FOR BEAUTY AND FRAGRANCE
One of the really outstanding late spring to early summer flowering deciduous shrubs is mock orange, Philadelphus virginalis. Of the many species of mock orange this is by far the most popular. Its popularity is due in part to its very pleasant fragrance and attractive white flowers.
The citrus orange-like fragrance of the mock orange varies by variety, so it's wise, if possible to select them when they are in bloom. The pure white flowers range from single, semi-double to fully double and up to 2 inches across.
Plant size varies also, from varieties that grow only 3 to 4 feet high to some that may attain a height of up to 8 feet or more. (The native species P. gordonianus, grows up to 20 feet high.) The range in plant sizes also makes it possible to successfully use them in many parts of the landscape. Its fresh bright green foliage is an attractive background for its pure white flowers. This in part, along with its fragrance, is why this is such a popular plant with flower arrangers. The rather stiff, yet graceful branches and prolific flowers are excellent as indoor cut flowers.
USES IN THE LANDSCAPE
Mock orange has many uses in the landscape and its especially enjoyable when grown near a walkway, patio or driveway where one can enjoy its beauty and fragrance. It can be used alone, in groups or even as a deciduous hedge or privacy screen. Its natural tendency is to grow rather vase-shaped, but clipping encourages the plant to fill out and become quite dense. In large areas a grouping of three to five plants of the taller varieties will provide an attractive privacy screen in late spring summer.
LOCATION FOR PLANTING
This plant does well in full sun or even part sun and shade. In fact, I had one on the north side of a single story home, and it performed beautifully, flowering prolifically every year, for the ten years we lived there. It's been my experience that one should avoid planting them in areas where sun reflection tends to quickly spoil their flowers and lighten their leaf color. A well-drained soil is preferable, but type of soil is not a particular concern, as mock orange is quite tolerant of soils and requires minimal care. However, the plant will generally respond best in a sandy loam type soil that is well-drained.
Mock orange is not a heavy feeder. If signs of nutritional deficiency develop where a plant is in competition with other shrubs or if yellow leaves or stunted growth occurs, then feeding may be beneficial. Late February or early March is the best times to feed this plant. However, if needed the plant can be fed in late June or early July. Use an all-purpose Rose type plant food. Apply at the drip-line of the plant and be certain to water in thoroughly, immediately after application.
This is probably the most important step in the care of any mock orange variety. On an established plant one should prune out about one-third of the old growth. On newly planted shrubs, wait until after the second year to do any major pruning. Then at that point it is a good practice to remove old, flowered out wood each year after the plant has finished flowering. Newly developed shoots should be thinned, encouraging those that add best form to the structure of the bush. This pruning will help keep the plant healthy and vigorous and at the same time will confine its height.
PLANTING AND TRANSPLANTING
Plants grown in containers can be planted at any time throughout the year. Bare-root plants are best planted during the dormant season months of November to early April. If you are transplanting an established mock orange, the dormant season months of November to early March are considered the best.
Prepare the planting or transplanting soil by mixing ample amounts of peat moss, compost or processed manure with the existing soil. Then add the recommended amount of a non-burning transplanting fertilizer to encourage new root development. Large shrubs that are being transplanted should be staked to protect them from wind whipping during strong winter or early spring storms.
Although there are several species and a number of varieties the most popular garden varieties are Philadelphus virginalis and these are the ones most readily available to the home gardener. Here are three that I think merit consideration for use in northwest gardens:
COMMON MOCK ORANGE - sometimes called 'Virginal', has a bushy upright, yet spreading form, growing up to 6 to 8 feet or more, with 6 feet wide arching branches. Large 1 ½ to 2 inch semi-double or fully double flowers. Pure white flowers are very fragrant. Bright green leaves.
DWARF SNOWFLAKE - I've seen this one listed under several different names, including "Dwarf Minnesota Snowflake' and 'Miniature Snowflake'. It only grows 3 to 4 feet high and about the same width. The 1 ½ to 2 inch double flowers cover the bush, with pure white flowers in springtime
NATCHEZ - an outstanding variety with attractive 2-inch single white, fragrant flowers. It grows upright with arching, fountain like branches, to 6 to 8 feet or more.
This is one of those shrubs the grandma and grandpa had in their garden, and is once again becoming popular in today's garden, because of its beauty and fragrance.