Caring for Portuguese Laurel
Portuguese Laurel, sometimes referred to as Portugal Laurel, or Prunus lusitanica to give it its proper name, is another form of laurel that has smaller, darker leaves than its cousin and can look more refined than common laurel in certain situations. A very attractive hedging option, Portuguese Laurel produces pencil-like spikes of creamy-white flowers in early summer and has rich, burgundy-coloured leaf stalks in winter; it is ideal for a good solid evergreen hedge, but can also be used as a specimen shrub or allowed to grow to form an evergreen tree. Portuguese Laurel can also be pruned in ways similar to that of Bay to form basic topiary shapes such as lollipops, domes or cones. Prunus lusitanica grows in most situations including semi shade but it does not tolerate waterlogged ground or salt spray, including salt splash off the road. It is just as hardy as common laurel although it doesn’t grow as fast, growing up to about 18” per year as opposed to the 2ft6” per year that common laurel can grow.
Our main crop of Portuguese laurels are sold as plants 200-250cm (6ft6” to over 8ft) tall and grown in 36ltr containers so that they can be planted at any time of year, making them an ideal hedging option to plant in summer (we also sell taller specimens with clear stems/trunks to be used for screening at higher levels). At this stage in the summer they will have had their first big flush of growth of the year, and by July they will also be nearing the end of their flowering period. Whether newly planted stock, or ones which have been growing in-situ for many years, pruning them straight away at the end of flowering in July is an ideal time as this will remove the spent flowers which would otherwise develop into berries and focus the plant’s energies into producing more foliage and thickening up before the end of the growing season – plus pruning now will also maximise the flowering potential for next summer too.
After flowering is a good time to feed Portuguese Laurel; it can be a hungry feeder so it’s a good idea to feed them for at least the first couple of years after planting to help them on their way. For the summer feed you can use a Fish, Blood & Bone fertiliser if you don’t have a pet dog (don’t use it if you do have a dog as it often makes them dig around the hedge), or a good rose fertiliser is a good bet as it will work as an all-round feed helping to feed leaves and roots, as well as giving them a good boost of potash to encourage next year’s flowers as well as a top-up of magnesium to replace what can easily be washed out of soils by the regular watering in the first two years. You’ll also need to give them another feed in spring (probably in April but be guided by the weather) – you could give them more of the same but, and especially after a mild winter, they may need an extra boost of nitrogen. If you’re growing Portuguese Laurels in pots, or just if it’s easier for you, rather than using a dry feed twice per year you’d be better off using a fertiliser you can water on, such as one of the soluble brands you mix in water, or a tomato food, and water them with that every three weeks or so from April to mid-August. One final note on feeding… Portuguese Laurels are very tolerant of limy soils, so they’re a good option for chalky or limestone areas, but in very alkali conditions they will need a bit more organic material added to the sides of the hole/trench when you plant them to help hold onto nutrients, and you may need to give them a little extra feed while they’re getting established.
Portuguese Laurel makes a fantastic hedge for a wide range of situations but, like common laurel and many other evergreen options, it can be toxic if eaten and therefore not suitable for planting where grazing animals have access, especially if they’re left unattended.