To say a tree is fragrant is factual, but to say it has a pleasant scent is subjective. Scents are a very personal thing, so while we can all agree to label a plant as aromatic, each of us have to decide if a particular fragrance is the right one for us.
Remember when planting strong-smelling plants that they may be offensive to other family members and neighbors, and that some may even be allergic to the scent. To help you with your plan for olfactory tree gardening, here are some options to consider.
Perhaps one of the most well-known fragrant trees, it’s difficult not to notice a lilac tree, both because of its identifiable scent and its quintessential blooms that match the name. Lilac can be maintained as a shrub or allowed to grow into tree size, so choose a species with a larger maximum size. They prefer a rich, moist, well-drained soil and full sun. Lilac grow well in zones three to seven, and express their showy bloom in mid-spring.
The Japanese Snowbell is typically described as slightly fragrant, but of course that's a subjective judgement. It features large leaves adorned with bell-shaped flowers in early summer. Plant Snowbell in USDA Zones five through eight, and water regularly to keep the soil surface moist but not soggy. Choose a location in partial to full sun for best results. Although slow growing, Japanese Snowbell can reach 20-30 feet, so give it room to sprawl.
3. Tea Olive
If you’re in the lower half of the U.S., the Tea Olive tree adds a subtle scent to growing zones seven to 10. Plant it in full to partial sun and expect a slow, but steady growth. Deep green, large leaves serve as a backdrop to the white flowers that appear in late fall and early spring, along with the memorable scent the Tea Olive tree is known for.
Most varieties of apple trees, from crab apple to honeycrisp, offer a sweet scent when blooming and, with the exception of the aforementioned crab apple which is not intended for eating, provide the added bonus of fresh fruit in late summer. They are a forgiving tree and do well in a wide range of conditions throughout zones 3-9. Do find a sunny location for your apple tree and maintain medium moisture in well-drained soil.
5. Golden Chain
If you’re looking for a brief spring power punch, the Golden Chain fits the bill. While the blooms are short lived, the golden color and striking scent make a statement. Golden chain makes a dazzling overhead arch with the large dangling clusters of flowers. They adapt well to most conditions in zones 5-7, except full shade. It is important to note that all parts of the Golden Chain are poisonous, so consider carefully around kids and pets.
Another ubiquitous member of the fragrant tree family is Wisteria, world-renowned for its stunning purple blooms and undeniable fragrance. Wisteria is a common vine, used to climb along pergolas and arbors, but it is also easily contoured to stand alone as a tree that reaches 16 feet in growing zones 5-8. It appreciates full sun in conjunction with humusy, well-drained, slightly acidic soil.
7. Fir and Pine
For a very different type of scent, consider the many varieties of fir and pine trees. Rediscover the scent of the first day you bring home the Christmas tree, when it is vibrant and fresh and you’ll get an idea of what these trees can bring to your yard. In addition, they are evergreen and add a palpable contrast to other types of trees.
According to Home Depot’s Garden Club, “Different trees have distinctive scents. Crush the needles of a Douglas fir, and you’ll catch a sweet, subtle fragrance. White firs and Grand firs give off a whiff of citrus. Balsam trees, which grow primarily in the northeast, are among the most aromatic. Noble firs are very fragrant, too. There are even trees that allergy sufferers can enjoy, like Leland Cypress, which don’t produce sap and thus have little odor.”
Also consider the Canadian Hemlock, a conifer that provides no bloom, but copious sweet smelling boughs.
8. Royal Empress Tree
No list of fragrant trees would be complete without mention of the Royal Empress tree, native to China but growing in popularity across the United States, especially in the South and up the west coast. This showy tree offers dynamic blooms with sweet scents and very quick growth to offer shade after an initial year that could see up to 15 feet of expansion. Large, tropical leaves offer a contrast to many other trees and it is a hardy, hardwood tree that will last generations in the right location.
On the border between large bushes and small trees, plumeria plants—sometimes known as frangipani—grow happily in warm regions all over the world. Rich with symbolic history, they were prized by nobles in the Aztec empire, and are still considered spiritually sacred in many Southeast Asian countries. Their lovely blossoms feature in many different rituals around the world, including weddings and funerals. Some Polynesian women sport plumeria flowers behind their ears to indicate relationship status (in case you're wondering whom to invite on a date, right means available and left means taken).
If you live in a warm, humid area, these plants are relatively easy to propagate by drying leafless stems and either planting them in well drained soil (ideally with some rooting hormone) or grafting them onto an established root system.