Cherry laurel is a fast-growing evergreen shrub or small tree with a variety of uses in the garden. This sweet-smelling plant does have toxic properties and can be invasive in some areas, so be sure to read through this article before choosing this plant for your next gardening or landscaping project.
What Is A Cherry Laurel Shrub?
The cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) is an evergreen shrub or small tree from the Rosaceae family. These plants have a few other common names, including laurel cherry, English laurel, and common laurel.
The cherry laurel is from the Prunus genus, a group of plants that you’re probably already pretty familiar with. The genus includes popular plants like the plum, cherries, and peaches.
This particular Prunus is a dense, broadleaf evergreen woody shrub or small tree that has been developed into many different cultivars, including low-growing groundcover-like forms.
In its natural form, this plant is a spreading evergreen that can reach over 25 feet (7.5 m) tall and grow even wider than it is high.
They have attractive, glossy dark green foliage consisting of 3 to 7 inch (7.5 to 17.5 cm) long aromatic leaves that are arranged alternately on upright stems. These plants are native to southeastern Europe and southwestern Asia, occurring in countries like Turkey and Bulgaria.
There is a plant, native to the United States, that is also commonly known as the cherry laurel. This plant, which is scientifically known as Prunus caroliniana is also occasionally used in landscaping and horticulture but is not the focus of this article, which covers the more widely known old-world plant.
Cherry Laurel Cultivars/Varieties
- ‘Zabeliana’ is a low growing form up to about 5 feet (1.5 m) tall that spreads widely, creating an attractive tall ground cover effect.
- ‘Magnoliifolia’ is a large, tree-like form that can grow to over 20 feet (6 m) tall and has larger leaves than other varieties.
- ‘Otto Luyken’ is a popular spreading form that grows about twice as wide as it does tall. This compact variety has leaves with smooth (entire) margins and usually grows to about 4 feet (1.2 m) tall, although it could well grow twice that height in time if left untrimmed.
- ‘Schipkaensis’ is very similar to the variety described above, but has an erect, upright growth form that is usually significantly taller than it is wide.
Cherry Laurel Flowers
This plant flowers in the mild months of spring, and sometimes again in the fall, producing 2 to 5 inch (5 to 12.5 cm) long spikes of cream-white flowers. Each individual flower is small, measuring less than half an inch (13 mm) across.
Cherry laurel flowers are strongly fragrant, which should be kept in mind when choosing the right spot to plant them. After flowering, this plant produces small, purple to black fruits that are about half an inch (13 mm) across or less in size and contain a single seed.
Although these fruits are attractive, they tend to be pretty well hidden by the plant’s dense evergreen foliage.
How To Grow A Cherry Laurel
Prunus laurocerasus is a very fast-growing plant that is easy to grow and needs little maintenance. These plants can be grown from seed but will need to be put through a period of 2 to 3 months of cold stratification at about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) to break their natural dormancy.
In their first year, seedlings might only grow to about 6 inches (15 cm) tall or less but will begin to grow more rapidly once established in the next year or two.
Cherry laurel plants can be successfully propagated from greenwood cuttings of around 6 inches (15 cm) in length taken in the fall. If all goes well, your cuttings should develop roots within 3 months, especially if you use a suitable root hormone powder.
These plants can be grown in a wide range of soil types. They will do best in moist, well-drained soils that are rich in organic material and have a slightly acidic to neutral pH. It is best to avoid heavy, poorly drained soils and excessive fertilization.
Established plants are pretty drought tolerant, but if possible they should be kept well-watered, not allowing the soil to dry out completely between watering. Grow this plant in full sun to partial shade in USDA hardiness zones 6 to 9.
Care and Maintenance
Cherry laurel tolerates pruning very well and is often grown as a formal, well-manicured hedge. Prune this plant shortly after flowering is complete if you’d like to enjoy the fragrant showy blossoms that this plant has to offer while minimizing the chance of the seed being distributed by birds after eating the ripe fruits.
Provided you’re growing this plant in soil with some organic material, feeding should not be necessary, but plants grown in nutrient-poor soils will no doubt benefit from a light application of a suitable general-purpose fertilizer. Be sure to use any fertilizer sparingly because this plant is known to be sensitive to burn from over-fertilizing.
Cherry laurel plant is very resistant to pests but does have one great weakness. These plants tend to suffer from a leaf-spot disease caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas pruni.
This condition causes the development of holes on the leaf blades and is not easy to treat since it does not respond to fungicides (1).
Cherry laurel is a versatile plant that can be grown in its wild form as an attractive and showy spreading tree. There are many compact forms of this plant available that are suited for use as screens and formal or informal hedges.
Cherry laurel hedge is a favorite choice by many gardeners. The showy and fragrant nature of this plant even makes it a good choice for a specimen plant.
Unfortunately, this plant has become invasive in some parts of the world, particularly in the pacific northwest of the United States and in the United Kingdom (2). In those areas, this plant is probably best avoided or pruned to suppress fruit production.
There are varying reports on the toxicity of this plant. What is agreed on is that it contains amygdalin, cyanogenic glycosides, and hydrogen cyanide, a toxic substance that gives the plant its characteristic almond-like smell.
Although this chemical is said to be more concentrated in the stems, seeds, and leaves of the cherry laurel bush, eating the small fruits could be taking an unnecessary risk and is not recommended.
The fragrant flowers of the cherry laurel are very popular with bees and other pollinators. Birds love the fruits of these plants, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing since they tend to distribute the seeds far and wide, which often sprout as weeds in natural areas.
Cherry laurel shrub is a beautiful and low-maintenance evergreen option for gardens in zones 6 to 9. As a fragrant evergreen hedge, specimen plant, or even tree, this plant has a number of great benefits but also a few drawbacks. Potential for invading natural habitats, toxic nature, and strong fragrance are all factors that should be carefully considered before planting.
Check our blog for more types of shrubs to grow.
(1) Clement, D. Cherry Shot Hole Disease
(2) Invasive Plant Atlas Of The United States: Cherry Laurel/ Prunus Laurocerasus
*image by SaraTM/depositphotos