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Mock Orange


Photo of 'Buckley's Quill' mock orange flowers.

Photo of 'Buckley's Quill' mock orange flowers.

David Beaulieu

Taxonomy of Mock Orange Plants:

Plant taxonomy classifies mock orange, or "mockorange", as Philadelphus. It is with Philadelphus x virginalis 'Minnesota Snowflake' that I deal mainly here. Minnesota Snowflake is a cultivar of mock orange. Other cultivars include 'Buckley's Quill' and Natchez (not to be confused with Natchez crepe myrtles). Another popular mock orange is Philadelphus coronarius, known as "sweet mock orange" and "English dogwood" (not to be confused with true flowering dogwoods).

Plant Type:

Mock orange is a deciduous flowering shrub, although you'll occasionally hear people refer to "mock orange trees."

Characteristics of Mock Orange Shrubs:

Mock orange shrubs exude a citrusy fragrance (the quality of which will vary according to cultivar). The plants bear light green leaves and produce white flowers in late spring / early summer. Philadelphus x virginalis 'Minnesota Snowflake' reaches 8 feet tall x 8 feet wide at maturity. Philadelphus coronarius is listed as a somewhat larger plant (12 feet tall x 12 feet wide at maturity).

Planting Zones for Mock Orange Shrubs:

Grow mock orange plants in planting zones 4-8.

Sun and Soil Requirements for Mock Orange Shrubs:

Plant mock orange in full sun to part shade and in a well-drained, loamy soil. The bushes generally blossom more profusely if planted in full sun. They are reasonably drought-tolerant shrubs once established.

Uses in Landscaping:

Mock orange plants make for effective specimen plants in spring. Massed along a border, they can form a loose privacy hedge for summer. The blossoms of mock orange plants are often used as cut flowers.

Origin of the Name, "Mock Orange," or "Mockorange":

As the "mock" in its name suggests, mock orange is not a true orange. But the citrusy smell of its blossoms was enough to invite comparison, thus accounting for the origin of the shrub's common name.

But common plant names are notorious for being potentially misleading, which is why scientific plant names are preferred. And here we have a good example. For other plants have citrusy fragrances, too, earning them the common name, "mock orange" -- Pittosporum, for instance. So if you're interested in planting the "mock orange" discussed in the present article, be sure the nursery tag reads, Philadelphus.

Wildlife Attracted by Mock Orange Plants:

Nectar-rich, mock orange shrubs are plants that attract butterflies.

Caveat in Buying Mock Orange Plants:

Fragrance is a major selling point for mock orange. Unfortunately, not all cultivars are equally fragrant. Consequently, a good time to buy mock orange is when it's in bloom at the nursery -- that way, you can sample the fragrance for yourself.

Pruning Mock Orange Shrubs:

Let's distinguish between 3 kinds of pruning for established (i.e., planted for 3 years or more) mock orange plants:

  1. Yearly pruning
  2. Rejuvenating mildly overgrown plants
  3. Drastic rejuvenation pruning

Your yearly pruning needs to take into account that mock orange blooms on the prior year's growth. Therefore, to avoid missing out on flowering next year, prune immediately after the blooming period. On stems that have just finished flowering, prune off growth above where you see outer-facing buds. Also prune off any dead, badly-positioned or ill-formed branches, while you have the pruners or loppers handy.

As your mock orange matures, at some point you'll probably decide that it's becoming mildly overgrown. It's time to apply the one-third rule, as you would when pruning lilacs. Each year, as you're doing your yearly pruning, prune the oldest one-third of the branches down to ground level. After 3 years of such pruning, the shrub should look healthier.

Even when mock orange becomes wildly overgrown, all is not lost, because the shrub, if healthy, will respond well to drastic rejuvenation pruning. Again, you'll prune in spring -- but, this time, before new growth begins. Prune all the branches right down to the ground. You won't enjoy blossoms that year, but all the plant's energy will be channeled into the healthy new branches that will soon be rocketing out of your soil.

Back to: Late Spring Blooming Shrubs

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