The lauroceraso is a shrub, or small tree, originating from Asia and Europe, very common in Italian gardens; it belongs to the genus prunus, as well as many highly cultivated fruit plants.
It is a vigorous and resistant shrub, evergreen, with dense and compact vegetation; the leaves are oval, lanceolate, with toothed margin, slightly leathery and shiny, dark green; in spring, at the apex of the branches, small star-shaped white flowers bloom, gathered in erect panicles; they have a very intense aroma, which can be unpleasant.
The flowers are followed by small black berries, similar to opaque olives; the berries and leaves contain hydrocyanic acid, are therefore very toxic, even if they have a disgusting taste, and therefore are not at all inviting to humans or animals.
The vigor of development, the dense and compact vegetation and the fairly rapid development has made these shrubs widespread as hedge plants, especially in past years. In fact, this abuse of laurocerase has made them sometimes unloved plants, even if they are very interesting shrubs, especially for those who like to have a low maintenance garden: they do not get sick often, they tend not to be hit by parasites, they bear the cold, humidity and heat, and have a decidedly pleasant appearance, especially if grown as single specimens, or as saplings, and therefore can be admired in their entire development, and not compressed inside a hedge. On the market there are some very common varieties, including some with particularly dark leaves, reddish or brown.
Description and origins
|Family and gender|
Rosaceae, gen. Prunus
|Type of plant||Shrubs or trees|
|Exposure||Sun, half-shade, bright shadow|
|Ground||Deep, moist, subacid or neutral|
|Composting||End of winter|
|colors||White flowers, dark green leaves|
|Propagation||Seed, cutting, layering|
|Pests and diseases||Oidium, aphids, oziorrinco|
The cherry laurel It is a shrub or small tree belonging to the rosaceae family and the vast genus of prunus. It can reach a height of 10 meters and, in nature, has an expanded shape.
It has elliptical to oblong or obovate leaves, up to 20 cm long and 6 wide, pointed at the apex and generally not very toothed. The upper part ranges from glossy yellowish to very dark green. The lower part, on the other hand, is pale green.
The bark is gray-brown, smooth and the flowers are 8 mm wide, white, 5 petals and perfumed. They are collected in upright racemes, 12 cm long, at the axil of the leaves in mid-spring. It happens that they bloom again in the fall. The fruits are berry fruits, round and 1.2 cm wide, first green, then red and black when ripe. It is native to south-western Asia, especially Armenia, and Eastern Europe. Its habitat of origin is the forest undergrowth.
In nature the plant is disseminated thanks to the animals and in particular thanks to the blackbirds and starlings which feed on its fruits expelling the seeds far from the place of origin.
Because of this reproductive capacity throughout Europe it has become an invasive plant and in many countries it is trying to hinder its spread.
Grow the lauroceraso
These shrubs are very widespread because it is not necessary to treat them in a constant and continuous way, once they are placed in their home and they adapt to the place where they are found they tend to be satisfied with the water supplied by the rains, and they tend not to get sick too much.
They prefer sunny positions, but they survive without problems even in the partial shade or in the complete shade, where however they often tend to bloom little or not at all; they do not fear the cold, and can withstand winter temperatures close to -10 ° C; lower temperatures can cause burns of the outermost vegetation, which will be pruned in late winter, to stimulate the development of new healthy shoots.
Before placing the young plants, it is good to prepare a large planting hole, where we will work the soil well, enriching it with manure (or slow release granular fertilizer) and lightening it with little sand. The laurocerases can withstand short periods characterized by water stagnation, but it is advisable to avoid leaving the soil constantly soaked with water. Watering will be fairly regular, from March to September, during the first year after planting; once stabilized, the lauraceraso plants tend to be satisfied with the water supplied by the bad weather, although it is advisable to intervene with watering in case of prolonged drought, especially in the hottest weeks of the year.
Pruning is usually carried out at the end of winter, to remove branches damaged by bad weather and frost; subsequently it is possible to repeat the pruning, after flowering, or simply when the plant begins to develop ramifications that go far outside the original crown.
The lauroceraso is typically cultivated in the open ground, but can also be bred in pots; apart from some dwarf varieties, particularly compact, these are very vigorous shrubs, and with a fairly rapid growth, for this reason it is good to remember to provide each shrub with a large amount of land, placing them in capacious containers, and not in small jars, where they could suffer excessively.
