Last updated on March 4th, 2022
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This evergreen shrub is well-known for producing star-shaped white flowers that bring with them a citrus smell between the months of April and May. For the remainder of the season, you can enjoy glossy foliage with leaves that look like small palm tree leaves. Colloquially referred to as the Mexican Orange Blossom, the species made its way to Europe in 1826 and ever since then has become a popular shrub for the small amount of attention and maintenance required, and more importantly the ability to thrive in any soil, against any diseases or pests and requiring no pruning. Busy gardeners who don’t necessarily have a lot of time to carefully cultivate the plants that fill their garden will love investing in this one. With this guide, you will learn everything you need to properly care for, propagate and maintain your Choisya ternata.
- Common name: Mexican Orange Blossom
- Scientific name: Choisya ternata
- Height: 1.8-2.5 metres, however, compact varieties are available
- Light: Prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade
- Hardiness: Very hardy
- Soil: Grows in rich neutral soil
- Propagation: Propagate with cuttings is best
- Pests: Resistant to most diseases and pests but be on the lookout for snails and slugs
- Maintenance level: Easy, minimal care needed.
How to grow Choisya plants
These shrubs are actually quite simple to care for and once they get established they don’t need much maintenance from you, except for the odd prune here and there to keep them within your desired size.
Position in full sun where possible
Where you position your garden plants is going to be based on the variety. While all varieties require some sunlight, there are a few that are more tolerant of shade than others. So, be conscious of the variety you have selected and whether it needs full sun or can tolerate partial shade. Regardless of variety, be sure to position the shrub so that it is sheltered against the stronger winter winds, and usually the more sun the better.
Water young plants, established plants are drought tolerant
When you first plant your shrub you need to water more prolifically to make sure it doesn’t dry out. But once it gets established it will become very drought-resistant and will typically tend to itself, only needing watering during a prolonged dry spell. If you are facing a drought you can soak it weekly and that should be just fine.
Grows well in most well-drained soils
This particular plant is happy in loam soil, clay soil or sandy soil. They don’t require overly rich soil. This type of flexibility makes them easy to grow, you just need to make sure the soil isn’t waterlogged and it usually grows well in just about any soil.
Apply a fertiliser such as bonemeal when planting
The Choisya shrubs rarely need fertiliser. The only instances where it would be a requirement are when the soil in which it is grown is very poor. If so, you can add a fertiliser such as bonemeal to the soil and mix in lots of compost to the area before planting the Choisya and feed them again in spring with a balanced fertiliser.
The time of year to plant is much more flexible with a Choisya. You can choose to plant them any time as long as the ground isn’t frozen, however, try to avoid planting in winter because they will not be actively growing and will not put out any roots. If you plant in the summer when it’s very dry you will need to water a bit more frequently than normal to make sure your plant is well established.
Planting March to April is best, or September to October
Ideally, the weather will be just mild enough with adequate rainfall if you plant between the middle of March and April, or between the middle of September and October while the ground is still warm and there is still time for it to put some root out before winter. Most of the time if you plant within one of these two windows you can effectively forget about the plants without having to do much maintenance, except keep them watered for the first few months.
Choosing a spot for your plant should be done carefully. This plant needs protection against stronger winds and it also needs enough space to be able to reach its full height and spread. Some of the varieties have a spread that spans 2.5 metres, so you’ll need to be aware of the space you have in your garden before planting unless you plan on pruning it to control the size.
Improve poor soil and drainage if needed
If the soil you have in your garden is poor, you can add compost or well-rotted manure to the soil to add more nutrients prior to planting. You can also add horticultural grit if the soil is too waterlogged and this will improve the drainage.
When you are ready to plant be sure to dig a hole that is twice the width of the root ball. Add anything to the soil as necessary such as grit, or perhaps compost or bonemeal. Place the plant inside the hole making sure that it remains at the same depth as it was in the pot. Then backfill the hole around the roots and firmly press down on the soil to solidify the soil, remove air pockets and allow it to settle. Concurrently water it well so that the soil settles in around the root ball.
Growing Choisya in pots
If you are growing Choisya in pots, it’s advisable that you pick a compact variety. You can, however, still plant in a pot that is fairly large, spanning between 40cm and 60cm at least to accommodate for the larger root growth. Once you plant in a pot you will need to give it a much more thorough soaking, usually once a week until such time that the roots have established themselves but as with most shrubs, regular watering is probably needed if grown in pots.
In terms of maintenance, when your plant is young you should remove any weeds around it to allow for proper health. Once the plant establishes itself it will naturally crowd out the weeds that are trying to grow. You can add mulch once a year to help keep weeds minimal and retain moisture. When you do add the mulch though, place it a few centimetres away from the stems of the plant.
Moving Choisya plants in the garden
If you need to move the shrub at any point it is essential you don’t damage the roots or your plant will struggle to reabsorb the nutrients and water necessary to acclimate to its new location. Rather than transplanting, you are much better off pruning your shrub back in the month of June so that there is less stop growth.
