Aucuba is a genus of slow-growing, evergreen shrubs with three traditionally recognized species. Native to North America, this plant commonly grows in damp woods or marshland.
This perennial plant, also known as the Japanese laurel, is grown as an ornamental plant with attractive, often spotted, foliage and an abundance of berries depending upon the species.
Originally from Japan, this plant is introduced to Europe in the late 1700s. However, it wasn’t for almost another century that the first pollinated plant was seen displaying an abundance of vivid scarlet berries.
Over the course of the late 1800s and well into the 1900s, aucuba shrubs became a common sight in gardens everywhere. These were especially prized in London gardens due to their ability to survive in smoky, polluted environments.
They became popular houseplants too in cities.
|Scientific name||Aucuba japonica|
|Common names||Spotted laurel, Japanese laurel, gold dust plant|
|Height||1 to 3m (3 to 8 feet)|
|Width||Up to 3m (8 feet)|
|USDA Plant Hardiness Zone||7 to 9|
|Native to||China and East Asia|
|Blooming season||April to May|
|Flower colors||Small, purplish colored blooms in a cluster|
|Plant specific features||Evergreen, variegated foliage and an abundance of red berries in fall|
How to Plant and Grow an Aucuba Bush
The low-maintenance aucuba has become an attractive addition to a gardener’s planting scheme. This evergreen shrub can easily and successfully be grown by the home gardener as it is hardy and not fussy at all.
Where to Plant
This is an easy-to-grow perennial, and an aucuba will do well either in a partially sunny position, partial shade, or full shade. The more shady the position, the brighter the leaf color will be but for a proliferation of berries, some sunlight is needed. They are hardy in USDA zones 7 to 10.
When to Plant
The Japanese laurel should ideally be planted during periods of temperate weather, either in the spring or the fall. In the spring, it should be planted after the last expected frost.
However, this is a plant that can be planted all year long, provided the ground is not frozen and too hard to dig the planting hole.
Aucuba Shrubs Care and Maintenance
In its native Asian habitat, the aucuba grows in rich, forest soil. But it is suitable to grow whatever the soil composition. This easy-to-grow evergreen will tolerate all soil types – including alkaline, salt, sand, and even clay soils.
Like all newly planted shrubs, until strong root systems are established, it is important to keep aucuba plants well watered. Once they have settled, you will find aucuba shrubs are drought tolerant.
If you have chosen to grow this plant as a houseplant, then you should water it when the surface soil in the pot has dried to a depth of around 5 cm.
There is no need to provide any fertilizer for this plant, but if desired, a slow-release, general-purpose fertilizer can be applied annually. A fertilizer suitable for rhododendrons is suitable, for applied in the spring before the new growth appears.
This type of fertilizer contains iron and/or sulfur and this is good for promoting deep green luscious foliage.
If the aucuba is planted in full sun, its foliage will be less vibrant. It will grow quicker in full sun. It’s ideal to grow in a shady position as the variegated foliage and bright, abundant red berries in winter will brighten up a dull, shady corner of your garden.
Pruning and Repotting
This is a perennial shrub that doesn’t need any pruning for several years. Once the plant is well established and growing rapidly, then an annual prune will keep the plant smaller and bush-shaped.
If left unchecked, the aucuba will grow to full size (around 10 feet (3m)) in about fifteen years. If you wish to retain a tidy, rounded bush, then pruning is necessary and should be carried out in the spring between March and May.
If you delay pruning until the late summer, then the new shoots which form after the pruning will be tender and susceptible to frost damage in the fall.
Pruning the Japanese laurel is very simple; it is just cutting back the plant to the height and shape desired. Try to avoid cutting the leaves as they will go black at the edges.
If the aucuba has been neglected and become overgrown, it is quite simple to prune. The spotted laurel can be cut back very hard without damaging the plant.
A drastic pruning should be carried out early in the season (around May) when it is growing at its most vigorous. This will give it as much time as possible to recover before dormancy.
When planting or repotting an aucuba, you should prepare a hole that is at least twice as deep and wide as the plant’s current pot.
Enrich the soil, if necessary, with compost or organic matter. Plant the top of the root ball level with the soil. Water thoroughly and tamp down to firm the soil around the plant’s roots.
The aucuba can be propagated easily by taking stem cuttings. The success rate is very high.
Propagating aucuba by cuttings is best done in the summer. Preventing moisture loss in the cutting is important.
Select a piece of the stem that is neither soft nor new growth but not hard and woody either. Choose a piece of stem that is semi-ripe, or somewhere in between.
When the cutting is first cut off the plant, cut it a bit longer than 3 inches. Place the piece of stem in a plastic bag until you are ready to plant. Just before planting, cut a further short length off the stem cutting.
The lower leaves should be removed and the remaining leaves cut cleanly in half. Less leaf area will help the cutting make new roots more quickly.
The use of a hormone rooting powder, by no means essential, will speed up the rooting process. You can plant up to three cuttings in a single pot of compost. The pot should be placed in a plastic bag and placed in a cold frame or outside in a shady, frost-free place.
After about one month, the cuttings will have rooted and the plastic bag can be removed. Keep an eye on the small plants. If dry, water it but take care not to overwater at this stage.
Over the winter months, the roots of the aucuba will start to develop, and the plants can be planted the following spring.
Pests and diseases
Aucuba shrubs are not subject to major pest or disease issues. Young plants can be susceptible to deer damage. This risk reduces as the plant matures and becomes more resistant.
If the shrub is exposed to too much full sun, then leaf burn can be a problem.
Temperature and Humidity
The aucuba is tough; it will withstand temperatures as cold as -40 degrees.
Other Uses for Aucuba
Aucuba is mildly poisonous in all its forms, but because the berries are foul and bitter tasting, it is unlikely to be ingested in significant quantities by children or adults.
Types of Aucuba You Can Grow
There are three traditionally grown types of aucuba (A. japonica, A. chinensis. A. himalaica), although recently more species have been added.
There are several popular cultivated varieties from which to choose. The large, shiny, evergreen leaves are a definite hit with gardeners as are the bright red aucuba berries.
Aucuba japonica (spotted laurel) is the most widely grown because it provides multi-seasonal interest. It is hardy and uncomplicated to grow.
As well as being easy to grow, hardy, evergreen, and fruit-bearing, the aucuba will brighten up a dull, shady corner of the garden. Aucuba shrubs are capable of growing successfully even under a tree where even grass won’t thrive!
*image by bonilook/depositphotos