Prunus laurocerasus / English or Cherry Laurel AND Kalmia latifolia / Mountain Laurel)

Prunus laurocerasus, Otto Luyken laurel

Cherry laurels are extremely popular with landscape designers as foundation shrubs and hedges, but they’re less well known to the public because they’re not showy. (These highly useful plants don’t scream “buy me” at the nursery.)

Most popular are probably the ‘Otto Luyken’ and ‘Schip’ laurels, both of which I use in my garden — to hide the foundation of my home and the underside of my deck. The taller species functions well as an evergreen screening hedge along my side property line. See pruning instructions under “Care” below.

In the U.S. they’re often referred to as “English laurels,” but in England they’re not surprisingly called “cherry laurels.” They’re indigenous to Eastern Europe and Asia Minor.

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.
  • Highly toxic.

    Cherry laurel, Prunus laurocerasus

Care

  • One less-than-helpful source tells us to “water regularly”. In my experience, they’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.
    Cherry laurel 'Schip"
  • 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).