Laurel is an evergreen shrub which belongs to the family Lauraceae but the word Laurel can refer to quite a few different types of hedge plants. Although exhibiting various species-specific traits, the broad-leafed stalwarts do share some general characteristics.
Laurel hedges have gnarly, multi-stemmed growth habits as well as a fast growth cycle and this combination makes them a favorite with professional landscapers and amateur gardeners alike. When it comes to privacy, you really can create a ‘living wall’ with Laurel. The density of the foliage makes a perfect filter to dampen traffic sounds.
The elliptical, feathery leaves stay on the plant all year round, in fact, it is the fastest-growing evergreen which is not a conifer.
All types of Laurel Bushes will grow in full sun or deep shade and in a multitude of soils except for very water-logged or chalky shallow earth which can have the unfortunate effect of turning them pale (chlorosis) They are generally a very hardy shrub, tolerating temperatures of as low as 23 C.
They are a wise choice for those looking for a fast-growing bush, averaging 30-60 cm per year although this will of course vary through the species which we will cover here.
Another benefit of growing a Laurel bush is that the root system is not considered to be invasive so they are not a threat to your other horticultural ventures, in fact, they make solid companion plants to many other garden species such as Azaleas, Heather, Lavender, Camellia, Rhododendrons and Juniper.
Choosing a Laurel Bush
Before you make up your mind about which Laurel species is right for your garden space, you might want to learn a little more about the individual attributes of each particular breed.
Aucuba, for example, are extremely versatile and often used in shady areas where other varieties will struggle. Their huge green and yellow-gold leaves can create vibrant border hedges as well as being easy to care for and provide structural boundaries.
Cherry Laurel, on the other hand, produces small, spiky white flowers in the spring and shiny black berries in the autumn. Cherry Laurel, also called English Laurel, is extremely popular for landscaping and widely cultivated because it grows extremely quickly.
Whether you are looking for an attractive laurel bush that will bring bustling wildlife into your garden or for more practical solutions such as privacy and sound insulation, there will likely be a variety of laurel bushes to suit your needs.
Read on for a closer look at the aesthetic attributes, growing conditions, and care requirements of several Laurel hedge varieties.
9 Types of Laurel Bushes
Being both low-maintenance and aesthetically pleasing, Laurel bushes are a perfect choice for your garden space because they offer year-round vibrance whilst creating the perfect backdrop for other shrubs and plants.
Interestingly, there are several varieties of Laurel belonging to their own botanical families and here I have listed 9 popular Laurel bushes along with their attributes and care requirements so that you can decide which particular type is the perfect choice for you.
1. Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus)
- Full sun to partial shade
- Requires very little care
- Toxic – contains cyanogenic glycosides
Hardy in USDA Zones 7-10, the Cherry Laurel is native to South-East Europe and Turkey. It will grow best with full sun exposure but will tolerate even heavily shaded areas. Water-logging and stress will prove challenging for your Cherry Laurel bush because the moisture encourages fungi leading to disease.
A well-drained soil with a Ph of 6.5-7.5 however, will reap magnificent results and with just a little care you will be rewarded with a fast growing hedge for privacy or shade thanks to the dense, uniform foliage and low-maintenance resilience.
This lovely lush hedge with smooth glossy leaves and showy spring blooms will not only give you something beautiful to look at year-round but will also provide you with privacy whilst still allowing light to filter through.
When attempting to identify a Cherry Laurel, experts at the University of Wisconsin recommend looking for 2 glands present at the leaf base below next to the midrib.
To propagate, discard lower leaves and shorten the remaining leaves by half. Push half the depth directly into the soil in early autumn or winter.
2. Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
- Full sun or dappled light
- Low-maintenance and sturdy
- All parts are toxic to humans and animals
Thriving in USDA Zones 5-9, a mountain laurel bush is a member of the Ericaceae (blueberry) family. It is native to the Eastern United States and found naturally in a variety of habitats which include rocky hilltops and cool meadows, acidic forests, and even shaded sites although the chances of them flowering are limited here. Also, an area that is too moist can flood the roots leading to rot.
