Cherry Laurel: Plant This or That

Winter is a great time to figure out if you need more evergreens in your garden. Without flashy flowers and foliage, any bare spaces really stand out.


Evergreen cherry laurel, top left, is everywhere in the mid-Atlantic. It’s a vigorous grower, good for screening, hedges and foundations, and widely available. It flowers with white wands in spring and early summer.

The three widely available cherry laurel in our area are Prunus ‘Otto Luyken’ and Prunus laurocerasus both native to Europe and Prunus laurocerasus ‘schipkaensis’ native to Asia.  The photo at the left shows European cherry laurel used as a hedge at both the front of the garden and at the foundation beneath the window.  European cherry laurel is reported as invasive along parts of the US west coast.

Also available in our area, but harder to find, is Carolina cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana).  Carolina cherry laurel is native from southeast North Carolina to Texas, but not to the Chesapeake Bay watershed. These plants are difficult to tell apart; relying on the plant labels is key.

The ideal substitute for cherry laurel in the Chesapeake watershed is mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), top right and below.  However, it grows more slowly and must be planted in the right place. Mountain laurel needs part shade and moist soil. It does not grow well in heavy clay soil.IMG_2030 2In the right place, though, like above at the Mt. Cuba Garden, it is a great substitute for cherry laurel. The small flowers range from white to rose and once the plant establishes, it is spectacular and graceful for the long haul.  IMG_2029 2

For more information:

Check out this fact sheet from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

And practical growing advice from the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.





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Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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