Sizes and uses
Prunus laurocerasus is commonly known as the Cherry laurel or English laurel. It is quite often confused with Laurus noblis (bay laurel or Grecian laurel), which is the victory laurel of ancient Greece.
A hardy evergreen shrub native to Asia and Europe, It is often planted as a large ground cover or under-planting beneath forest trees. I once did some work for Newtown house in Abbeyknockmoy (an old estate house with a forest attached) and witnessed first hand how large and rampant it can grow. In some cases, its mature stems were growing serpentine-like, through and around the surrounding plants and trees. In cases such as this a single laurel plant can grow to the extremes of 7 metres wide (21ft), with a similar height. Within the garden, we gardeners tend to grow this laurel as a formal hedge or screen with much smaller dimensions due to pruning.
Growth rate, leaves, flowers and fruit
It is a hedge that will grow in conditions other hedges dread. Whether the situation is full sun, partial shade, deep shade, damp soil or dry soil, laurel will do well. Space laurel plants at 2ft centres in a row to run the length of your hedge. This hedging plant does not exactly possess the “Formula 1” growth rate of the Leylandii, you can realistically expect it to grow 1ft a year. With large, leathery, dark green leaves, Prunus laurocerasus foliage is superior to that of the Leylandii, It is more attractive and will reflect extra light into your garden due to sheen on the leaves upper surface. Each spring, white flower spikes are displayed amongst the glossy leaves, masses of these slightly fragrant flowers will bloom on loosely clipped plants. Small black coloured fruits form after flowering, these are actually inedible cherries. True to its name, the Cherry laurel is a member of the cherry family, the same as the plum, peach, apricot and almond.
When and how to prune
I am often asked when is the best time of year to attempt the pruning of your laurel hedge. Well, anytime from April to the end of August is a good time to prune your laurel hedging plants. The earlier they are pruned within this timescale, the earlier they will put on fresh growth to cover your pruning cuts. Try to prune laurel during a dry spell, as a bacterium know as Pseudomonas syringae can enter through pruning cuts created in damp weather. This unpleasant bacterium leads to the laurel dieback disease called bacterial canker. Pruning laurel with petrol or electric hedge-trimmers can lead to rough jagged cuts and unattractive half leaves; make your pruning cuts with secateurs instead. Do you need to transplant some Laurel? Well, Laurel plants tend to tolerate transplanting better in early spring.