If you absolutely have to move it, prune it in June and then move it in the autumn. Given the size of the plant, you will need to carefully dig around the root structure and you may need more than one person to help lift it and transplant it. When you bring it to its new location be sure to add compost to the new hole to help aid the recovery.
Plants that are grown in containers will need extra protection during the winter so you should place them somewhere they are protected, such as a sheltered corner or inside a cold greenhouse if possible. You can also add an extra layer of protection with bubble wrap around the pots but even in extreme conditions make sure you water them here or there.
If you have to re-pot your Choisya choose a container that is larger than the original container to accommodate an excessive amount of improved root growth.
If you are considering pruning, the only reason you would need to prune your Choisya is to keep your plant at a certain size, and this should be done in the middle of June. During this time you want to wait until right after the major flowering has finished and then you can cut it back to about half its original size (or less) depending on how much you want to remove.
This is something to do if the plant is outgrowing the space in which it was planted, or it is outgrowing the pot it has been planted in. If you do this, always mulch the base of the plant with some more compost or apply bonemeal mixture to help it recover after pruning.
Other than specific cases, you really don’t need to prune your plant at all. It will thrive just fine.
Propagating Choisya by taking cuttings
You can propagate Choisya from seed, however, the most effective method is actually by taking cuttings. Cuttings need to be taken from new growth, just as they are becoming firm at the base but flexible at the top. Usually, this is around the end of summer.
Prepare the pots ahead of time with a mixture comprised of half grit and half potting compost so that the drainage is appropriate. Make small holes in the mixture using a pencil or a stick, so that you can place the cuttings directly into the hole.
Remove the tip of the stem and divide the remainder of the stem into segments or cuttings that are 10-15cm in length. You want to make sure that the base of each cut takes place right above a leaf node. After that remove any of the lower leaves and dip the cutting into a rooting powder to help it grow new roots as quickly as possible.
Place the cuttings into the pots you have prepared approximately 5 inches deep. Water them gently and cover them loosely with a plastic bag. This will prevent moisture loss. In effect, you want to create a tiny greenhouse for each container. To do this, you might use a plastic cup placed over a smaller pot, or you might want to use a plastic bag secured with a rubber band. There are plenty of options, however, the purpose is the same regardless.
Place all of the pots in a sheltered location out of direct sunlight but keep them warm. You will need to remove the cover (or the plastic) once a week to lightly water and allow the cuttings to air. Doing so also alleviates any problems with poor airflow. By the following spring, the cuttings should be ready to go outside on a daily basis for hardening off. Once they have become acclimated to the outside weather you can plant them.
Pests and Diseases
In terms of pests, these are rarely affected because of the scented oils that they have in their leaves, but you might see slugs or snails on the younger plants. To alleviate this problem you can sprinkle grit around the plant because slugs and snails simply won’t want to crawl across that. Alternatively, you can use slug pellets and sprinkle them around the plants
In terms of diseases, the plant is pretty much disease-free. On occasion, you might get root rot but this can be avoided by simply improving your drainage and being careful not to overwater. Other than that, it is a very easy plant that requires no preventative measures.
Varieties to Choose From
The original (Choisya ternata) plants bring with them, dark green leaves and white flowers come spring. They also produce a second flush at the beginning of autumn. These varieties will thrive best in sunny areas but can handle partial shade, so if you don’t have an area that gets full sunlight all day, don’t worry, you can still capitalise upon this and enjoy the citrus fragrance in your garden.
There are different varieties other than the Choisya ternata which you can choose from. These varieties will typically reach up to 2.5m over the span of 10 years.
Choisya ‘Aztec Pearl’
Aztec Pearl is one variety that features dark green slim-cut leaves and white flowers that are lightly tinged with pink in the early summer. These flowers are very popular because they are not only stunning but they have a prominent gold stamen and produce the citrus scent for which this plant is so popular. These varieties will reach 2.5 metres over the span of 10 years and they prefer sunny locations.
Choisya ‘White Dazzler’
The Choisya White Dazzler is a more compact shrub that is better suited in smaller gardens or for growing in pots. It doesn’t require a lot of pruning and if you grow in multiple pots or in large, long pots it will make for a very suitable hedge. It produces slender, dark green leaves and an abundance of flowers both in the spring and autumn. This is one of the strongest of all varieties but it prefers full sun and at its full maturity (after around 5 years) it will reach the ultimate height between 0.5 and 1.2m.
Sundance is another variety popular for the foliage in particular. As the leaves begin to start growing they have a sunny, yellow colour and when they reach maturity they become lime green. This provides beautiful backdrops from March through November and can still provide a hint of dazzle to a winter garden that is otherwise mundane. The richest colours can be achieved if the plant is placed in full sun. Like the other varieties, this one produces white flowers with a citrus scent that will show up twice per year, once between May and June and again in October. Around five years it will reach full maturity and 2.5m in height.