Chimonanthus praecox, commonly known as wintersweet or Japanese allspice, is a deciduous shrub that typically grows 10-15’ tall and to 8-12’ wide. It is native to forested areas of China. Fragrant flowers (to 1” across) bloom in winter (December to January) usually on leafless branches, but sometimes, particularly in warm climates, on branches clad with a few persisting leaves. Bloom time is later (February-March) near the northern edge of the growing area. Each flower has numerous showy tepals which are sulfur yellow to pale yellow with a purplish-brown center. Flowers (to 1 1/2” across) bloom on branches from the prior year. Rough, glossy green, opposite, elliptic-ovate to ovate-lanceolate leaves (to 6” long) emerge in spring after the flowers have bloomed. Leaves turn yellow in fall.
Garden Uses. This shrub is often cultivated for its sweetly fragrant winter flowers. Where winter protection is not needed, it makes an excellent winter flowering specimen shrub for open gardens, shrub borders or sites near walks or doorways where flowers can be easily enjoyed in winter. It is easily grown in moist, fertile, well-drained soils in full sun. Zones 7-9
The seeds have a period of dormancy. They can be planted outdoors in the fall or winter for spring germination or they can be cold stratified to simulate winter conditions and to break their dormancy at any time of the year.
- Scarify the seeds by nicking or sanding the seed coat.
- Soak the seed in water for several hours.
- Place the seeds in a plastic bag and seal it. Store the bag in a refrigerator for 3 months.
- The seeds like moist, well-drained soil. Prepare a mixture of half potting soil and half sand, perlite or vermiculite. Put the soil in a pot. Water the mixture so that it is moist but not wet.
- Sow the seeds on the soil and cover them with a thin layer of soil.
- Water the container and leave it to drain.
- Put the pot in a warm, sunny area.
- Water the pot regularly so that the soil is moist but not wet. Germination is usually good, though it is often slow and erratic, and takes place in two months or more.
- The seedlings can be transplanted when they are a few inches tall.