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Tea Olives: A Staple for Southern Gardens

Tea Olives: A Staple for Southern Gardens

If you’re looking to add shrubs to your garden this fall, then it might be time to add tea olives to the mix. An Alabama Extension horticulture professional called tea olive shrubs (genus Osmanthus)  a classic staple of southern gardens.

“Tea olives bring color and a sweet fragrance with its delicate blossoms,” said Mike McQueen, Alabama Extension Regional Horticulture Agent.

(ls)Osman.frag.Aldridge04Depending on the cultivar, the size and color of the shrubs vary. The shrubs can grow from 6 to 30 feet tall, and the shades of the tea olive blossoms range from pure white to vivid orange. Regardless of the cultivar, all tea olives are recognized for a sweet  aroma that is often compared to orange blossoms, peaches, gardenia or jasmine.

“Tea olives are long-lived and virtually pest free. Occasional disease and insect problems can develop, mainly under stressful conditions,” said McQueen. “Their growth rate is strongly influenced by soil quality and organic matter content, available nutrients and water availability.”

He said that tea olives grow best in fertile, moist, well-drained, acidic soil. They are moderately drought tolerant once established.

Tea olives are often planted as companion plants to azaleas and camellias and are commonly placed near windows so that their fragrance might be enjoyed. Sometimes referred to as “false holly,” or “sweet olive,” tea olive shrubs are characterized by dark, leathery, evergreen leaves that at first glance resemble the leaves of a holly bush. Their dark green foliage sometimes includes a hint of red to new spring growth, and some selections have variegated foliage. The enticing fragrance and dense evergreen foliage also make tea olive shrubs an attractive choice for hedges.

As hedges near windows, patios and walkways because of their fragrance, dense and upright growth habit, tea olives require minimal amounts of pruning. Tolerant of full sun to medium shade, they have a growth rate of 4 to 12 inches per year.


This is Osmanthus fragrans ‘Aurantiacus’, a more difficult to find variety with coral/apricot colored flowers. The more commonly found Osmanthus fragrans species has white flowers.

Though the flowers of the tea olives are small, their rich fragrance makes up for their modest appearance. Their delightful scent, easy maintenance and evergreen leaves make them an ideal choice for any gardener looking for a shrub or single specimen.

To learn more about how to enhance your garden and landscape, check out Alabama Extension’s “Gardening in the South” series. You can find the series on iBooks.

Based on proven Master Gardener training and seasoned with university research, the “Gardening in the South” series of iBooks is packed with information, tips and tricks to being a successful Southern gardener.

Have a gardening question? Call the Master Gardener Helpline. To reach the helpline, dial 1-877-252-GROW (4769).



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One comment

  1. You are showing a selection that is very hard to find. It is Osmanthus fragrans ‘Aurantiacus . There is an excellent planting of this selection at the President’s Home in Auburn. Since you did not mention this selection you need to change the image to Osmanthus fragrans.