One of the challenges of landscaping with evergreens is preventing monotony. Variegated broadleaf evergreens like Japanese laurel offer seasonal interest throughout the year, with gold-flecked green leaves, red or purple flowers and red berries that persist through the winter. Japanese laurel cultivars are medium-size, with a rounded shape and dense foliage, making it suitable for hedging, specimen planting or inclusion in a mixed shrub border. These versatile colorful perennials can even be grown as houseplants.
Japanese laurels (Aucuba japonica) are hardy in United States Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 10. Shrubs are rounded and upright, reaching 6 to 10 feet in height with a slightly smaller spread. Opposite leaves are pointed ovals, with marked dentation on some cultivars. Shrubs are densely multi-twigged and fast-growing, tolerating cut-back or pruning best in spring.
Although, like many types of variegated foliage, the leaves of Japanese laurel may develop more gold-green contrast in sunny locations, hot sun can blacken new leaves and scorch mature foliage. Plants do well in partial shade and maintain variegation even in full shade. Japanese laurels adapt to a wide range of soils but cannot tolerate chronically wet or poorly drained locations. Poor drainage can aggravate susceptibilities to wet root rot, Southern blight and fungal leaf spots. New plantings benefit from regular deep watering to support healthy root development, but good drainage is key to overall growth.
Popular Japanese Laurel Cultivars
"Gold Dust," "Mr. Goldstrike" and "Crotonifolia" have dark, glossy green leaves covered with small gold spots. The leaves of "Picturata" are even more dramatic, each with a large gold center blotch surrounded by a gold-flecked green border. Some varieties are strictly green-leafed or yellow-rimmed. Names of Japanese laurel cultivars tend to be highly descriptive: "Sulfurea Marginata" is easily translated as yellow-rimmed.
Like many shrubs, Japanese laurel is likely to reach only the lower limits of its growing range if container-grown, reaching roughly 6 feet in height and perhaps 4 in width. For a successful container specimen, provide excellent drainage and consistent moisture to foster root development, along with a monthly feeding of liquid fertilizer.
Japanese laurel's shade tolerance makes it a candidate for indoor growing. As a houseplant, it can be expected to reach approximately 3 feet in height. It benefits from regular feeding and indirect light. Wipe leaves occasionally with a damp cloth to remove dust and enhance appearance.