It has a thick, rounded crown and somewhat crooked branches. The rich brown has hints of red and will begin to peel off when the branches are aged. The dark green foliage will remain lush and glossy all year round.
They are renowned for their clusters of pink and white flowers which have very distinctive markings.
An ideal companion to a Rhododendron bush, the Mountain Laurel also likes a soil Ph within the range of 5-6.
3. Portuguese Laurel (Prunus Lusitanica)
- Full sun or partial shade
- Self-sufficient once established
- Toxic to humans and animals
Thriving throughout USDA Zones 6-9 this species is native to Spain and Portugal. They will do well in full sun or partial shade as long as they receive sufficient amounts of water whilst their root system is being established.
The Portuguese Laurel has stunning deep green glossy leaves on striking maroon stems. It produces fragrant clusters of tiny white flowers followed by purple-red berries.
It can easily reach 20-30 ft and its rapidly growing foliage will make it an ideal privacy hedge to screen windows and any unsightly views.
Best taken as cuttings in September or October, Portuguese Laurel is easy to propagate from an established plant by pushing the cutting directly into soil with a Ph of 6.0-6.5. When new, it should be watered regularly, especially within the first year. In the summer months, every 2-4 days will not be too much if the ground is dry or sandy.
As with all Laurel hedging varieties apart from the Bay Laurel, all parts of this shrub are poisonous to humans and animals.
4. Texas Mountain Laurel (Dermatophyllum secundiflorum)
- Likes a little sun or moderate shade
- Fairly easy to grow in the right climate
- Toxic if ingested, particularly the seeds
Hardy through USDA Zones 4-8, Texas Mountain Laurels are naturally found in large portions of Central America, particularly Mexico although an abundance of the species can also be located throughout western and including central Texas.
This evergreen shrub is relatively easy to recognize, by its thick and waxy appearing leaflets. Despite the vastness of the American state that bears its name, the Texas Mountain Laurel never grows too tall. Having a general maximum height of fifteen ft and a width of roughly 10 ft.
Its vibrant purple flowers, aside from serving as a visual indicator of this species, also emit a compelling scent resembling that of grape soda. Despite the caution that every constituent part of this plant has been deemed highly poisonous, the seeds of the Texas Mountain Laurel have been used in the past by various South-West Native American tribes as a hallucinogen.
Patience is a prerequisite when it comes to growing the Texas Mountain Laurel, at a growth rate of roughly 2 ft per year, cultivating it will require both diligence and devotion. However, once established, its natural robustness will prove hardy in the often-extreme drought conditions of Mexico and the American South-West.
The Texas Mountain Laurel is highly toxic, with experts stating that the ingestion of a single seed could even kill a human adult.
5. Japanese Laurel (Aucuba japonica)
- Thrives in partial sun or shade
- Requires spring pruning
- Toxic to humans and animals
The Japanese Laurel is hardy in USDA Zones 6-10 and as its name implies, the Japanese Laurel can be found in Japan but also grows in China and Korea. It does like humidity. During the process of the plants establishing a root system, regular watering is advised.
Like many types of Laurel bushes, this variety morphs its appearance given the time of the year. Heralding spring with clusters of small, red, or purple flowers, the fall gives way to a panoply of red- or russet-colored berries.
Those who crave permanence from their gardening efforts will be well rewarded from the Japanese Laurel, by its noted ability to thrive in difficult meteorological conditions. Those looking to augment the shade of a garden sanctuary, need to look no further than a plant such as this one, naturally adaptable to grow in darker areas.
Don’t be dissuaded by the slow to-average growth rate of 20-40 cm per year, this Laurel is easy to grow, requiring very little ongoing maintenance aside from spring pruning to maintain shape.
6. California Bay (Umbellularia californica)
- Full sun or partial shade
- Easy to care for with a little pruning
- Not toxic can be eaten
If you haven’t heard of the California Bay Laurel, you no doubt will have heard of another plant in the same family, the avocado.
The most striking feature of this species isn’t its look (a broad-leafed evergreen with oblong pyramid-shaped crowns) but its tell-tale aroma.
Early American wild west settlers nicknamed this plant ‘Pepperwood’. So strong, in fact, is the smell of pepper emanating from this shrub, that for those unfortunate souls afflicted with allergies, it has been known to cause intense bouts of sneezing and headaches.
