Cherry Laurel, or Prunus laurocerasus, is a species of evergreen shrub with many recognized variants of the common name.
Native to countries that border the Back Sea, from southwestern Asia to southeastern Europe, this plant grows either as a large, spreading shrub or as a medium-sized tree.
This perennial also known as the common or English laurel, is widely grown in temperate sites, as an ornamental plant in parks and gardens worldwide.
Indigenous to countries such as Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Albania, Prunus laurocerasus is an evergreen shrub that was introduced to the UK in the late 1500s.
The shrub was presented to the UK as a gift from the Emperor of Constantinople, in Turkey. Since then, English laurel has naturalized in both Europe and parts of the USA and Canada.
|Scientific name||Prunus laurocerasusPrunus caroliniana|
|Common names||English laurel, Common laurel, Cherry laurel Carolina cherry laurel, laurel cherry|
|Height||Up to 15 m|
|Width||Up to 10 feet|
|USDA Plant Hardiness Zone||Zones 6 to 9|
|Native to||Southeastern Europe and Southwestern AsiaSoutheastern United States.|
|Plant specific features||Deer resistant|
How to Plant and Grow a Cherry Laurel
Before planting your cherry laurel, water it thoroughly for two days. This will help to soften the roots in the pot and prepare the shrub for its move.
Where to Plant
Cherry laurels will perform best if they are planted in a position that receives either partial sunlight or full sunlight. This is a popular choice for a hedging plant. Because it is evergreen, it will provide privacy and makes a perfect dense screen.
Prunus laurocerasus can also be used to provide a windbreak, or in a wildlife garden. Its dense foliage and abundance of berries make this very attractive to bird life.
Unlike many other hedging shrubs, common laurel is tolerant and more resistant to salt. For this reason, cherry laurel can be used as a hedge in a warm, coastal location.
When to Plant
Often, you will be buying bare-rooted English laurel plants. This is particularly true if you are planting a quantity for hedging purposes.
Bare-rooted shrubs can only be planted during the dormant season. This means that you should be planting them between November and March when they are not growing.
A container-grown shrub can be planted at any time of year. But, as is always the case, avoid planting a shrub during extremes of weather, i.e., during the mid-winter or mid-summer.
If you plant a laurel during the Summer, you will have to pay great attention to watering for its first growing season, as it should not be allowed to dry out.
Planting the P. laurocerasus during the autumn or very early in the spring will require less watering than a summer-planted shrub.
Cherry Laurel Care and Maintenance
The soil must be well draining. Cherry laurel will grow in a range of soil types, including coastal areas with high salt deposits. Ideally, the soil should be fertile and very slightly acidic.
Before planting, condition the soil by raking the surface with a 2-inch (5 cm) layer of organic matter. Then, apply a general purpose fertilizer over the planting area. Water it in. Leave a little time before planting, to allow the excess water to drain away.
Cherry laurel is fairly drought-tolerant, requiring little watering once it is established. This shrub will tolerate dry conditions better than many other shrubs used for hedging, which makes them a good choice of shrub.
When newly planted, make sure the cherry laurel doesn’t dry out. This is why it is easier to plant in the autumn or early in the spring, as the ground is less likely to suffer from a prolonged, dry spell.
When watering, it is a more efficient use of water to water less often, but thoroughly. This will enable the water to saturate a large area of the soil. Plants then have to seek out the water, by growing their roots downwards.
Superficial watering just dampens the surface of the soil, and the plants will simply grow roots that spread along the surface.
Once your cherry laurel is established and growing well, it is probably unnecessary to water it unless there is a very hot, dry spell. You want to err on the side of dryness, and never let your shrub sit in soggy, waterlogged soil.
Fertilize the Prunus laurocerasus at the time of planting to give it a good start. Use a product that is designed for trees and shrubs, and with a balanced composition of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N-P-K).
Thereafter, you can apply for an annual application at the start of the growing season. There are fertilizers available especially designed for ornamental trees and for evergreens, both of which are suitable for feeding your English laurel.
English laurel will thrive best if it gets a lot of sunshine when grown in cooler climates, and partial sun if it is growing somewhere with extreme heat in summer.
Pruning and Repotting
If you leave your cherry laurel, it may well grow to over 40 feet (12.19 m) in height. This makes it unmanageable and too tall.
However, if you keep it around 12 feet (3.66 m) maximum, then you will have a dense, evergreen hedge that can be kept pruned to the desired height.
The good news is that if you inherit a cherry laurel that has been left to grow too tall, you can cut it back. The shrub recovers well after being sheared.
If you decide to move your cherry laurel, carefully dig it out of the ground. Take care not to cut too many of the roots off. Then, place the plant on the ground on a piece of old carpet, tarp, or sheet of plastic.
Wrap the tarp around the root ball. This will make it a lot easier to move the laurel to its new planting position, especially if it is a large specimen.
Dig the hole at least twice the size of the root ball, but no deeper.
