Susan Harris
All about gardening the eco-friendly way, by Susan Harris and 22 other garden writers and experts.

Possibly the world’s most useful garden plant –
The decidedly unsexy cherry laurel

November 25, 2007 · 20 comments

Otto350

Cherry laurels are extremely popular with landscape
designers as evergreen foundation shrubs and hedges, but
they’re less well known to the
public because they’re not showy.  They don’t exactly scream "buy
me" at the nursery.

The ‘Otto Luyken’ and ‘Schip’ laurels are the favorites, both of
which I use in my garden – they’re used to hide both the foundation of the house and the under-deck view. And the taller species functions well as an evergreen screening hedge
along my side property line.  But don’t miss the pruning ideas below.

In the U.S. they’re often referred to as "English laurels;" in England, not surprisingly, just "cherry laurels."  They’re indigenous to Eastern
Europe and Asia Minor.Cherrylaurel300

DETAILS

  • All varieties do well in full sun or partial shade, and
    ‘Otto Luyken’ even tolerates deep shade.
  • White blooms appear mid-spring
  • Size? Take your pick.
    • The species (photo right) grows fast (up to 2′ per year) to 20 feet tall, if
      left unpruned.
    • ‘Otto Luyken’ grows to 3-4 feet tall and 6-8 feet wide.  It’s shown in the
      top photo.
    • ‘Schipkaensis’ or ‘Schip’ (photo below) grows to 4-5 feet tall and 5-8 feet
      wide.
  • Sources say they need good drainage,  but doesn’t almost every plant?
  • Hardy to Zone 6.

CARE

  • One less-than-helpful source tells us to "water regularly". In my
    experienceSkiplaurel350they’re quite drought-tolerant, once established in the garden
    (after at least the first season).
  • To prune for smaller size, cut the tallest stems back to varying heights,
    but always just above another branch (don’t leave stumps). OR remove the tallest
    one-third of the stems all the way to
    the ground or close to it every year.
  • Left unpruned, cherry laurels can become so thick and densely branched that
    light and air are restricted and disease and pest infestations are encouraged. 
    So keep them more open and healthy by removing some of the interior branches,
    especially ones growing toward the center.
  • Don’t prune by sheering around the edges to a perfect but unnatural
    shape – this will lead to the same dead interior problems described above
    (disease, pests).

Readers, if you’ve grown these, do what’s been your experience with them?

{ 20 comments }

1 Doug Green November 25, 2007 at 10:55 am

Dead as a doornail in a garden trial. Mind you, USDA zone 4 is “somewhat” out of their range. :-)

2 mss @ Zanthan Gardens November 27, 2007 at 9:12 am

Are you talking about Prunus caroliniana? If so, then yes I have them in my back yard along a chain link fence. My neighbor planted some originally and mine are self-seeded from hers.

They are drought and heat-tolerant here in Central Texas. I don’t provide supplemental water and they only looked a bit bad 1 year out of the last 15 during a particularly hot and dry summer (which browned even nandina and liriope). Most of the time they are a welcome glossy green during our most wilt-provoking summers.

However, I find them to be short-lived and weak-wooded. Mine are tall variety used as a screen. I don’t prune them as a formal hedge but try to keep them light and airy. I’ve gone through several generations of plants–they seem to last about 7 to 10 years. There’s a lot of plants I’d rather use as a screen; I only keep the cherry laurels because they are there already.

3 susan harriss November 27, 2007 at 9:34 am

Sorry, MSS, I somehow left off the Latin name. It’s Prunus laurocerasus.
I just Googled the native Caroliniana you mentioned and found the accusations of invasiveness interesting, since the word is usually reserved for nonnatives. On Daves Garden the negative reviews outweigh the positives.
And Doug, the plant I wrote about is definitely not hardy in Zone 4, so your result is to be expected.

4 bev November 28, 2007 at 8:02 am

I’ve grown cherry laurels for 25 years in my N. Va. yard and skip laurels for about 10 years. I find them both to be shade tolerant (a must for me) and carefree. I have never pruned mine, although their habit is probably more open due to the shade. I never had to water them once established. The skip laurels, which are in more sun, have grown taller than your post, about 10 ft. They make a great evergreen screen!

5 Bogie December 1, 2007 at 7:28 am

That plant was sounding great until the hardy to zone 6 thing. Not exactly useful for those of us in 5 or lower (4b for me). Ah well, I’m sure there must be something that I can grow that those in higher zones can’t (icicles don’t count – do they?).

6 Eric December 30, 2007 at 9:11 pm

I live in Rockville, Maryland, just north of Washington, DC and I’ve found that the otto luyken types do quite well under my large silver maple, which as most folks know is a tough place to grow much of anything…I also have a schip laurel and it does well, but it is protected from winter winds…same with my regular english laurel – they all do best when protected from winter winds – and yes, they need to drain – they will rot if left in a wet spot.

7 lori February 2, 2009 at 8:57 pm

I am wanting to know when is the best time of the year to prune skip laurels? It is the first week in february here in tennessee and they have really ground out of shape in the last few months and would really like to trim them now. Please let me know asap. Thank you.