Propagate the cherry laurel
THE prunus laurocerasus they propagate easily by cuttings; they are taken in late spring, or in summer, even if desired from the branches resulting from a pruning; the cuttings are prepared by portioning the branches into small branches about 7-10 cm long, and removing the leaves in the lower part, cutting in half the upper ones.
The cuttings are immersed in the rooting hormone and then inserted into a good cultivation compound, consisting of peat, or universal soil, mixed in equal amounts of sand, to maintain good drainage.
The cutting trays should be kept in a semi-shaded place, protected from the wind and cool enough, regularly watering the soil. In general, the lauroceraso cuttings have a good success, but to have a good sized plant it is necessary to be patient and wait a few years; the young cuttings are then cultivated in pots for about 2-3 years, before placing the plants in the garden.
They can also be propagated by seed, leaving the fruits to dry in the sun for a few days; the seeds thus obtained are placed in a bag or tray, completely covered with sand, and then placed in the refrigerator, to imitate the winter season; after at least 6-8 weeks, it is possible to extract the seeds from the container and sow them in a mixture of peat and sand, which must be kept moist, but not soaked with water; it is difficult to sow the laurocerases, due to the need for reversal, but also because they take months to germinate, and therefore it is much easier to propagate these plants by cuttings.
Herbal tea in herbal medicine
The lauroceraso leaves and seeds contain, in addition to hydrocyanic acid, other active ingredients, exploited in a series of herbal remedies, but also in traditional medicine.
Basically the plant's antispasmodic and sedative properties are exploited, especially for the persistent and coughing cough. The leaves are used to prepare eye washings.
Containing active toxic ingredients, clearly leaves and seeds are used cold, and are not ingested.
Although the seeds are toxic, the fruits, or the pulp around them, is edible, even if it has a particular taste, not appreciated by everyone. These fruits can be eaten fresh, or they can be used to prepare jams.
Nowadays, given the great availability of fruit coming from very distant areas, this type of fruit is not at all appreciated, but at one time the laurel cherry berries were the only source of vitamins for many populations. The not perfectly ripe fruits have a very astringent taste; often harmful substances are also present in the pulp of the fruits, which in this case are very bitter, and therefore are not consumed.
The toxic substances contained in the seeds and leaves are however exploited, first of all because, in small quantities, it seems to give good results against asthma, they improve digestion and respiration; furthermore, from the leaves it is possible to extract an aroma used in industry as a substitute for the taste of bitter almonds.
It is a shrub resistant to cold. It is easily cultivated from sea level up to 800 meters, even if the ideal altitude is 300 meters.
Usually the laurocerasus it does not suffer damage during the winter and bears well up to -20 ° C. Below this temperature the leaves and some branches can dry out. In that case it is good to proceed in spring with a rather drastic pruning so that the plant is stimulated to produce new shoots.
If we live in a particularly rigid region it may be a good idea to protect the foot of the plants with leaves, branches, straw and mature manure. It is an excellent method to protect the vital parts from which, if total defoliation occurs, we can hope new shoots are born.
This treatment is also strongly recommended in the case of newly planted or very young plants. It is possible to proceed by creating small mounds of earth around the foot of the plant and then to cover them further with other material of collapse.
The lauroceraso is also rather resistant to heat. It is hardly damaged. Only sunburns may appear if it is exposed to full sun in southern regions. In that case we evaluate well before the plant whether it is appropriate to place it in a more sheltered position.
The cherry laurel tolerates almost all exposures well. That ideal is in partial shade, but it lives well even in full sun or in a bright shadow.
Clearly we also evaluate our soil and climate zone well. If we are in a mountain environment it is better to give a brighter exposure, but if we find ourselves in particularly hot areas we shade more.
It prefers a deep, moist and possibly slightly acid soil. Calcareous soils or in any case too compact and clayey are therefore to be avoided. Being a plant coming from woodland habitats, it wants a soil composed mainly of ground of leaves and with a lot of humus.
As with all plants during planting, it is always a good idea to prepare a good draining layer of gravel and possibly shards on the bottom of the hole. In this way we will avoid the water stagnation that can cause root rot and affections especially on the lower leaves.
The laurocerasus need a soil that is always fresh, but not soaked with water. Adult plants in the ground rarely require human intervention in normal climatic conditions. If there were to be a particularly poor year of rain or if we live in the center-south, during the summer, we can intervene with abundant irrigation every 15 days.
