Tough and reliable shrubs for background planting, hedges, screens, and semi-natural settings can be hard to find. In the warmest parts of the country drought and summer heat can be fierce, and native plants are often a better choice than foreign exotics that may come from cooler climates. That’s why the Dwarf Carolina Cherry Laurel is such a favorite, and why you should consider planting it if you want low-maintenance from a reliable and attractive evergreen flowering shrub.
The Dwarf Carolina Cherry Laurel is an upright shrub or small tree, that grows 10 to 12 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet across, although it can easily be trimmed to a smaller size. It can be grown as a bushy shrub, a hedge, or trained up on a short trunk to make a small tree when it can grow to be 20 feet tall. It has lots of attractive features, starting with the handsome, glossy evergreen foliage. The leaves are narrow and elliptical, with wavy edges. They are light green and 2 to 3 inches long. They grow densely on the stems, and when trimmed this plant responds well by producing lots of bushy shoots, which is great for making dense hedges, cones or other trimmed shapes.
Plants that are not trimmed too often flower in late winter and early spring, with attractive, scented flowers. These are small and creamy-white, clustered in bunches 2 to 3 inches long at the base of the upper leaves. These are very attractive to bees and butterflies, and this plant is a valuable food for many native insects, including swallowtails, azures, and viceroys. The flowers are followed by clusters of tiny, ½ inch black cherries, which are unfortunately bitter and potentially poisonous if the seed is chewed and swallowed. These too are important fall and winter food for songbirds, quail and wild turkeys.
Growing Dwarf Carolina Cherry Laurels Shrubs
There are three basic ways to use the Dwarf Carolina Cherry Laurel in your garden. If you are looking for a tough, drought-resistant evergreen for a screen, a hedge, or as clipped specimens in the garden or large planters – you have found it. If you want easy background shrubs to plant at the back of larger beds, behind more colorful shrubs – this is the plant you want. If you want to add interest and food for native butterflies and birds to the margins of wooded areas, on in a natural garden, using an American native tree – it easy, plant this one.
Grow the Dwarf Carolina Cherry Laurel in full sun, partial shade and even in full shade – it is very adaptable to a wide range of conditions. It grows well in zones 8, 9 and 10, making it very valuable in the hottest parts of the country. It grows well in almost all soils, from sand to clay, and from acidic to alkaline, just as long as it is well-drained, and not boggy. Water your tree regularly when it is first planted, but once it is established it is very drought resistant, and it also takes some exposure to salt, making it a good choice near the coast. Don’t over-water this tree, as this can cause yellowing of the leaves and root rot to develop. It is rarely bothered by pests or diseases and even deer leave it alone since the foliage is toxic. If you crush a leaf you will smell maraschino cherries or almonds, the characteristic smell of cyanide, but don’t worry, the concentration is low, and it doesn’t pose a significant threat to your family or pets. You can trim this tree at almost any time of year, although early spring is a good time, and if you trim then, just once a year, then it may flower well. Trimming after flowering also removes the fruits before they develop. There are a couple of things to consider. One is that if you plant it over a paved surface and don’t trim it, the berries can stain concrete. Wash them off with a hose when they fall, and you can easily prevent that happening. Also, in beds seedlings come up in spring. In a lawn, these will be killed with mowing, and in beds, you can simply take a string trimmer and cut them down – once over will quickly do the trick.
History and Origins of Dwarf Carolina Cherry Laurels
The Dwarf Carolina Cherry Laurel is a selected dwarf form of the native Carolina cherry laurel, Prunus caroliniana. This tree is related to, but different from, the English laurel, (Prunus laurocerasus), which is also often called ‘cherry laurel’. These evergreen trees may not look like it, but they are true cherry trees, related to both the edible and flowering cherry, and peaches, apricots, and almonds. The Carolina Cherry Laurel grows naturally all through lower parts of the south-east, from North Carolina to Florida, and west into central Texas. The wild tree grows to be 25 feet tall or more, and almost as wide. The dwarf form, known as ‘Compacta’, probably originated as an unusual seedling, but its exact origins have been lost. Our trees are grown from stem cuttings, not seed, making them uniform, which is necessary for the best hedges. Order now, because this versatile and useful plant is always in high demand.