full sun, part sun, part shade
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Spring in colors such as white, pink, red and bi colors
Mature Height x Spread
5 to 12 feet x 5 to 6 feet
attracts beneficial, drought tolerant, native
Mountain laurel is a broad leaf evergreen that grows and flowers well in full sun to part shade, making it a versatile shrub in the landscape. The broad, dark green leaves provide interest all year long. In spring clusters of cup-shaped flowers open in shade of white, pink and red. It’s a favorite of bees and butterflies. The shrub grows naturally in the filtered light under tall deciduous trees such as oak and maple, especially near a wet, swampy area. I remember playing among mountain laurel groves as a child in Connecticut. It flowers best, though, with more sun in an open landscape, but the leaves may turn a yellow-green color in full sun.
When, Where and How to Plant
Mountain Laurel is hardy to zone 5. In colder areas of New England, it will need to be protected in winter with burlap barriers to block the winter wind. Grow mountain laurel plants purchased from your local garden center. Look for the hardiest varieties for cold areas. Plant shrubs from spring, after all danger of frost has passed, to summer in well drained, moist, acidic, cool soils. Avoid windy areas, if possible. Space plants 4 to 6 feet apart.
Keep young shrubs well watered. Keep the soil evenly moist and acidic with a layer of wood chips or evergreen bark mulch. Fertilize mountain laurel in spring with a plant food for acidic-loving plants such as you’d use for rhododendrons.
Regional Advice and Care
Mountain laurel will get spindly, develop leaf spots and have few flowers if grown in too much shade. Look for leaf spot resistant varieties if growing under these conditions. It also doesn’t grow well in poorly drained soils. It’s a slow grower that should only be pruned to shape the plant in spring after flowering. Dead, diseased and broken branches can be taken out at any time. Mountain laurel doesn’t have many pest problems.
Companion Planting and Design
Grow mountain laurel in a part shade location as a foundation plant, out of direct winds. Grow mountain laurel with other broadleaf evergreens, such as rhododendrons and pieris. Plant mountain laurel in a woodland setting under tall deciduous trees or at the forest’s edge.
Breeders at the University of Connecticut have created many varieties of mountain laurel suited for New England. ‘Olympic Fire’ is an older variety with reddish-pink flower buds and waxy leaf spot resistant foliage. ‘Pink Surprise’ has pink flowers with reddish-purple new foliage growth in spring on an open plant habit. ‘Raspberry Glow’ features burgundy-red flower buds that open to pink. It develops good flower color even in shade. ‘Snowdrift’ has pure white flowers with dark green, leathery leaves. ‘Elf’ is a compact variety only growing 3 to 5 feet tall with pink, changing to white, colored flowers.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.