Portuguese laurel is also known as Portugal laurel and Cherry bay. It is an often disregarded evergreen plant that is native to Spain and Portugal but also south-western France, Morocco, and Macaronesia. In the wild Portuguese Laurel is uncommon, habitually found along mountain streams. It was first introduced into Britain during 1648 whilst Charles I was on the throne, and then embraced by the Victorians who adored the privacy offered by laurel hedging.
Portuguese laurel is a beautiful evergreen shrub and forms a very dense hedge made up of dark glossy green leaves. The leaves are slightly smaller than the large leaves of the Cherry laurel, superficially resembling those of the Bay laurel. The foliage is dark green all year round and the stems of new growth are a lovely deep rhubarb colour. The two colours combine brilliantly offering a handsome warming mixture in winter light. In the summer the plant has small but fragrant white flowers which smell a little like hawthorn, both being members of the rose family. Red fruits follow the charming flowers in the Autumn which turn dark purple with age. These fruits are highly favoured by birds. Portuguese laurel used to be planted in woodland where game birds fed as it was thought the fruit would impart a finer flavour to the meat.
Portuguese laurel loves sunshine, but prefers light shade, and will grow in any moist but well-drained soil. It does not enjoy windy exposed positions.
It is not as poisonous or rampantly invasive as the cherry laurel yet is still a hardy evergreen shrub or small tree. Portuguese laurel is hardier than Cherry laurel and its smaller, softer, neatly serrated green leaves mean many people consider it a better looking plant. The leaves resemble the Bay laurel making it a fantastic alternative for those who live in colder areas where Bay is hard to grow.
Portuguese laurel responds very well to clipping, producing softly topiarised shapes that contrast well with the more sharply clipped, smaller-leaved box and holly trees. Clip in February, June, and October to keep the shape crisp.
Portuguese Laurel Growing Advice
Full sun or partial shade
North, East, South, West.
Sheltered or exposed.
Any moist but well-drained soil.
Easy to grow in a moist but well-drained moderately fertile soil.
Fast, can grow up to 40cm per year, reaching 18 metres / 60 feet tall.
Portuguese Laurel Care Advice
A hedge will need to be trimmed lightly twice during the summer months. Use a pair of secateurs or hand shears for the best results. June is a good time for the first clipping.
Softly topiarised shapes should be clipped three times a year in February, June, and October.
Vine weevil and leaf-mining moths may damage the leaves.