Flowers In A February Garden

winter jasmine flowerby Ray Novitske, Fairfax Master Gardener
Let me introduce you to a shrub that is blooming right now throughout our area. When I moved here from New York State, I was surprised to see a neighbor’s bushes blooming their hearts out in the middle of February’s snow. I later learned it was Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum).

This plant, native to northern China, is a member of the Olive family (Oleaceae). This family of plants is centered around the Mediterranean (where olives come from) and extends east through Asia. But, unlike some other notable members of this family like jasmine, olive and lilac, Winter Jasmine flowers have no fragrance.

Winter jasmine green stems

Winter Jasmine showing its green stems

Is it evergreen or deciduous? It is both. The stems are green throughout the year, but the plant loses its leaves in the winter, and they don’t appear in spring until it is finished blooming. The six-petal yellow flowers arrive in late winter on arching slender branches and look like forsythia. One distinction between it and forsythia is that it blooms over a longer time period, unlike forsythia where most all the flowers come out at the same time.

The shrub can be left to its own devices to sprawl and amble around the ground, or be trimmed into a shrub. It is also often trained to climb up a trellis or arbor. As a shrub, it grows to about 4 feet in height, and can reach up to 10 feet if trained on an arbor or trellis. Like forsythia, its cousin, it can grow out of control. Conscientious pruning in spring after blooming is required to keep the plant from spreading where it is not welcome.

Winter Jasmine as shrub

Winter Jasmine trained as shrub

Winter Jasmine is hardy in zones 6-10, so it is at home in our Zone 7. It prefers full sun to partial shade and rich moist soils, But, this is one tough shrub, making a comfortable home in our heavy clay soils and at the same time is drought tolerant. It has no serious insect or disease problems, although Japanese beetles will occasionally take a nibble or two. Deer do not find it appetizing, either.

At one time, my neighbor’s plant was referred to as Winter Jessamine. But it is not this. Winter Jessamine or Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is a somewhat evergreen native to North America, but has similar flowers and bloom time as Winter Jasmine. However, its stems are not green, and its growth is more vine-like.

If you are looking for a deer-resistant shrub that flowers in a season when deer are most hungry, try this Chinese shrub.

Winter Jasmine, Virginia Tech Dendrology
Jasminum nudiflorum, NC State Extension
Jasminum nudiflorum, US Department of Agriculture
Shrubs Reference Desk, University of Arkansas, Cooperative Extension Service