Tea Olive (Osmanthus fragrans) Profile

Written by Iris

Oct 22 2021

Tea Olive (Osmanthus fragrans) Profile
Tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans) is an evergreen and is highly prized for its attractive smell and visually attractive flowers and leaves. Not only do these tea olive add beauty to a garden space, but they also emit precious fragrances that can animate your landscape or bring the outdoors into your home if the breeze from the garden comes in through the windows.

Tea Olive Picture

Tea olive

Tea Olive Info

Botanical Name Osmanthus fragrans
Common Name Tea Olive, Sweet Olive tree
Plant Type Shrub
Mature Size 15 to 30 feet tall
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type well drained, moist
Soil pH 5.5 to 7.5
Bloom Time Spring, then intermittent

Tea Olive Native Habits

With its glossy green leaves, tea olive, Osmanthus  fragrans, can be pruned into a shrub or hedge, or if left alone can become a small tree at upwards of 20 feet or more. Its leaves resemble those of the holly, the difference being tea olives have opposite leaves, while hollies’ are alternate – hence another common name of false holly. The tea olive’s dense foliage provides a high-contrast backdrop for the tree’s best feature, its flowers. In early fall, and again in early spring, tea olive unfurls clusters of tiny creamy white flowers with a permeating fragrance often described as a cross between gardenia and jasmine. Other cultivars offer less common bloom colors in pale to deep yellow and orange, emitting strong scents of peach or orange blossom.

Tea Olive Distribution

This long-lived shrub is a favorite of Florida gardeners, who prize it for its tough nature and sweet-smelling flowers. It performs best in North and Central Florida but can also be grown in South Florida if planted in partial shade.
Tea olive

How to Grow & Care for Tea Olive

How to Grow Tea Olive

  • With Seeds
Fill a container with seed starting mix to about ½ inch from the top. Place your seeds 1 inch to 1 ½ inch below the soil surface. Gently water your seeds to keep moist, not soaking wet. Heat & humidity is critical for germination. Germination may occur in 1 week or as long as 3 months (depending on the species). Place the seed container on a heat mat under growing light(s). Keep your growing lights on 14 hours per day. Keep your heat mat on 24 hours per day. Once your seeds germinate, move each seed into its own container under the growing lights and on the heat mat. Keep your seedlings indoors for 2-3 months before transplanting outdoors in the spring (May to June).
With Stem Cuttings
Tea olive tree (Osmanthus fragrans) may be propagated from new growth. Mix equal portions of potting soil, sand, and peat (or Perlite) in a small container. Start with an 8-inch pot. Using sharp clippers, cut several shoots of new growth from the shrub. Remove all leaves from the bottom 2-inches of each shoot. Rough up the bottom of each shoot (this will make it easier for roots to develop). Gather three of the shoots together (as if making a bouquet) and place them in the container of soil. Water well. Set the pot outside in the sun (preferably near a water source). The stems must stay moist for a root system to develop. In a couple of months, pull gently at the plant. If the plant resists, then roots have been established. Move the plant up to a pot that is one size larger. Allow the tiny shrub to grow for a few months and then transfer to a container that is one size larger. Continue this same operation until the plant has been moved up to a 3-gallon container. Allow the shrub to grow for several months in the container before transplanting into your landscape.
Tea olive

How to Care for Tea Olive

  • Light
Plant your sweet olive tree in an area of your garden that is sunny or partially shaded. Your tree is somewhat resilient to varying conditions, but it will not thrive in fully shaded locations.
  • Soil
Tea Olive isn't too picky about soil type, but they do prefer a well-drained soil of average fertility. Tea Olive grows best in acid to slightly alkaline soil ranging between 5.5 to 7.5 on the pH scale. Most average garden soils fall between a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0.
  • Water
These shrubs are fairly drought tolerant and should not need extra watering unless there is an unusually dry spring or summer.
  • Temperature and Humidity
Since they grow best in warm zones, tea olives can tolerate high temperatures and humidity. They're not suited for arid or desert climates, however, as they prefer the humid air found in the southeastern states.
  • Fertilizer
Tea Olive will benefit from fertilization. Fertilize them in spring with a slow-release shrub & tree food, preferably one that contains Sulfur and/or Iron. Alternatively, you can feed with a natural organic plant food.
  • Pruning
Prune away dead, damaged, or diseased branches from tea olives any time of year. Use sharp bypass pruning shears, and wear gloves and safety goggles when you prune. Make cuts 1/4 to 1/2 inch above a lower branch junction or leaf. To prevent the spread of disease, sterilize pruner blades with household disinfectant before and after you prune.
Tea olive

Tea Olive Uses

Edible Uses

The unripe fruits are preserved in brine like olives[183]. The very fragrant flowers are used by the Chinese to impart a pleasant aroma to tea, wine and sweet dishes such as lotus seed soup, pastries and steamed pears. They are also added to herbal medicines in order to disguise obnoxious flavours. The flowers have a scent of apricots.

