Fragrant tea olive will grow in bay area
Q: Several months ago my husband and I were at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales and had the chance to smell, and then see, a beautiful tea olive tree. We were astonished at the fragrance. There is nothing like it. We would like to plant a tea olive here at our home, which is just north of Tampa. Our soil is very sandy, and the spot that we are considering gets some shade through most of the day. Will tea olive grow here and would it require special care? Will it survive freezes? Also, where might we purchase one as I have never seen it sold locally. I have contacted some online nursery vendors, but have not gotten any responses. Thank you. Elaine Bolack, Lutz
A: You have stumbled upon a plant that I find is much underused, and the fragrance, as you stated, is absolutely divine. The tea olive you admire is Osmanthus fragrans, an appropriate name. Knowing its scientific name may help in locating the plant as you search online for either local sources or mail-order. It is happy in zones 8 to 10, and is plenty hardy in your north of Tampa location. Tea olive will grow, very slowly, into a small tree of 20 feet if not pruned. Morning sun with afternoon shade is ideal, and high, shifting shade all day is acceptable. It is tolerant of just about any soil as long as it is kept moist through its establishment period of three to six months. With its pointy leaves it is often mistaken for a holly, but it is actually related to jasmines and lilacs in the olive family, hence its heavenly fragrance.