A little care should be taken when handling P. laurocerasus as the leaves are toxic.
The most effective way to propagate a common laurel is by taking semi-ripe cuttings from the late summer to fall. Semi-ripe cuttings are cuttings taken from the current season’s growth that have started to become a little “woody”.
You can also take hardwood cuttings, but not until the end of fall or even early in the winter.
Whether you decide to take hardwood or semi-ripe cuttings, the use of a hormone rooting powder will speed up the rooting process and give you a higher success rate.
The final way in which you can multiply your P. laurocerasus is by collecting seeds and propagating them in the fall. This is a slower method, and less reliable.
Pests and diseases
Prunus laurocerasus is a shrub that is not significantly affected by pest problems. Although aphids, caterpillars, and spider mites may be attracted to the laurel, they will not cause any serious damage.
Cherry laurel is deer resistant.
Soil that is too wet, and doesn’t drain sufficiently, may cause the roots of the laurel to rot. Powdery mildew and other fungal diseases can equally occur if the planting conditions are not adequate.
Temperature and Humidity
The cherry laurel is a tough plant and able to survive almost anywhere. However, it is not frost-tolerant. The temperature should be above 59° F. In cooler weather, it is even more important not to overwater your cherry laurel.
If the cherry laurel gets damaged by frost in the autumn, it is usually the result of an early frost. The late-season growth will turn black. It will then shrivel and die.
Soft, late-season growth can be the result of a fertilizer application late in the season, which is why you shouldn’t fertilize the cherry laurel after late spring.
The damaged shoots should be cut back and removed. This will stop the onset of any fungal disease in the damaged plant tissue.
Frost damage later on, during the winter, will be most serious if the cold is accompanied by a cold wind, especially when there is no protective cover of snow.
The cherry laurel leaves will wither and die. Although the brown leaves will eventually drop, and new Spring growth will be produced, the hedge or tree will look rather unsightly in the intervening period.
Frost damage can also occur in the spring if there are late frosts. Once again, affected shoots will turn brown, wither and die. The parts of the common laurel which will be damaged should only be the tender new growth.
Fortunately, because the plant is growing vigorously at this time of year, there will quickly be new growth to replace the damaged shoots.
Other Uses for Cherry Laurel
There are many examples of cherry laurel being used in folklore and as an example, the leaves were used to test the future fidelity of a potential suitor.
The symbolism of common laurel extends to wreaths made from their foliage, and used in memorial ceremonies, particularly in England.
Despite its reputation for toxicity, laurel leaves were also used in cooking, particularly as a flavoring for desserts. There are also stories of the small, cherry-like fruit of the shrub being eaten by children in Ireland.
The fruits do contain small quantities of hydrogen cyanide, so they taste extremely bitter. They should not be eaten, and the seed inside the berry, together with the cherry laurel leaves, are even more toxic and should never be ingested.
All parts of the cherry laurel, including the stems, are not only toxic to humans but also to livestock and domestic animals.
In former times, crushed laurel leaves were also mixed with butter and used as a medicine to treat fungal diseases, again in Ireland.
Laurel has long been used as a decoration at Christmas. Garlands made up of mixed winter foliage, including laurel, are used to decorate homes and shops during the festive season.
Types of Cherry Laurel You Can Grow
There is a very popular plant available that grows low and compact but retains the glossy, deep green foliage of Prunus laurocerasus.
P. laurocerasus “Nana” is known as dwarf English laurel, dwarf cherry laurel, and Nana English laurel. It is evergreen and blooms in the spring.
Just like the cherry laurel, it bears bright red berries, which turn black as they mature. P. laurocerasus “Nana” is hardy in USDA zones 7 to 9 and is a useful, attractive evergreen shrub.
This variety can be grown either as an edging, or border plant. Alternatively, it can be successfully container grown.
If container-grown, you have the added option of shaping it by pruning and using it for topiary purposes. This is a slow-growing variety, so it isn’t necessary to prune it very often.
A slightly larger, but still compact cultivar is P. laurocerasus “Otto Luyken”. This will stop growing at around 4 feet (1.22 m) in height and makes a useful if low-growing, hedge.
Prunus laurocerasus “Schipkaensis” is typically referred to as Skip laurel. A variety of cherry laurel, discovered in Bulgaria, grows in an upright form.
Because Prunus laurocerasus “Schipkaensis” has somewhat smaller leaves, you can keep a tidy tree or hedge without a lot of shaping or pruning. This Skip variety has excellent shade and frost tolerance too.
Prunus laurocerasus is an elegant shrub, fast-growing, and evergreen. It is tough and mainly disease resistant. With its elegant, fragrant racemes of white flower clusters and cherry-like fruits, it offers seasonal interest all year.
Common or English laurel is a very popular gardener’s choice, as it is an ideal hedging plant. It is very tolerant to drought and heat.
*image by cristaldream/depositphotos