As we have pointed out, the ceraceraso particularly likes sub-acid soils. We therefore try, as far as possible, to avoid irrigating with very hard water, that is rich in calcium. This in the long run could alter the pH of the soil and cause the appearance of leaf chlorosis.
To always have healthy and vigorous plants, it is a good idea to proceed once a year with a fertilizer based on pelleted or flour manure or other natural soil conditioner. The best time to spread it is autumn. The foot of the plant and the surrounding area should be covered, but without touching the trunk. During the winter the product will be dissolved by rain and snow and will begin to infiltrate the ground. With the arrival of warm weather we can incorporate the remaining material on the surface with a light hoe.
If we want we can add little granular fertilizer for green plants. However, we avoid products with too high a nitrogen content because they could cause excessive vigor in the plant and consequently the appearance of insects or pathogens of cryptogamic origin.
The ideal time for planting in almost all of Italy is autumn. Instead, it is preferable to proceed in the spring in areas where winters are very cold and reach -20 ° C.
We always proceed on a dry day and when the night temperatures have not reached the zero level.
The hole for the implant must measure between 80 and 100 cm in diameter and depth. If we want to make a hedge the ideal distance between the specimens goes from 100 to 120 cm. It is however preferable to leave more space: it is true that the hedge will take longer to achieve a compact appearance, but we will have less radical competition and there will be less problems later caused by too dense vegetation.
On the bottom of the hole you need to create a drainage layer with gravel or shards. It is always good to then insert a good quantity of organic soil improver such as pelleted manure, bone meal or cornunghia. It will be an easily accessible food for our plant. After inserting a layer of insulating soil for the roots we will be able to insert the plants so that the collar arrives slightly below the ground level. We cover creating a cone of earth on the trunk, we compact well and we irrigate abundantly.
If our laurocerases form a hedge, pruning will be done twice a year, preferably in early June and late September. Of course, if the growth is very vigorous, you can also intervene at other times, but keep in mind that if we cut at the end of the winter we will not have the spring flowering. In the first years after planting, pruning must be frequent to encourage branching and make our plant barrier compact and uniform.
The fastest way to reproduce the laurel cherry is by cutting. It is necessary to proceed during the summer by taking portions of branch 15-20 cm, partially lignified. They should be dusted with hormonal products and placed in jars with a very light peat and sand or agriperlite compound and kept moist and protected from the currents. Usually they root within a month, but can then be moved to larger pots only the following spring.
Pests and adversities
The most important enemy is the piercing powdery mildew: it develops on the young leaves during spring and progressively covers them with a white patina. Later the leaves necrotize and consequently cuts and perforations are formed. Adult leaves are rarely attacked by this fungus. To prevent this it is important first of all to cut and burn all the affected parts and, in spring, in the event of a strong temperature change and with atmospheric humidity, heat and rain, proceed often with the spreading of wettable sulfur or special anti-oily products. In case of appearance, proceed with careful cleaning and the distribution of curative and eradicating fungicides, even on the surrounding soil.
For the rest we can say that the ceraceraso is rather resistant. However, it can be attacked by insects such as aphids and ozone and oros. In the first case, if the condition is severe and the leaves are filling up with honeydew and fumaggine it is good to distribute a specific insecticide and then wash the leaves with soap and water.
The oziorrinco strikes the leaves eating the margins and damaging the aesthetics of the plant. They also damage the root system. It is important to use insecticides that act on the larvae present in the soil.
Being a widely used plant nurserymen have tried to create new cultivars, suitable for any type of garden. Currently more than 40 different can be found on the market.
• 'Aureovariegata' with golden margins
• 'Magnifolia', vigorous and with very large leaves
• 'Otto Luyken' with compact posture and smaller leaves
• Very rustic 'Zabeliana'
• Vigorous Caucasian
• 'Etna': compact and with reddish young leaves cuivrйes;
• 'Herbergii': narrow leaves;
• 'Marbled White': variegated in white
• 'Mount Vernon': maximum 30 cm high, ideal for pots.
Cherry laurel - Prunus laurocerasus: Poisonous plant
The lauroceraso is a very poisonous plant in all its parts. Particular attention must therefore be paid to the presence of children and pets.
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