The types of Laurel Hedging
There are several different types of Laurel plants that are suitable for hedging. Most of the hedging plants sold in the UK come from the Common or Cherry Laurel group (Prunus laurocerasus) but Portugal Laurel also makes a dense, evergreen hedge. Bay Laurel is also a useful hedging plant but is not hardy enough in some parts of the UK.
Common Laurel, Cherry Laurel and English Laurel
(Prunus laurocerasus and its varieties)
Common Laurel, Cherry Laurel and English Laurel are different common names for the same plant. Its botanical name is Prunus laurocerasus. This is a bit of a mouthful but it’s useful to know exactly what we are talking about and that is why the plant classification system uses Latin, so we don’t get confused with lots of different common names for the same plant.
All varieties of Common Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) will grow in full sun or deep shade and in most soils except waterlogged or very shallow, chalky soils where they may become very pale (chlorotic). They are all hardy and will tolerate temperatures down to -23oC.
View the most widely grown varieties of Prunus laurocerasus
Prunus laurocerasus is the original species of Common Laurel. It is a quick-growing, evergreen, wide-spreading shrub that can grow up to 18ft (6 metres) in height. This is the species of Common Laurel (aka Cherry Laurel, English Laurel) from which most of the other varieties have been developed. Many of the newer varieties, in particular ‘Rotundifolia’ are now much more widely grown for hedging as they are more upright and/or more compact. New varieties are developed from the species by growing individual plants or branches that are found with a different habit of growing or a different leaf shape or colour.
PRUNUS LAUROCERASUS ‘ROTUNDIFOLIA’
Prunus laurocerasus ‘Rotundifolia’ is a bushier and more upright growing form of Common (aka Cherry) Laurel than the species. It also has a more attractive rounded leaf which is generally half as broad as it is long, hence its name Rotundifolia meaning rotund foliage or rounded leaf.
Rotundifolia is the most popular form of Common Laurel grown for hedging and despite many new varieties being developed such as Etna, Novita and Caucasica, it still remains the best variety, in our opinion, for hedging.
Rotundifolia is quick-growing putting on about 60cm (2ft) a year under good growing conditions. Rotundifolia will grow to 5-6m (15-18ft) tall if left untrimmed but can be pruned to any height to form a dense, evergreen hedge.
PRUNUS LAUROCERASUS ‘NOVITA™’
This variety of common laurel is a selection from Rotundifolia and as a result, is very similar to it. There is some evidence that it may be even hardier, tolerating temperatures of -27oC, and so it is becoming more popular on continental Europe where winters are harder than in the UK.
Novita has large rounded leaves like Rotundifolia and grows to a similar height of 5-6m (15-18ft) tall. It is also quick-growing putting on about 60cm (2ft) a year under good growing conditions.
PRUNUS LAUROCERASUS ‘CAUCASICA’
Caucasica is another fast-growing variety of common laurel. It has upright growth and much narrower leaves than the species. It forms a good hedge but is not as popular as Rotundifolia.
Caucasica will grow up to 60cm (2ft) a year under good growing conditions and will grow to 5-6m (15-18ft) tall if left untrimmed.
PRUNUS LAUROCERASUS ‘ETNA™’
Etna was a seedling of Rotundifolia raised in Germany. It has bronze leaves when young that turn a glossy dark green. The leaves are slightly more curled at the edges than Rotundifolia. Etna’s habit of growth is more compact and as a result its rate of growth is slightly slower and its ultimate height is shorter, growing to approximately 3m (10ft). According to some reports, it will tolerate temperatures of -27oC.
PRUNUS LAUROCERASUS ‘MARBLED WHITE’ (ALSO KNOWN AS PRUNUS LAUR. ‘CASTLEWELLAN’ OR ‘VARIEGATA’)
Marbled White is a variety of Common Laurel with fine white markings on the leaves. It is slower growing that most other varieties of Prunus laurocerasus as it has less chlorophyll in the leaves because of the variegation. Ultimate height 5m (15ft) tall.
PRUNUS LAUROCERASUS ‘OTTO LUYKEN’
Otto Luyken is a low-growing variety of laurel with narrow, dark green leaves. It is often planted en-masse by landscapers as ground cover. Ultimate Height 1.2m (4ft), Spread 1.5m (5ft)
PRUNUS LAUROCERASUS ‘ZABELIANA’
Zabeliana, like Otto Luyken, is a low-growing variety with a narrow leaf, although the leaf is more rounded than that of Otto Luyken. Ultimate Height 1.2m (4ft), Spread 1.5m (5ft)
Portugal Laurel / Portuguese Laurel
(Prunus lusitanica and its varieties)
View the most widely grown varieties of Portuguese Laurel
PRUNUS LUSITANICA SPP.
