactus soil (available at most nurseries). They look fantastic growing in a trough or hypertufa container. As long as there is excellent drainage, you can leave your potted auriculas outdoors in winter, but if you want to play it safe, overwinter them by a window or under a grow light in an unheated, ventilated garage. Water sparingly.

In February, when new growth appears, begin watering regularly, and feed every week until flowering begins. Move the container outdoors to a sunny (but not blazing hot) prominent location to display the unique flowers that occur from April through May.

When the blooming period is over, move the container to bright shade and water sparingly. Warning: Don’t locate the container in an area where you have weevil-damaged plants. If weevils find their way into the container, the larvae will devour the roots and that will be the last you ever see of your prized auriculas.