Sarah Mountain LaurelKalmia latifolia ‘Sarah’
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Kalmia latifolia ‘Sarah’
Outdoor Growing zone
The Sarah Kalmia is a medium-sized evergreen shrub that will grow to 4 or 5 feet tall and wide. The attractive glossy leaves are rich green all year round, and the pink flower buds are showy for months, through winter and early spring. They open into unique 5-sided flower cups, in dark pink with detailed white markings – a gorgeous bloom to gaze deeply into. This showy plant needs similar conditions to azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias, and grows well alongside them.
Morning sun and afternoon shade are ideal for the Sarah Kalmia, which also thrives in light shade, such as beside a north-facing wall or in the shadow of trees. The soil should be acidic and well-drained, but not dry. Enrich the planting area with lime-free organic material to retain moisture. Pests and diseases are rare, and deer usually don’t eat this plant. No pruning is needed, or advised. Simply remove the bloom heads as soon as they are over, without removing any leaves. This encourages more blooms for the following year.
Azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias are among some of our best-selling shrubs, and they enjoy high popularity and instant gardener recognition. Yet a plant that thrives in the same conditions, and therefore in many gardens all through the east and north-west, is hardly known in comparison, and often greeted with surprise and big smiles by gardeners who didn’t know it. For striking and unique flowers it can’t be beaten, and neither can its durable and attractive evergreen foliage. This is the mountain laurel, or Kalmia, a wonderful native shrub that has been developed by breeders into a whole range of gorgeous plants that bloom later than many rhododendrons. This makes them great for extending the season for those plants, and once you start growing them you won’t look back. Among them, many have flowers that are in the purple-red range, but one, the Sarah Kalmia, stands out for having flowers of a pure color, a perfect dark pink-red in bud, opening to a lighter pink interior. It is simply gorgeous, and this plant also has unique slightly twisted leaves that emerge reddish, rather than green, adding another touch of interest and beauty to an all-round garden winner.
The Sarah Kalmia is a rounded evergreen bush growing 4 to 5 feet tall and wide, developing a handsome gnarled base of thick branches and red-brown shedding bark as it matures. It stays dense and bushy, and the attractive glossy, dark green leaves guarantee its garden value all year round. The leaves have an undulating oval form, giving the plant a special charm, and new growth is burgundy, for an extra touch of color. Around 2 or 3 inches long, the leathery leaves keep their dark-green coloring through all the seasons, rivalling any evergreen grown for foliage alone.
In fall and early winter you will see tiny red branches growing from the ends of the stems. These curious structures, like clenched babies’ hands, develop slowly through winter into clusters of dark red-pink buds with ribbed sides, looking a little like icing decorations for a cake. These stay attractive for months, right through early spring, until by late May they begin to open. Each one expands into a beautiful bloom an inch across, like a 5-sided bowl, with a pink interior. The dark pink shades elegantly to lighter tones deeper inside the bowl, making a wonderful color display. Each bloom is decorated inside with a star-shaped cluster of white stamens.
Use the Sarah Kalmia as you would any other medium-sized evergreen bush, in the planting around your home or in beds. Grow it on slopes and at the edges of wooded areas, or beneath open trees. Always attractive, it fits perfectly into any garden style.
You can grow this native plant throughout its natural range, from zone 5 to zone 9, and it tolerates the south-eastern climate well.
The ideal garden location for the Sarah Kalmia would have sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon. Other good spots are against the north-facing wall of your home, or in the shade of trees, perhaps at the outer edge, where the sky is clear overhead. Light dappled shade beneath trees is also suitable. The best soil is sandy and well-drained, but not dry. Avoid wet spots and heavy clay, and enrich lighter soils with lime-free organic material to hold moisture. The soil should have a pH of no more than 6.0, and preferably between 5.5 and 4.5. You can tell if you have this acid soil in seconds, with a simple testing kit or meter.
This plant is usually free of pests or diseases, and deer won’t eat the leaves, which are poisonous. Don’t use fertilizer, simply mulch with some organic material in spring. Water regularly, especially when young, and that’s it – easy. Pruning is not advised, as it will reduce blooming, but remove the flower heads as soon as they are finished blooming, to prevent seeding and maximize next year’s crop of flowers.
If you walk the hills and mountains of the east, from Maine to northern Florida, you might find the mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, growing on banks and in forests. The wild tree grows up to 15 feet, and until the last few decades it wasn’t grown much in gardens. All that began to change when breeders started to take an interest. The world-authority Richard Jaynes has been a major creator of our best garden varieties. He worked for years at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, and collected unusual wild plants from his botanical work out in the woods. He cross-pollinated these unique plants, using his knowledge of genetics, and created many of the most popular plants we grow today. The variety he named ‘Sarah’ was released to growers in 1983, so it was probably bred in the mid-1970s.
The many varieties of Kalmia available today make this a valuable type of shrub that should be in every garden. With just a little attention you can enjoy the unique beauty of these plants, and the Sarah Kalmia is indeed both beautiful and unique. Order now, and check-out our other varieties too, but order right away, because these plants are hard to source, and they soon sell out.