How To Plant, Prune, Fertilize, Water And Care For English Cherry Laurel Plants

When planted right and in the right spot, English laurels or cherry laurels, scientifically known as Prunus laurocerasus, are exceptionally easy to grow and care for. From dwarf to taller growing cultivars, these stately and elegant evergreen spring-flowering shrubs have many uses in the landscape as accents, low-maintenance hedges, or in groupings and mass plantings in landscape borders and home foundation plantings.  

Here's a breakdown of what you need to grow these laurels like the pros...

Cultural Preferences

Soil Preferences

English laurels prefer a moist, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Well-drained soil is essential. As with so many other ornamental shrubs, constantly soggy or wet soil is problematic.

How To Test Soil Drainage  

If you are uncertain about soil drainage in the area you intend to plant your English laurel, it's well worth taking the time to test the drainage before planting. 

To test soil drainage, dig a hole 12" wide by 12" deep in the planting area. Fill the hole with water and let it drain. Then, after it drains, fill it with water again, but this time clock how long it takes to drain. In well-drained soil the water level will go down at a rate of about 1 inch an hour. A faster rate, such as in loose, sandy soil, may signal potentially dry site conditions and possibly a need to add organic matter to help retain moisture. A slower rate indicates poor draining soil and is a caution you need to improve drainage, plant in a raised mound or bed, or look for plants that are more tolerant of wet or boggy conditions.

Soil pH

English laurel grow best in an acid to slightly alkaline soil ranging between 4.5 to 7.5 on the pH scale. Most average garden soils fall between a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0. 

How To Test Soil pH

Soil pH is a measurement of the alkalinity or acidity of soil and is measured on a scale of 1-14, with 7 as the neutral mark. Any measurement below 7 indicates acid soil conditions, and anything above 7 indicates alkaline. 

If you're unsure about the pH of your soil, and whether or not it's suitable for growing English laurel, it's a good idea to test the soil pH in the planting area. You can quickly test soil pH with an inexpensive soil pH tester probe. To raise the pH (make more alkaline) you can add pelletized limestone to the soil. To lower the pH (make more acid) you can apply Soil Sulfur, Aluminum Sulfate, or Chelated Iron. Adding organic compost to the soil or using compost as mulch can also help to increase acidity and maintain acid soil conditions. 

Light Preferences

In the cooler climates of USDA Zones 6 and 7 plants will tolerate full sun to almost full shade. In USDA Zone 8 English laurel plants will perform and look their best when provided some shade or filtered sun during the hot, mid-afternoon hours. Here in USDA Zone 8a of Georgia we've had success growing them in sites that range from morning sun with afternoon filtered sun to almost full shade.

How To Plant An English Laurel (Cherry Laurel)

Scroll down for care instructions

Step 1

Start by digging your planting hole at least two to three times as wide and no deeper than the rootball. The wider the hole the better. Place native soil removed from planting hole around the perimeter of the hole, in a wheel barrow, or on a tarp.

Step 2

Depending on the type, fertility and porosity of the soil in the planting area you might need to amend the native soil. When planting English laurel in dense clay or poor quality soil it is beneficial to thoroughly mix in some good organic matter such as composted cow manure, mushroom compost, and/or a good planting mix at a 50/50 ratio with the soil removed from the planting hole. When planting in very sandy or quick-draining soil mix in some top soil, peat moss and/or compost to help retain moisture. When planting in moist but well-drained, fertile soil, there is no need for adding a soil amendment.

Step 3

To remove your English Laurel from the container it was growing in first squeeze the sides of the pot. Then grasp the base of the plant with your fingertips and try to gently remove the root ball from the container. If the root ball is stuck in the container use snips or a utility knife to cut the container away.

Step 4

Set your English laurel in the planting hole so that the top edge of the root ball is at or slightly above ground level (1-inch or so) to allow for settling. If your soil is moderately drained, meaning it drains somewhat slowly after rain, the top of the root ball should be 2 to 3 inches above ground level. If necessary, add some backfill soil mixture to the bottom of the hole to achieve proper planting height. 

Note:  If the soil is poorly drained (constantly soggy or wet) improve drainage or select a different plant species tolerant of wet soils.

Step 5

After setting your English laurel in the planting hole, use one hand to hold the plant straight and your other hand to begin back-filling your soil mixture around the root ball, tamping as you go to remove air pockets. When you have filled the hole to the halfway point you can soak the soil. Then continue back-filling to the top edge of the root ball. If you are planting the root ball higher than ground level taper your soil mixture gradually from the top edge of the root ball to the ground level, as shown in the planting illustration above. To avoid suffocating your plant, avoid placing any soil on top of the root ball.

Step 6 (Optional)

When planting your English laurel in a site far away from a water source you can use remaining soil mixture to build a 3-inch high water retaining berm (catch basin / doughnut) around the outside perimeter of the planting hole. This basin will help to collect water from rainfall and irrigation often reducing the need for hand-watering. The berm can be removed after a growing season.

Step 7

Next, deeply water the planting area, including the root ball, to a depth equal to the height of the root ball. For an extra boost, you can water your newly planted Indian Hawthorne with a solution of Root Stimulator, which stimulates early root formation and stronger root development. Root Stimulator reduces plant shock and promotes greener, more vigorous plants. 

Step 8

To conserve moisture and suppress weed growth, apply a 1 to 2" layer of shredded or chipped wood mulch or pine straw around the planting area. Avoid the use of freshly chipped or shredded wood for mulch until it has cured in a pile for at least 6 months, a year is better. Avoid placing or piling mulch directly against the base of your plant as this could cause the bark to rot.