8 Joe Lubrano April 28, 2009 at 6:05 pm

I live in SE PA, and recently purchased Otto Luke’s, balled and burlapped. But the bottom leaves are turning yellow, and they haven’t even been planted yet. I made sure not to let the ball dry out, and kept them spaced apart.

Is it a fungus? If so, what should I apply to it?

Thank you.

9 Katrina May 1, 2009 at 6:51 pm

I had 5 Otto Lukyen’s planted in Fall 2008. They have more yellow leaves than I think they should have, which are turning brown and dropping off. My landscaper says they look fine, and he’s not concerned. I’m suspicious. Any ideas, anyone?

10 Joe Lubrano May 3, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Regarding yellow leaves dropping off, the nursery told me it was due to lack of water. And balled and burlapped plants are more stress prone than container plants early on.

As for plants getting established, if water isn’t the issue, the leaf yellowing can be caused by iron deficiency.

11 Melissa May 30, 2009 at 8:57 pm

I recently purchased three otto luykens that we planted in an area that gets sun until about 2 pm. One is doing fine, but the other two are drooping and the leaves in the middle are starting to form brown spots. Some leave are turning yellow. Do I take them back to the nursery and try to get new ones, or do theses just need something else? I water every day but not for too long. Please help!

12 Joe Lubrano May 31, 2009 at 10:38 am

To Melissa -

Is the location and soil good? Seems like they get the right amount of sun.
I backfilled mine each with bagged topsoil. The yellowing stopped, as I water once a week. I just fill up a bucket of water and slowly pour over each plant, so the water really penetrates. The brown spots are due to a fungus, any fungicide should work. Drooping leaves I never had.

Assuming they have a guarantee of some kind, it’s certainly your call to bring them back, or at least bring a sample branch back.

13 Len Brightwell July 21, 2009 at 9:02 am

HELP! We landscaped 2 years ago and planted otto luken in an area that is in full sunlight from about 2:30 ’til 6 PM. They were doing great, until we noticed one dying, then a second and now a third. The leaves loose their luster, then appear to have a slight “dusting” of white, and finally turn brown and drop off. I’m afraid this will eventually spread to all. A heartfelt thanks to anyone that may be able to help.

14 don adams September 1, 2009 at 4:05 pm

live in middle tenn, have 8 english laurels,planted 4 mo ago. all have new growth and new leaves,( BUT)on one the leaves are brown and dry on the tips and also has dead brown ones in center near bottom of plant, also all of them have small flower buds that are white. please help if you would , thank you much.

15 Paige Haney November 8, 2009 at 9:29 pm

I have had my laurels for about 10 years.  They have been great until now.  Several of them have something that is turning part of the shrubs grey and it dies.  I think it is some kind of insect  There are lots of webs or cacoons on the shrubs.  Can you help?  What do I use to save them.  I have cut of the dead branches. What else can I do?

16 Salma April 13, 2010 at 4:12 pm

I am having a similar problem with Prunus Caroliniana compact laurels. They are planted along the top of a hill. They have been there for 3 years now, they are watered regularly on a drip. For the past 2 years they have been very dried up and not very lush and leafy as seen in pictures. The leaves seem to be less and less What can we do?

17 Pam April 24, 2010 at 11:21 am

I have had Otto Lukyen’s for years and now experiencing numerous problems. They are riddled with small holes overall (not helped by insecticides) and random branches are dying on most of the shrubs. I lost three shrubs in the back yard and now each of the eight out front are looking very bad. They start looking like skeletons as I remove the bad branches one at a time. I don’t know if the problems are related, but various things have been suggested from insects to fungus. Whatever it is, it is costly and very frustrating. Help?!

18 joe lubrano April 24, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Regarding “buckshot holes” in the leaves, that is from a very wet spring we had in SE Penna. I have this problem with one, I simply gave it a good pruning last week, that alone improved the appearance. It’s a superficial problem, and can be treated with broad spectrum fungicide.

Regarding branches and whole plants dying off, geez, I don’t know. Rhododendrens are notorious for this. Are these infected and infested bushes too close too each other? And too close to a wall? Are they in a deeply shaded spot? I do know plants need a fair amount of air circulation and sunlight.

I am going to the nursery today where I bought my Otto’s, I will ask about branches and whole plants dying off, see what they say. If helpful, I’ll post a follow up.

19 diane chandler April 30, 2010 at 8:30 am

hello there, my husband brought a laurel plane and every thing was going fine but the last 2 months the leaves at the top are turning yellow the bottom at the moment is ok what do you thick it is can you email asap as i need to get this sorted before we lose it thank you

20 aleksandra April 30, 2010 at 6:37 pm

I planted about 10 of those 3 years ago to get evergreen and tall screen very fast – what a disappointment : (((. They are now 7 feet tall but spindly, pitiful upright shrubs with sparingly distributed foliage : ((.

I am a long time gardener and tried about everything to make them look well with no success !!!

I would never recommend this plant to anybody and all of mine Cherry Laurels will be pulled out and replaced with Taxus ASAP !!!

I hate that I wasted 3 growth seasons for “nothing” : ((

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