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
• Sun: Shade
• Soil: Average soil with ample organic matter
• Moisture: Moist but well-drained; somewhat drought-tolerant once established
• 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
• Stem cuttings
Pests and diseases
• Leaf spots, stem blight, root rot in overly wet sites
• ‘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.
• 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