You CAN grow fragrant jasmine in the North!

In spite of what some people say. I’ve done it before and am about (with luck) to do it again, even though I keep swearing up and down I’ve had it with plants that have to be brought in for the winter.

carolina jessamine flower (gelsimium sempervirens)

Carolina jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens. Not really a jasmine at all. But it IS the Southern fragrance that inspired my current bout of jasmine lust.



As briefly acknowledged  a bit more than a week ago, we’ve been on vacation in warmer climes. Or maybe that’s vacation TO warmer climes, since it took three days each way to drive from the Hudson Valley to the Southwest Florida coast.

Going down and coming home, all through the Carolinas, we were treated to miles of roadside shrubs and trees festooned with the golden flowers.

roadside carolina jessamine gelsimium sempervirens

Carolina jessamine isn’t as smothery as bittersweet, but it’s almost as determined.

Very pretty (unless you’re the tree), and beautifully fragrant. Plus it was a positive weed. All the way down I was thinking “how hard could it be to dig up a shoot or two on the way home?”

Then I looked it up and got saved from myself. G. sempervirens isn’t just frost tender, it also blooms on old wood; there would be years of setting it out in summer and then bringing it in again before we got much of a show.

As a further discouragement, all parts of this vine are poisonous, probably deadly to the plant nibbling cat. Between the bother and the risk, clearly not worth it. Chalk one up for reason over emotion, horticultural division.

But then I made the mistake of going along with our Florida friend when he visited a local nursery. Gigantic jasmines! Many varieties! All budded up! CHEAP!!

My vows about cutting down on the insy-outsy routine floated away on a cloud of sweet fragrance, there being (alas) plenty of room in the car for a couple of two gallon pots. In them:

jasminum sambac flowers

Jasminum Sambac, aka Arabian jasmine, famous for its slightly spicy, demure but unmistakable perfume. The variety wasn’t specified, but it’s probably Maid of Orleans, slightly less fragrant than double flowered Grand Duke of Tuscany, but easier to grow. The flowers turn wine color when they’re on the way out.


cestrum nocturnum, night blooming jasmine

Cestrum Nocturnum, aka night blooming jasmine, though only the night blooming part is correct. Otherwise, it’s not even in the same botanical family*

C. nocturnum is plenty fragrant, but not in a sweetly coquettish, jasminelike way. Instead, its perfume is sultry, tropical, almost unbearably intense.

I had to cut off most of the blooms so we could live in the car with it until we got it home, and our friend had to keep his resultant bouquet out on his patio to avoid being overwhelmed. Powerful stuff, but it’ll be great beside the path in the white garden in Maine.

Ok, you may be saying to yourself, so if these plants are so delightful it’s worth putting up with the insy-outsy, why did you stop growing them in the first place?

Answer: In the old days, the insy to outsy ratio was way out of balance. You can’t put tropical bloomers out until it’s quite warm, and while most are helped to set buds by exposure to cool fall temperatures, you still have to bring them in before frost. Make that well before frost in the case of the sambac, which doesn’t care for temperatures much below 50, even at night.

In other words, I had about 3 months of carefree outdoor delight (June through August) and nine months (September through May) of window-blocking greenery prone to spider mites.

But I’m thinking that won’t be true any more. The milder temperatures and longer growing season we now enjoy should allow my plants to go outside in mid-May and stay there until late September. Much better deal and certainly worth trying.

Indoor Jasmine (and Cestrum) care, short version:

  • Winter is rest time, it’s best to let the plants – I’d say “tread water” except that overwatering is fatal. Be sure to use a free-draining potting mix. Try to keep the soil evenly moist while letting the top inch or so dry slightly between waterings.
  • From mid-fall to late winter, fertilize very sparingly (with half-strength fish emulsion). If the plant looks green and healthy, don’t feed. New growth pushed out in winter is usually very tender, vulnerable to bugs and disease.
  • The brighter the light, the better, especially if you want indoor blooms.
  •  Provide plenty of humidity. This of course is the hard part up north, where heated air is typically drier than that of most desserts. Misting doesn’t help at all and pebble trays are mostly good for growing algae. The only thing that really works is a humidifier, but why not? It’ll be just as good for you as it is for the plants.


* There are around 200 species of Jasminum, which is in Oleaceae. But Cestrum is in Solanaceae, and, for what it’s worth, Gelsimium is in Loganiaceae. Thus the peril of common names; equating “smells good” with “jasmine” is not especially helpful.

Closeup photo of Carolina Jessamine, Bill Bakaitis 


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