Mountain laurels and rhododendrons belong to the heath family, Ericaceae. Both grow best in moist, well-drained, organic-rich soils with an acidic pH. The plant tissues contain chemical toxins that can cause stomach pain or death if eaten in large amounts.
Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) naturally grows only in the eastern United States' forests. Rhododendrons (Rhododendron spp.) include about 1,000 different species native to various habitats across the Northern Hemisphere. Roughly 28,000 different cultivars exist today -- the result of breeding and selection.
Mountain laurel is evergreen, with pointed oval leaves, while rhododendron's leathery round-tipped leaves curl up like cigars in sub-freezing temperatures. Small mountain laurel flower buds look crimped, while rhododendron buds are plump and pointed. A laurel flower resembles a tiny cup or bowl with five points or minuscule lobes. Rhododendron blossoms are larger, with obvious five-petal lobes.
Many rhododendron cultivars reveal various tolerances to other growing conditions, plus all azaleas are botanically rhododendrons, too. Mountain laurels include several varieties with different mature size or flower color. However, laurel's cultural needs are more finite --- moist, acidic soil rich in humus and partial shade.
Fill a seedling tray with moistened seed-starting potting soil.
Scatter several bay laurel seeds over the surface of the soil roughly 2-inches apart.
Press the bay laurel seeds into the soil with your hand to ensure good seed-to-soil contact.
Cover the bay laurel seeds with a thin layer of horticultural sand (no more than 1/8 inch).
Moisten (do not soak) the sand layer with water from a spray bottle.
Move the tray to an indoor spot where it will receive indirect sunlight and the temperature remains around 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
Water the planting tray with the spray bottle to keep the soil in the planting tray moist. Do not overwater or soak the soil -- this will cause your bay laurel seed to rot before it germinates. If the soil is kept consistently moist and the temperatures consistently cool, some of the seed will germinate in 10 days to six months.
The cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana) produces fleshy, round, black berries that measure less than half an inch around. Birds eat the berries, but they are toxic to grazing animals and humans.
Grow the Bright ‘N Tight cherry laurel in full to partial sun. In areas with hot summers, provide the plant with afternoon shade.
Keep the soil moist when planting. Once established, the tree is drought tolerant and requires no irrigation except during periods of extreme drought. Then water the plant until the top 4 inches of soil are moist.
Inspect the tree for signs of insect infestation. Mites and borers are particularly attracted to the tree, but can be controlled with insecticides applied at the rate suggested on the product’s label.
Fertilize the cherry laurel tree in the spring with a 10-10-10 formula, at the rate suggested on the package.
Begin pruning laurel bushes after the first growing season. Laurel bushes require one full growing season to establish their roots, which are necessary for the plants to fully recover from pruning. Once the leaves begin forming on a laurel bush, the plant is established well enough for pruning.
Pull off the flowers as they die at the end of the season. Hold onto the branch with one hand to prevent the bush from bending as you pull off the flowers.
Perform any heavy pruning in the late winter to early spring before the main growing season. Trim all the branches of a laurel bush back to a height of only 2 to 4 feet without harming the plant. Once it's cut back, a laurel bush will recover in two or three years.
Trim back any branch on the laurel bush where you want to encourage new growth. To create a new shoot on the plant, cut the branch so that only two to three leaves remain on the branch. This method can be used to form the shape of the laurel bush.
Laurel shrubs (Laurus noblis) are susceptible to attacks by black vine weevils and strawberry weevils. Both species of the weevil eat the leaves of the laurel shrub. Deer feed on the leaves of the laurel shrub during the cold winter months.
Locate an area that has full sun, partial sun or shade to plant the laurel hedge.
Till up the soil to a depth of 12 inches. Amend the soil with 3 inches of compost. Rake the ground smooth and remove rocks, sticks or dirt clods.
Dig planting holes with a spade or shovel that are twice as wide as the laurel's container. Maintain the same depth as the laurel's container. Scuff the sides and bottom of the planting hole with the edge of your spade or shovel.
Remove the laurel from the container by laying the container on its side. Grasp the laurel close to the root ball and gently pull it from the container.
Center the root ball in the planting hole and backfill with the amended soil. Tamp the soil with your feet or hands to help remove air pockets in the soil.
Repeat the process until all the laurel trees are planted. Space the holes two to three feet apart if a thick hedge is desired, or space the laurels four to six feet for a less dense hedge.
Water the laurel hedge with a soaker hose, watering to a depth of 18 inches. Keep the soil moist for the first two years.