Japanese laurel shines, even in deep shade

Japanese laurel is popular for its glossy evergreen foliage and ability to thrive in dense shade. It grows fairly slowly to form a tidy, rounded shrub that tolerates not only shade but also air pollution.

Japanese laurel's oval leaves are bright green, but more often you'll see the many popular cultivars that have gold-speckled foliage. It's a dioecious species, meaning female plants produce pretty berrylike red fruits if pollinated by a nearby male plant.

Plant Japanese laurel singly or in groups in shaded sites. It also makes a handsome container plant, and in cold zones it can be overwintered indoors in a cool, sunny room.

Common name: Japanese laurel or Japanese aucuba

Botanical name: Aucuba japonica

Plant type: Evergreen shrub

Zones: 7 to 10

Height: 6 to 10 feet

Family: Garryaceae

Growing conditions

• Sun: Shade

• Soil: Average soil with ample organic matter

• Moisture: Moist but well-drained; somewhat drought-tolerant once established

Care an

• Mulch: 1 to 2 inches of organic mulch

• Pruning: Prune lightly as needed to improve form or limit size

• Fertilizer: Apply compost or soluble fertilizer as needed

Propagation

• Stem cuttings

• Seeds

Pests and diseases

• Leaf spots, stem blight, root rot in overly wet sites

Cultivars

• ‘Crotonifolia' is female and has foliage that's heavily speckled with fine gold spots.

• ‘Mr. Goldstrike' is male and has boldly gold-splashed leaves.

• ‘Variegata', also known as gold dust plant, has lightly gold-spotted leaves.

Garden notes

• Gold-variegated cultivars are especially nice for adding some light and color to heavily shaded spots.

• Cut stems of variegated Japanese laurel add a festive touch to flower arrangements.

• Combine Japanese laurel with shade-tolerant ground covers, perennials and annuals.

All in the family

• Japanese laurel is a member of the garrya family (Garryaceae), a small family that contains just two genera.

• Japanese laurel is also sometimes listed in the dogwood family (Cornaceae).

Where to buy

• Fairweather Gardens, fairweathergardens.com

• Forestfarm, forestfarm.com

• Plant Delights Nursery, plantdelights.com