Prunus lusitanica is a bushy, evergreen shrub or tree with a dark green leaf. The leaf size is much smaller than that of Prunus laurocerasus with leaves being 8-10cm (4 inches) long. Portugal Laurel has reddish new shoots (stems) that look attractive against the dark green leaves. If left untrimmed, it produces masses of small fragrant white flowers in early summer followed by small red to dark purple fruits. Portugal Laurel makes an excellent hedging plant although the variety ‘Myrtifolia’ is becoming more popular.
All varieties of Prunus lusitanica will grown on any free-draining soil (i.e. not waterlogged) even shallow chalky soils where it can be planted where Prunus laurocerasus (Cherry Laurel) cannot.
All varieties of Prunus lusitanica will grow in full sun or partial shade.
Ultimate height: Prunus lusitanica grows to approximately 7m (20ft) tall as a hedge but in good conditions and if it is grown as a single stem tree, it has been known to grow to over 10m (30ft).
Prunus lusitanica is very hardy and will survive temperatures of -25oC.
PRUNUS LUSITANICA ‘MYRTIFOLIA’ (ALSO KNOWN AS PRUNUS LUSITANICA ‘ANGUSTIFOLIA’ OR ‘PYRAMIDALIS’)
Prunus lusitanica ‘Myrtifolia’ has a smaller, darker leaf than the species, Prunus lusitanica, with redder stems. It also has a neater, tidier more elegant growth habit. Myrtifolia is sometimes called Angustifolia or Pyramidalis and is excellent for hedging or topiary. It smaller leaves give it a similar appearance to Bay Laurel but it is much hardier withstanding temperatures of -23oC. Commercially, it is now more widely grown than the ordinary Portugal Laurel as it is more popular as a hedging plant.
Ultimate height 5m (15ft) tall if left untrimmed.
PRUNUS LUSITANICA ‘VARIEGATA’
Prunus lusitanica ‘Variegata’ has dark green leaves with a narrow white margin around the edge of the leaf. Slightly slower growing than the other varieties of Prunus lusitanica and more difficult to find commercially available especially in larger sizes.
Ultimate height if left untrimmed 5m (15ft).
PRUNUS LUSITANICA SUBSP. AZORICA
Azorica is a shrubby variety with a broader, thicker leaf that is about 10cm long.
It is more difficult to find than the other varieties of Portugal Laurel as it is less widely grown commercially.
Very hardy withstanding temperatures of -23oC.
Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis)
Bay Laurel is an upright growing, evergreen shrub with glossy mid-green, narrow leaves up to 10cm (4in) long.
The leaves are aromatic and often dried and used in cooking.
Bay Laurel, also called Bay or Sweet Bay, is an excellent plant for topiary and can be kept in pots or planted in the ground.
Bay Laurel makes an excellent formal hedge in sheltered positions. Bay will survive most winters in the south of England but may struggle in very cold winters in the south and in colder areas of the UK. Many Bay Laurel died or had their foliage burnt by the cold frosts in the winter of 2009-2010 which was the coldest winter for 30 years but some of these plants had survived for the previous 20-25 years without too much damage.
Hardiness is rated from -5 to -10oC but Bay can survive colder temperatures in sheltered positions (out of the wind). Bay will also survive colder temperatures if planted in the ground but plants in pots can be moved into a sheltered greenhouse during colder periods in the winter.
Bay Laurel will grow in any free-draining soil in full sun or partial shade.
Ultimate height if left untrimmed is 8m (25ft) tall.
Other types of Laurel
The term ‘Laurel’ is used in the common names of several other plants, some of which are listed below. The only other type of Laurel that is used for hedging is Spotted Laurel (Aucuba japonica).
View Spotted Laurel
Aucuba japonica and its varieties are rounded, evergreen shrubs with large leaves. Aucuba are dioecious, meaning that plants have either male or female flowers, unlike most plants that have both male and female flowers on the same plant. As a result, some varieties are male and some are female. The flowers of Aucuba are purple and female varieties have red berries (if pollinated by a male plant).
All varieties of Aucuba japonica prefer to grow in the shade.
Spotted Laurel is the common name of Aucuba japonica and this is because the most popular varieties have variegated leaves with blotches of gold or white on the green leaves. The most popular and commercially available varieties are listed below.
Aucuba japonica ‘Crotonifolia’ – Probably the best golden-variegated variety of Spotted Laurel with large gold blotches or spots on the dark green leaves. Has male flowers.
Aucuba japonica ‘Golden King’ – very similar to Crotonifolia with golden blotches on the dark green leaves. Has male flowers.
Aucuba japonica ‘Rozannie’ – a dwarf variety with dark green leaves and no variegation. One of the few varieties that has both male and female flowers on the same plant. Has large red berries in late autumn and winter.
Aucuba japonica ‘Variegata’ (‘Maculata’) – has yellow speckled leaves and female flowers.
Other plants with Laurel in their common name
Danae racemosa – Alexandrian Laurel
Kalmia angustifolia – Pig Laurel
Kalmia latifolia – Mountain Laurel
Kalmia microphylla – Swamp or Bog Laurel
Laurus azorica – Canary Island Laurel
Umbellularia californica – Californian Laurel