Nevertheless, given the fact that the plant is non-toxic, certain American Indian tribes have long used the leaves as seasoning for food.
Size matters when it comes to habitat conditions, the California Bay Laurel can be cultivated as a small shrub, medium-sized bush or even large tree, with the largest examples reaching over a hundred feet tall, although the most typical height averages out to around 40-80 ft.
As its name implies, this Laurel is found primarily in California, but other species can be found in the southern part of the state of Oregon. Hardy through USDA Zones 8-10, the California Bay Laurel is not toxic, quite the opposite, its leaves are still used for food seasoning to this day.
7. Carolina Cherry Laurel (Prunus caroliniana)
- Full sun or partial shade
- Easy to maintain, drought tolerant
- Toxic – contains hydrogen cyanide
The natural habitat of the prunus caroliniana, is a broad swathe of the South-Eastern United States of America, with samples being found along the Atlantic coast up to North Carolina or down to the upper half of Florida. It thrives best in USDA Zones 7b through 10 a. A combination of full sunlight and thoroughly drained acidic soil provide the perfect fundamentals for growth and cultivation. Those seeking the vibrancy of a laurel bush that operates as a bustling ecosystem will do well to consider the Carolina Cherry Laurel.
It is a host plant for a myriad of dazzling butterflies that sup on the nectar of its spring flowers. Meanwhile, its fruits are often the sustenance of wild birds and small mammals, despite the plant being considered toxic to both livestock and children.
8. Bog Laurel (Kalmia polifolia)
- Partial shade
- Needs routine watering
- Toxic to humans and animals
Moving on from the warm and humid conditions of the South-Eastern United States, we find a shrub more suited to the cooler climes of the American North-East and the Eastern coast of Canada. For those looking for a less monolithic border, the height of the Bog Laurel is ideal, with species generally growing to a maximum of 2 ft. Aside from the low-lying summit, the Bog Laurel can also be recognized by its pink or purple flower clusters which bloom in April.
These flowers are pollinated by bees, but in a strange twist of nature, the bees go on to produce poisoned honey. Every constituent part of Kalmia Polifolia is considered highly toxic to both animals and people. That notwithstanding, it has been used as a topical remedy for various skin conditions. The Bog Laurel, as you may have guessed, prefers moist marshy areas such as swamps, lakeshores, and sundry other cool and moist environments. In fact, it thrives in USDA Zones 3-6 and will remain in leaf all year round.
It grows rapidly if kept moist on an acidic earth and will tolerate the sun especially once it is established. The Bog Laurel prefers thoroughly well-drained soil, be that sandy, loamy, or even heavy clay. The ideal Ph balance will be in the range of 6-8.
9. Alpine Laurel (Kalmia microphylla)
- Full sun
- Easy to care for once established
- Toxic for humans and animals
Hardy through USDA Zones 3a – 9b, the Alpine Laurel is native to North America and can be found throughout the Western U.S. as well as central Canada.
As a perennial species, the Alpine Laurel will have an active growth cycle throughout the spring and summer and are most likely to be found in Alpine meadows, and open areas where there is available moisture.
It is essential that the soil contains calcium carbonate as it cannot tolerate an alkaline environment. They have a self-supporting growth form and will bear a small, green capsule fruit that is hard in form. A fairly short shrub, the Alpine Laurel has a maximum height of 24 inches and it is rare to find them reaching beyond 6 ft.
Sometimes mistaken for the Bog Laurel, because it has similar characteristics, it is the flowers that can distinguish it from its cousin. They can be spotted by their very distinct clusters of deep rose and purple flowers, facing upwards on slender stalks, held in a bowl of petals that offer up pollen to visiting insects. These flowers bloom in April, May, and June and will very rarely include white varieties.
Types of Laurel Bush FAQ
Where do laurel bushes grow best?
Most laurel bushes enjoy full sun or partial shade while they are establishing a root system. They will thrive with lots of light and well-drained soil but can survive perfectly well and even excel in shade – they are often seen growing in the shadow of large tree canopies in parks and estates.
Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.