The spreading nature of laurel shrubs can make these evergreen plants ideal for hedges or for filling in areas of partial shade. The common name "laurel" is given to many types of plants that populate more than one genus. Laurels range from mountain laurels (Kalmia latifolia), which are native to much of the Appalachian Mountain region and hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9, to cherry laurels (Prunus laurocerasus), a nonnative shrub with a wide range of cultivars that grow best in zones 6 through 8.
Video of the Day
Mountain Laurel Shrubs
One of the most popular types of laurel shrubs found in the U.S. is the mountain laurel. While it is native to the Eastern U.S. from New England south to Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle, this plant flourishes where acidic, well-draining, cool, moist soil can be found in partial shade.
If you don't have acidic, well-draining soil, but you can provide partial shade and regular waterings, raised beds can be ideal for mountain laurel shrubs. These dense shrubs grow from 5 to 15 feet tall and spread from 5 to 15 feet wide, making them perfect to fill in areas where you'd like a natural barrier. Some cultivars are much smaller with mature heights reaching only 3 feet, such as Elf and Minuet, which makes them more suitable for smaller landscapes.
Mountain laurels produce clusters of whitish-pink blooms in May and June and feature glossy green foliage all year. They grow well on slopes and along the forest edge. Deadheading spent blooms and occasional pruning promote good plant health, but these plants require little labor.
Cherry Laurel Shrubs
Cherry laurel shrubs have up to two dozen cultivars, which range in size from large, tree-sized shrubs that reach 20 to 30 feet in height to dwarf varieties that grow from 10 to 18 feet. North Carolina State University Extension states that most cherry laurel hedges can grow twice as wide as tall.
Unlike mountain laurels, cherry laurels can tolerate alkaline soils, pollution and even drought. The cherry laurel is similar to mountain laurel in that it doesn't respond well to heavy fertilization. In the Pacific Northwest, west of the Cascades, this plant is considered to be a weed of concern, so think twice about planting a cherry laurel if you live in this region.
Cherry laurels are also like mountain laurels in that they do well in shade. This Southeast Europe/Asian native plant has oblong, glossy green leaves to about 6 inches long with clusters of small, white, fragrant flowers. The compact cultivar Schipkaensis is the most cold-hardy and can be grown in USDA zone 6. Other cultivars may be cold-hardy only to zone 7, so make sure the selection you want to buy is cold-hardy in your region.
Laurel Shrub Care
As long as you have the right soil conditions for your laurel, either mountain laurels or cherry laurels should be relatively easy to care for. Deadhead mountain laurels just after blooming to promote better blooms the following year. If you want to prune, give them a light pruning after they bloom. Water in dry spells and spread a thin layer of mulch over the roots.
Cherry laurels can withstand major pruning, and you may need to do this if you want to contain your cherry laurel in a certain area. These shrubs do need to be watered during hot, dry spells and should be pruned in the spring or fall.
Both types of laurels are susceptible to bacterial leaf spot that will cause small, brown spots to materialize on the undersides of leaves in early summer. There are few controls for this problem, but it is not likely to affect the plant's health.
- University of Arkansas Research & Extension: Landscape Shrubs: Common Cherrylaurel: English Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus)
- NC State Extension: Prunus Laurocerasus: Common Names: Cherry Laurel; English Laurel
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Kalmia latifolia
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Prunus laurocerasus
- University of Connecticut College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources: Plant Database: Prunus laurocerasus 'Schipkaensis' Schip Laurel, Cherrylaurel
- King County: English Laurel Identification and Control