Updated: Mar 11, 2022
For formal and informal hedges, Prunus laurocerasus is a competitive option. They treat us with deep green and lustrous foliage, perfect as a backdrop helping foreground flowers and textures pop. English laurels bloom with showy, fragrant white racemes in spring. When not in bloom, their foliage can be mistaken for the broad leaves of citrus, further lending themselves to alternative design ideas if fruit is undesirable.
Their sizes vary by cultivar, creating more design options. Firstly, the non-cultivar, P. laurocerasus, can be used singly as a specimen, even as a multi-trunk small tree, but it is more often used in hedges as previously discussed. Its popularity in English landscapes probably led to its common name despite being native elsewhere. If an evergreen hedge in the U.K. is not yew or boxwood, it may very well be this English laurel.
Here's a list of cultivars that I have used and have been readily available in California, all with narrower leaves. Sunset lists others, such as P. laurocerasus 'Castlewellan' with its variegated leaves, but to date I have not seen them readily available for the landscape industry.
'Otto Luyken': At 4' tall but reaching a purported 8', Otto provides another opportunity for hedges but also mass planting. Its leaves are very dark, and with their preference for some shade, they will blend into the background until they bloom.
'Schipkaensis': This is my preference for any laurel hedge, simply because its form is more upright than outward, about 6' tall with equal or lesser width. It purportedly is more tolerant of sun, but like the others will still look its best protected from hot exposures.
'Zabelliana': When Zabel (as I like to call it) and Otto are young, they look like twinsies and can be easily mixed without realizing any problem. Whereas Otto typically maintains a more rounded form, Zabel likes to reach up and out and may support more horizontal branching. About 5' tall to 8' wide (or wider), its leaves are slightly longer than Otto's.
The last photo below was taken at Foothill College.
Foothill College Campus Location: Prunus laurocerasus
A helpful discussion on their planting and care as a hedge.
Botanical Name: Prunus laurocerasus
Prunus: Latin, prunum for plum
Laurocerasus: Refers to either cherry or laurel
Common Name: English laurel
Family Name: Rosaceae
Origin: Southeastern Europe to Iran
Garden Themes: Sub-tropical, woodland margin, butterfly/pollinator,
Uses: Large informal or formal hedge (use a cultivar for smaller hedges), border, small, multi-trunk tree, screen/privacy
Type: Evergreen shrub to small tree
Form: Mound in natural form
Size: 20' tall and up to 20' wide (cultivars vary)
Outstanding Feature(s): Flower, fragrance
Stem: Green to yellow-green when young, gray and smooth with age
Color: Dark green
Surface: Glabrous, glossy
Flower: Spring to summer. White spikes of small flowers can be showy and fragrant.
Fruit: Summer to autumn. Small, round, black drupe
cultural requirements, tolerances & problems
Sunset Zones: 4-9, 14-24
USDA Zones: 6-8
Light: Full sun in cooler regions, partial shade elsewhere
WUCOLS SF Bay Area Hydro Zone: Moderate
Texture: Sand, loam, clay
Moisture Retention: Well-drained
pH: Highly acidic to slightly alkaline
Tolerances: Drought, heavy shade, pollution
Problems: All parts are highly toxic
Branch Strength: Medium
Disease: Anthracnose, root rot, armillaria, phytophthora,
citations & attributions
Bayton, R. (2019). The Royal Horticultural Society's the Gardener's Botanical: An Encyclopedia of Latin Plant Names. London: Mitchell Beazley.
Extension Gardener. "Prunus laurocerasus" North Carolina State University, Raleigh. Accessed on November 6, 2021, from https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/prunus-laurocerasus/.
Norris Brenzel, K. (Ed.). (2012). The New Sunset Western Garden Book. New York: Time Home Entertainment, Inc.
SelecTree. UFEI. "Prunus laurocerasus Tree Record." 1995-2021. Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo. Accessed on Nov 6, 2021, from https://selectree.calpoly.edu/tree-detail/1165.
Water Use Classification of Landscape Species. "WUCOLS IV Plant List." University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Davis. Accessed on October 20, 2021.
Formal hedge at forest: "Tree cathedral showing outer "wall". - geograph.org.uk - 1238975" by Mike Dodman is licensed under Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).
Foothill College specimen photo by TELCS.