Medicinal Uses

The flowers are antitussive. They are used in cosmetics for the hair and skin, but are mostly used to flavour other medicines. A decoction of the stem bark is used in the treatment of boils, carbuncles etc. A past made from the stem or bark is used in the treatment of boils, carbuncles, whoping cough and retinitis. A decoction of the lateral roots is used in the treatment of dysmenorrhoea, rheumatism, bruises etc.

Landscape Use

Tea olive shrub is also a versatile plant that can make a great backdrop for other plants. It looks good as a specimen plant, and its glossy, evergreen leaves and dense growth habit make it well suited for screens, hedges, and individual specimen plants.
Tea olive

Tea Olive Varieties

Osmanthus heterophyllus (holly tea olive, false holly, or holly osmanthus; Zones 7 - 9) is used in borders, hedges, and barrier plantings where its extremely spiny leaves can be utilized. Several cultivars are available in various sizes and leaf characteristics that may be better choices for many landscapes.
Osmanthus ×fortunei (Fortune's osmanthus, Zones 7 - 9) is a hybrid of O. heterophyllus and osmanthus fragrans and has characteristics of both parents. Juvenile leaves are spine-tipped, but the adult leaves have no marginal spines. Fragrant flowers bloom in late fall, and they can grow into a large oval to rounded shrub 15 to 20 feet high and wide.
Osmanthus ×burkwoodii (Burkwood osmanthus, Zones 6 - 8) is a dense, rounded shrub that grows 6 to 10 feet tall and wide. This evergreen shrub bears fragrant flowers characteristic of the genus.
Osmanthus delavayi (Delavay osmanthus, Delavay tea olive; Zones 7 - 9) is native to western China and grows 6 to 8 feet tall and a bit wider. It has twiggy growth and graceful arching branches that are well covered with small, glossy, dark green, ovate leaves. Fragrant flowers bloom in spring, and it is more widely grown in the western states since it prefers alkaline soil.
Osmanthus serrulatus (wild sweet-scented Chinese osmanthus, Zones 7 - 9) grows 6 to 12 feet tall, bears fragrant flowers, and is a slow-growing broadleaf evergreen shrub. Leaves are lustrous, leathery textured, and strongly serrate. On mature plants they may become entire and loose their toothed edges.
Osmanthus suavis (Himalayan osmanthus, Zones 7 - 10) is more upright than other Osmanthus species, and tends to be a bit leggier. In late winter to early spring, however, it is literally covered with clusters of white, fragrant flowers. Osmanthus decorus is another species that is evergreen and bears fragrant flowers. It seems to be less well-known than other species.
Osmanthus yunnanensis (Yunnan osmanthus, Zones 8 - 10) grows up to about 33 feet tall, so it one of the largest of the genus. Ivory-white, mildly fragrant flowers are almost hidden from view by the large, olive-green, leathery leaves. Although rarely cultivated in the United States, Woodlanders Nursery lists it for sale on their site.
Tea olive

Tea Olive Common Pests/Diseases

Tea olives really will have little problems to worry about if planted and cared for properly. They are long-lived and virtually pest free. Occasional disease and insect problems could occur but this would be mainly when the plant is under stressful conditions becoming more prone to pest problems. Root rot disease could occur but will be associated with the plant being planted in poorly drained or excessively wet soils. Occasionally, scale insects could be a problem but can be managed well with horticultural oil spray. A bonus for tea olives is that they are fairly resistant to damage by deer.

Tea Olive Design Tips

Tea olive tree is also a versatile plant that can make a great backdrop for other plants. It looks good as a specimen plant, and its glossy, evergreen leaves and dense growth habit make it well suited for screens, hedges, and  and individual specimen plants.

Tea Olive Companion Plants

Petunias are one of the most popular companion plants for olive trees. You can find petunias in every color and their care is simple and easy. As well, petunias have this welcoming feature to deter common olive tree pests.