Shrubs

Mountain Laurel Guide: How to Grow & Care for “Kalmia Latifolia”

Read our guide to Mountain Laurels for everything you’ll ever need to know! Tips for planting & caring for "Kalmia Latifolia"

Kalmia Latifolia, known to most as mountain laurel, is an evergreen shrub that blooms during spring. The shrubs are made out of multiple stems, which intertwine and, when full of shiny, deep-green leaves, give out a beautiful aspect similar to rhododendrons.

The light-coloured flowers of the Mountain Laurel really pop up in contrast to the green leaves, making this shrub a very attractive choice for all garden lovers. In early spring, the flowers are often white, pink, or light rose, whereas in late May and early June, they are white with purple marks.

Mountain laurel often develops as a thick, spherical shrub with gnarlier branches as it matures. It is a shrub that grows slowly, adding approximately one foot every year. While mountain laurel has specific soil requirements, it is a simple plant to cultivate in the correct conditions. It’s an excellent blooming shrub for shaded shrub borders, forest gardens, and foundation plantings. It goes nicely with azaleas as well and prefers shade to bright sunlight.

Kalmia latifolia shrubs can add a touch of elegance to any garden, which is why it quickly becomes a favourite of plant lovers everywhere, ourselves included. Keep reading to find out our advice on how to grow and care for your mountain laurels!

About Kalmia Latifolia

  • Mountain Laurel is native to the woodlands of the eastern part of North America, between Louisiana, southern Indiana, Florida, and New England.
  • Mountain Laurel is quite a prestigious plant, being the state flower of Pennsylvania, as well as Connecticut.
  • Similar to Rhododendron, Mountain Laurel maintains its lush, waxy leaves throughout the whole year, making for a great evergreen plant addition to any garden.
  • The Laurel Sphinx Moth prefers Kalmia Latifolia as its caterpillar host, to which it stays attached until it undergoes metamorphosis and develops its wings.
  • If you have pets, make sure to keep them away from Mountain Laurel plants, as they are toxic for both animals and humans.
  • Beekeepers should keep in mind that honey coming from Mountain Laurel plants will be just as toxic as the plant itself, so it should be avoided around beehives.
  • It is also known under some other names: ivy bush, American laurel, spoonwood, and calico bush.
  • Pollen is dispersed in a unique manner by the bell-shaped blooms. Their stamens are arched, with the tips tucked beneath the bell’s rim. Whenever bees or any other pollinators land on a flower, its weight releases the stamen, which acts as a catapult, flinging pollen up into the air.
Mountain Laurel
Mountain Laurel

Kalmia Latifolia Features: An Overview

  • Mountain laurels produce flowers during the spring, with colours varying from white to rose and pink. You can observe purple markings on flowers that bloom late, usually during May or June.
  • These shrubs grow to be between 5 and 15 feet in height and can spread to about the same distance. If you prefer smaller shrubs, you can also find dwarf varieties of mountain laurels growing only 3 feet tall.
  • In the wild, mountain laurels can reach incredible sizes – over 30 feet – which makes them look like trees rather than shrubs.
  • There are five popular varieties of mountain laurels, known as Elf, Minuet, Olympic Fire, Peppermint, and Firecracker, which vary in colour and size.
  • The beautiful shrubs belong to the Ericaceae family and are related to azaleas, rhododendrons, and, surprisingly, blueberries!
  • Depending on where it is growing, Mountain Laurel might seem like a round shrub or a little tree. Still, mountain laurel is essentially a shrub, and it will produce foliage anytime sunshine is available.
  • Mountain laurel leaves are lance-shaped or somewhat oval in form, measuring around 1′′ broad by 2-3′′ long with a point/tip at the end. The edges and borders will be smooth, and the leaves will have a waxy texture.
  • Kalmia latifolia has beautiful flowers that attract many butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. Still, keep in mind that this plant is toxic, and so will the honey that comes from it.

Growing Kalmia Latifolia

Mountain laurel, like its relatives – azaleas and rhododendrons – prefers a cold, wet, well-draining, acidic soil supplemented with compost. Planting on thick clay soil is best avoided and consider planting on raised beds if you have drainage difficulties. This will decrease the danger of root rot.

