How To Grow And Care For Japanese Laurel (Aucuba Japonica)

For a beautiful shrub with striking variegation, the Japanese laurel is a good choice for any dark corner of the garden, as long as the soil doesn’t get too boggy.

It’s a versatile plant that will weather full shade, dry soil, pollution, and salt winds without any problem.

Thinking about planting a new shrub, but you’re not sure if the Japanese laurel is right for you? Let’s take a look.

Spotted Laurel At A Glance: What You Should Know

Suitable for USDA zones 7 through 9, this is a fantastic plant that comes from the Garryaceae  family, also known as the silktassels plant family. 

 You may also know Aucuba japonica as the spotted laurel, the Japanese laurel, the Japanese aucuba, or the gold dust plant.

It hails from damp valleys, forests, and shaded areas in China, Korea, and Japan. It can reach anywhere between 3 and 16 feet tall, depending on the growing conditions. In most places, it’s likely to reach between 6 and 7 feet.

You can recognize this shrub by its rounded growth form, and waxy foliage with a glossy sheen.

Most people grow the variegated forms of Japanese laurel, which feature bright green leaves with yellow speckles. 

These plants are usually grown for their showy foliage and dense habit, but that doesn’t mean they don’t produce flowers and fruit, too.

The flowers may be purple, white, or even brown, depending on the species and variety you go for. 

This plant is dioecious, which means that you need both a male plant and a female plant if you want fruit on your Japanese laurel. The female variety is the one that produces fruit and flowers.

Starting Off: How To Grow Japanese Laurel

Japanese laurel is not difficult to grow, either through seed or by propagation. It’s worth noting that growing this plant from seed is a lengthy process, and you may want to buy an established plant instead.

Growing a Japanese laurel from seed can take as long as a year and a half to germinate!

Luckily, taking cuttings of a spotted laurel is much easier and quicker to do, so it’s the preferred method of many gardeners. 

Take semi-ripe cuttings in the last few weeks of summer. Put these cuttings in an indirect position, somewhere fairly warm, in well-draining, damp soil.

These should root easily enough, and in about 8 weeks time you will see new growth, which means these cuttings have formed roots.

Plant them out in spring, and you’ll find that they will mature once they are about 3 years old.

You will need to water new spotted laurels regularly, as they won’t yet have the drought tolerance of mature plants, especially when you plant them out into their final positions within your garden.

Varieties To Consider

Aucuba japonica ‘Variegata’

By far the most popular variety of Japanese laurel is the variegated form, also known as gold dust. 

It’s a female variety, which can produce tiny purple flowers in spring, and if you grow a male Japanese laurel nearby, you may see red berries in fall.

Aucuba japonica ‘Picturata’

Another variegated form of the Japanese laurel is ‘Picturata’, which has mainly yellow leaves with hints of green in the margins.

Aucuba japonica ‘Mr Goldstrike’

For nearly all-yellow leaves, try ‘Mr Goldstrike’, which will brighten up any dark corner of the garden.

Aucuba japonica ‘Natsu-no-Kumo’

If you are looking for a striking shrub that has serrated leaves, this particular Japanese laurel could be the one for you. 

It will not tolerate as shady conditions as other cultivars, however, and prefers partial sunlight or dappled shade, rather than full shade.

How To Care For Spotted Laurel

While spotted laurel takes a long time to grow, it will have a great impact in any shaded area of your garden, and thanks to its naturally dense form, you won’t need to worry about pruning it too often.

Sunlight And Position

The spotted laurel will withstand some cold, and you can even grow it in USDA zone 6 if you give it somewhere sheltered.

Make sure to give a spotted laurel at least partial shade, in a sheltered area where it won’t be subjected to cold and strong winds, as this can damage the plant.

When To Water

You only need to water a spotted laurel when you’re encouraging it to settle into the soil. After this, it will pretty much take care of itself, unless there’s a prolonged drought.

Fertilizing A Spotted Laurel

You can feed a spotted laurel in the spring to give it a boost. Avoid feeding it any later, as the growth stimulated at this time won’t be hardened enough by winter to withstand frosts.

Do You Need To Prune A Japanese Laurel?

It does help to prune a Japanese laurel occasionally. If you prune it once a year, reducing the previous year’s growth by a third, this will encourage a neater and tighter growth form.

It’s especially important to give this plant a good trim if you want to keep the height under 10 feet. If you aren’t wanting a female plant to produce fruit, prune in the winter. Otherwise, wait until spring to trim.

Getting The Best Out Of Spotted Laurel In Your Garden

It’s worth mulching around the base of a Japanese laurel to help give it a boost, locking in the moisture in the soil, as well as keeping weeds down. 

Make sure this is a very thin layer, otherwise it can lock in too much moisture and rot the plant.

Avoid planting a spotted laurel in boggy soil, or in a position that gets too much direct sunlight. This will lead to many problems, such as leaf scorch, and root rot, and may even kill your plant.

You can use the Japanese laurel in many ways in the garden. It can be used as a filler in shady borders or under trees to brighten up dark spaces, as well as helping to keep weeds down.

In warmer climates, the Japanese laurel will even work well in containers, and as they are slow-growing, they won’t need to be repotted often.

Other Things To Consider 

It’s worth noting that the fruits produced by the spotted laurel are not edible. Most parts of the plant are considered poisonous, so it may not be a suitable plant for gardens with pets or children.

If you get heavy frosts, you will need to plant a spotted laurel in a sheltered area, otherwise you may see the leaves turning black, and new growth becoming damaged. 

Final Thoughts

The Japanese laurel is a great choice for shady areas, as long as the soil doesn’t get boggy, and there is enough air circulation around the plant to prevent disease.

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