Growing Mountain Laurel
Growing Mountain Laurel
Designed by Brenda Hyde
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The blooms, which are the Connecticut state flower, are stunning and unusual in their shape. Colors range from white to red, with pink shades and the foliage is evergreen. They are a wonderful companion to rhododendrons or azaleas.
Mountain Laurel needs a moist, acidic soil, but it also needs good drainage. Partial shade is fine, or full sun in a sheltered area, where it won't get the worst of the winter winds in cold climates.
In hot climates it really needs the shade. Amend the soil with organic matter, and give it at least a 2 inch layer of mulch (wood chips, pine needles, or leaves work well) each spring.
Mountain laurel grows well beneath trees where it's lightly shaded. It's hardy to -20 degrees F, but mulching and a sheltered location helps it to do well during the winter. It would seem like putting it in full sun where in the winter the sun would warm it during the day is a good idea, however to do this you'd also be exposing it to the cold nights in an open location, which could kill it. Instead, if you are in Zone 4 or a part of Zone 5 that may get too cold, try planting mountain laurel up against a building or trees where it's sheltered. You can even place plastic over it for the winter as protection.
Mountain laurel will bloom in May and June. As soon as the blooms have faded, snip them off to help the plant spend its energies on next years blooms. You can also prune the shrub at this time to keep it small and bushier. But don't use a heavy hand-keep the pruning light. Mountain laurel is deer resistant, BUT if the deer are hungry enough they will munch it. Note too, that the foliage and flowers are toxic if eaten, so keep this in mind when picking a location if you have small children.
You should fertilize mountain laurel much the same as you would other acid loving plants such as rhododendrons. Use a fertilizer made for this type of plant, but don't over do it. Light fertililyzing is all that is needed in very early spring or very late fall after a freeze. Do not apply any fertilizer after the first week of June. This could cause new growth, which wouldn't be mature enough to handle winter.
One last note: Some hot states like Texas have a more difficult time growing K. latifolia, but I did run across a shrub that grows better in hot climates. It's Sophora secundiflora, which is often called Texas mountain laurel. It's easy to grow and may be an alternative for hot climates.