The pH of the soil should be between 4.5 and 5.5. If the pH of the soil is too high, add some peat moss or compost to the top six inches. If you need to lower the pH of the soil, shredded leaves, pine needles, or compost can help.

Mountain laurel is renowned for its ability to thrive in partial shade, although too much shade can inhibit flowering and create leaf blotches. The deep-green foliage may become yellowish under direct sunlight.

Because mountain laurel is a low-maintenance shrub that grows slowly, it requires minimal trimming. Branches that are dead or damaged can be removed at any moment. Shaping pruning should be done in the spring, just after the flowering period has ended. After the flowers have faded, you can deadhead spent flower clusters.

Cut back your mountain laurel plants almost to ground level if they get too tall for your landscaping design. When necessary, these hardy bushes may take a lot of trimming. New leaves will emerge from stubs just a few inches above the ground, and your plants will grow into mature bushes in approximately 10 years.

Kalmia lat. ‘Carousel’ (Mountain Laurel), from Amazon

Planting Kalmia Latifolia

Mountain laurel bushes should be planted from spring through summer when all dangers of frost have gone. Plant them in acidic, cold soil that is wet yet well-drained. The bushes should be spaced 4 to 6 feet apart; they like partial shade but can handle full sun. If at all possible, keep them away from windy locations.

These bushes should not be planted too deep in the ground. Make sure the top of the shrub – the place where the trunk meets the roots – isn’t buried. This situation should be avoided because your Mountain Laurel shrub will most likely perish as a result of decay on the buried crowns. When the shrubs are young, give them plenty of water and use wood chips or evergreen bark mulch to keep the soil wet and acidic.

If you are wondering where in the garden you should plant your laurel bushes, a woodland setting is the best way to go. They preferer to sit under tall trees, where bright sunlight is filtered by the tree foliage and does not burn them.

Watering Kalmia Latifolia

Mountain laurel has weak roots and has to be watered often before it grows properly. Newly planted shrubs should receive an inch or two of water per week throughout their first year of development. To reduce the danger of disease, avoid watering mountain laurels from above and focus on the roots instead.

Soils should be kept damp, but once mountain laurels fully develop, they may withstand drought. Make sure, though, that the soil does not overheat, as this can be damaging to the plant. Planting mountain laurels in elevated berms or pots might help keep the roots from becoming too soggy.

The period when mountain laurels need the most water is right after being transplanted. After you’ve planted the shrub, water it thoroughly, and then waters it regularly and deeply until the first frost. Make sure the soil doesn’t get too wet. Only use enough water to give it a good soaking, then let it drain. To minimize issues caused by standing water, make sure your mountain laurel is planted in well-draining soil.

Kalmia Latifolia
Kalmia Latifolia

Propagating Kalmia Latifolia

Mountain laurel can be easily propagated by rooting stem cuttings; however, it requires quite some time – about a few months.

Remove the leaves from the bottom of 6-inch cuttings taken from current-year growth. Make a cut from the bottom to approximately 1 inch up across the base of each cutting. Next, the end of each cutting should be dipped in rooting hormone and planted in potting soil. Place the potted cutting in a well-lit area and keep it wet and warm while the roots grow, and new leaves begin to appear – this might take up to six months. Your rooted cutting may be placed into the garden once the root system has matured.

Propagation can also be done using seeds, but it takes even more time. You need to start collecting the seeds in late fall when the flowers start to pass, so they can have plenty of time to germinate during winter and spring. Seedlings will start to appear after a few months, but they won’t be ready to be transplanted outside until the next spring.

In Conclusion

What’s not to like about mountain laurels? These low-maintenance shrubs with remarkably beautiful flowers and beautiful evergreen leaves can cheer up an entire garden. Whether you choose Kalmia Latifolia elf, firecracker, or minuet, you definitely won’t be sorry if you plant a few of these lovely shrubs in your yard!

Are you growing mountain laurel in your garden? Tell us about your experiences in the comments area below!

Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact miruna@gardenbeast.com

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