How To Care For English Cherry Laurel Plants

Fertilizing - Watering - Pruning

How To Fertilize English Laurel

English laurel will benefit from fertilization. 

In The Ground:  To maintain good foliage color and support growth and overall health of the plant, feed them in spring with a slow-release shrub & tree food, preferably one that contains iron and/or sulfur for deep greening. Alternatively, you can feed with a natural organic plant food. 

In Containers:  Feed English laurel growing in containers with a slow-release granular plant fertilizer or all-purpose water soluble liquid plant food listed for use on plants growing in containers. Follow application instructions on product label.

Note:  To avoid stimulating new growth that could be damaged by an early frost, cease fertilization two months prior to the first frost date in your area.

Soil pH - English laurel grow best in an acid to slightly alkaline soil ranging between 4.5 to 7.5 on the pH scale. Most average garden soils fall between a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0. 

How To Water English Laurel Plants

First, English Laurel must have a well-drained soil. They prefer a consistently damp to moist but well-drained soil. As with so many other types of ornamental plants, constantly soggy or wet soil can be problematic. So, be careful not to over-water them.

At Planting Time

Immediately after planting deep soak the soil in the planting area, including the root ball, to a depth equal to the height of the root ball. For an extra boost, you can water your newly planted English laurel with a solution of Root Stimulator, which stimulates early root formation and stronger root development. Root Stimulator reduces plant shock and promotes greener, more vigorous plants. 

During The First Growing Season

In average garden soil you should not have to water your newly planted English laurel every day. More often than not, this causes soggy soil conditions that can lead to root rot and other harmful plant diseases. In the absence of sufficient rainfall, water only as needed to keep the root ball and surrounding soil damp to moist. Use the finger test to check soil moisture. Keep in mind that deep soaking less frequently is much better than splashing just a little water on the plants every day. Shrubs planted during the winter dormant season, when plants are not actively growing and evaporation is much slower, will require much less water. So, be extra careful not to overwater during winter.


When established, English laurel will tolerate short dry periods. That said, they like a consistently damp to moist soil, especially during the heat of summer. If during a drought you see leaves wilting, or stem tips dropping, this could be an indicator your plants could use a good deep soaking. Always use the finger test or a moisture meter to check soil moisture before watering. 

Note:  When watering with an automated irrigation system it's best to set your timer to water during the early morning hours and not in the late evening or at night, which can lead to the onset of fungus and other foliar diseases. During the first few weeks after planting, check soil moisture often and adjust irrigation time if necessary to keep the soil moist, not wet. 

How To Prune English Laurel Plants

English laurels (Prunus laurocerasus) come in many varieties of different shapes and sizes. Basically though, the pruning method and time is the same for all. The difference for how you prune will depend on the variety, the habit of growth, and the desired form: natural or formal. 

Dwarf and spreading English laurels are grown as ground cover plants. Other larger growing English laurel varieties are grown as mid to large-size shrubs, hedges or privacy screens. 

When To Prune English Laurel

As with many other evergreen flowering shrubs, timing is important if you want to see flowers on your English laurels. If you prune laurels in early spring, before they've bloomed, you'll most likely prune off most if not all of the flower buds. English laurels set their flower buds in late summer or fall so pruning too late in fall or winter will also remove flower buds. 

The best time to prune your laurels is immediately after the plants have flowered in spring. Laurels can be safely pruned again anytime through mid summer. To avoid removing flower buds and forcing new growth that could be damaged by a freeze, cease pruning two months prior to the average first-frost date in your area. After plants have gone dormant for winter, pruning can resume.

Note:  If you're not concerned about removing flower buds, then pruning can be performed at any time up until late summer. 

Pruning Instructions

When provided enough space to grow to their natural size, English laurels do not require pruning, though they respond very well to almost any amount. That said, plants have a tendency to grow larger than the listed size over time. And, sometimes, you might want to grow these magnificent plants in locations that won't provide the space for a mature specimen. If so, a simple annual pruning can keep plants at one-third to half their mature dimensions.

English laurels respond very well to pruning. When pruning to maintain a smaller shrub (after flowering in spring) it is best to use bypass hand pruners or lopper pruners to selectively cut back individual branches to a desired length.

Hedge clippers or trimmers can be used on taller growing English laurel varieties to maintain formal hedges and screens, though doing so will cut leaves in half, which some of us think is unsightly. This type of shearing can be performed anytime during the winter or after flowering in spring (if you want flowers) and again through late summer. 

Note:  The main consideration regarding when to prune English laurel hedges has to do with their seasonal growth. If your final pruning of the season is performed by August it allows the plant to flush new growth before the plant goes dormant when cooler temperatures arrive. 

Rejuvenation Pruning

When an English laurel has way overgrown the space it was intended to fill, or when an old plant has become weak and thin, rejuvenation pruning might be in order. This type of drastic pruning involves cutting the plant back from half its size down to 6 to 12 inch stumps. Basically, you can cut them back as much as you want. 

Rejuvenation pruning can be performed from early spring through late summer, but I usually suggest doing it in late winter, when the plant is dormant. This way new growth will shoot out soon thereafter when soil temperatures start to warm in spring. 

Note:  Rejuvenation pruning offers no guarantees. It can kill a weakened plant that doesn't have enough life energy left to rejuvenate itself. That said, what do you have to lose if the plant is dying a slow death or will have to be removed due to its overgrown size?

Plant Long & Prosper!

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