This article has been checked for horticultural accuracy by Oliver Parsons.

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Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) is a versatile, robust and attractive ornamental hedging plant that’s well suited to creating privacy screens, and can tolerate a wide range of growing conditions.

Also known as common laurel or English laurel, cherry laurel is an evergreen shrub belonging to the Rosaceae (rose) family. It’s native to regions in south-eastern Europe, Turkey and the Middle East, where it's commonly found in the wild in woodlands. Its dense foliage provides cover and nesting sites for birds, and its flowers are attractive to bees and other pollinators.

Cherry laurel needs well-drained soil but can tolerate a wide range of soil types, from clay to sandy loam. It can grow in both full sun and partial shade, although it tends to produce more flowers and fruit in sunnier spots. It’s a relatively fast-growing shrub and can reach a height of 5m or more with a similar spread, although it can be kept much smaller with regular pruning.

A common question among gardeners is the difference between laurel and cherry laurel. While both are evergreen shrubs with similar foliage, cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) is a completely different plant from true laurel (Laurus nobilis), also known as bay laurel. True laurel is often used as a culinary herb and has a different growth habit compared to cherry laurel.

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Cherry laurel can become invasive (via its bright red berries, which are eaten and then dispersed by birds), particularly in woodland and natural habitats where it can out-compete native plants. It’s also important to note that cherry laurel leaves and seeds contain toxic compounds and should not be ingested by humans or pets.

Cherry laurel has a large, fibrous root system, which can spread out and suck moisture out of the soil, potentially causing damage to nearby structures such as foundations or pipes if planted too close. This is not usually a problem if the hedge is trimmed regularly, as the roots only grow in relation to the size of the rest of the plant and are unlikely to spread very far. However, if you have an old house and clay soil you might want to consider alternative options to be on the safe side.

How to grow cherry laurel

Grow cherry laurel in a range of well-drained soil types in full sun or partial shade. Prune annually to shape or keep growth in check.


Where to grow cherry laurel

Cherry laurel hedge at the back of a border
Cherry laurel hedge at the back of a border

Cherry laurel makes a fine, fast-growing hedge. It's hardy, tolerating all but the very coldest conditions to be found in the UK. However, due to its potentially invasive nature, avoid planting it near woodlands or other natural areas to prevent its spread by seed. It's also a good idea to plant at least a couple of metres from buildings and other structures, particularly if you have clay soil, which shrinks significantly in volume when very dry. If planting cherry laurel against a fence, plant 1-1.5m away from the fence so you can get behind it to trim it when mature.


How to plant cherry laurel

Dig a hole that is slightly larger than the rootball and place the plant in the hole, making sure the top of the rootball is level with the surrounding soil. Backfill the hole with soil, firming it gently around the plant's roots to remove any air pockets. Water the plant thoroughly after planting to help it establish, and then add a mulch to hold in moisture.

The spacing of plants will depend on the desired density of your cherry laurel hedge. For a single-row hedge, space the plants about 60-90cm apart. If you're planting a double-row hedge, space the rows about 45-60cm apart, with the plants staggered for optimal coverage. It's important to consider the mature size of cherry laurel when spacing your plants to avoid overcrowding as they grow.


How to care for cherry laurel

Pruning cherry laurel
Pruning cherry laurel

Once established, cherry laurel is a relatively low-maintenance plant. While it is establishing, water regularly through dry spells, particularly in summer. Avoid overwatering, as cherry laurel does not tolerate waterlogged soil.

Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as bark chips or leaf mould, annually around the base of the plant to help retain moisture, suppress weeds and provide nutrients.


How to prune cherry laurel

Pruning cherry laurel
Pruning cherry laurel with secateurs

Pruning is an important part of cherry laurel hedge maintenance, as it helps to promote bushier growth, maintain a desired shape and prevent the hedge (and root system) from becoming too large. With regular pruning you can keep your cherry laurel's growth in check.

The best time to prune cherry laurel is in late spring or early summer, after the plant has finished flowering. Start by removing any dead, diseased or damaged branches. Then, trim back the tips of the branches to the desired height, using sharp, clean pruning shears. If your hedge is in a particularly noticeable part of the garden you may want to do your pruning with secateurs to avoid cutting the broad leaves in half, which can look unsightly when seen up-close.

It's important to wear gloves and protective clothing when pruning cherry laurel, as the leaves and branches contain toxic compounds that can cause skin irritation or even respiratory issues. Avoid burning cherry laurel trimmings, as the smoke can be toxic. Instead, dispose of the trimmings in a safe and responsible manner, such as through composting or green waste collection.


How to propagate cherry laurel

Cherry laurel can be propagated through various methods:

Seeds: collect ripe berries from a mature cherry laurel plant and remove the fleshy pulp to reveal the hard seed inside. Plant the seeds in pots or trays filled with free-draining potting mix and keep them in a sheltered spot. Germination can take several months, so be patient.

Cuttings: take semi-ripe cuttings of 10-15cm in length from the current season's growth in late summer or early autumn. Dip the cuttings in fresh rooting hormone and plant them in a free-draining potting mix. Keep the cuttings in a sheltered spot and mist them regularly to maintain high humidity. Rooting should occur within a few months.

Suckers: cherry laurel can produce suckers, which are shoots that emerge from the base of the plant. To propagate through suckers, carefully dig them out and replant them in pots or directly in the ground.


Pests and diseases

Cherry laurel is generally resistant to pests and diseases but, like any plant, it can still be susceptible to certain issues.

Leaf spot: this fungal disease can cause brown spots on the leaves of cherry laurel. To prevent leaf spot, avoid overhead watering and provide good air circulation around the plants. If leaf spot occurs, remove and destroy infected leaves.

Powdery mildew: this fungal disease can cause a powdery white coating on the leaves of cherry laurel. To prevent it, avoid overcrowding of plants and provide good air circulation. If powdery mildew occurs, remove and destroy infected leaves.

Laurel shot hole: this harmless condition looks like something has been eating holes in the leaves. It's caused by a fungus, not insects. It's more likely to happen in areas with a high concentration of foliage, such as in a hedge. Additionally, damp weather and low sunlight can contribute to this issue. To prevent shot hole organically, it's essential to sweep up fallen laurel leaves frequently, prune out dead or ingrowing branches within the plants, and enhance air circulation around the plants.

Advice on buying cherry laurel

  • When buying cherry laurel, look for healthy, well-rooted plants from reputable nurseries or garden centres
  • Choose plants that have a good shape and no signs of pests or diseases
  • Think about the mature size of cherry laurel and choose a suitable variety for your space and desired hedge height as some varieties can grow up to 8m

Where to buy cherry laurel online

Cherry laurel varieties

Prunus laurocerasus 'Rotundifolia' – a common, fast-growing variety with dark-green, glossy leaves. It can grow up to 60cm per year and can be maintained as a hedge of 1-5m in height. Height x Spread (if unpruned): 5m x 4m

Prunus laurocerasus 'Caucasica' – a large variety with broad, dark-green leaves and a dense growth habit. H x S: 5m x 5m

Prunus laurocerasus 'Otto Luyken' – a compact variety with small leaves and a rounded shape. H x S: 1.5m x 2m

Prunus laurocerasus ‘Mount Vernon’ – a slow-growing variety that stays short and spreads wide. It's ideal for cultivation in a rock garden or as a visually appealing ground cover plant. H x S: 40cm x 1.2m

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