Portugal laurel, a nice hedge shrub

Prunus lusitanica - Portugal laurel

Portugal laurel is a beautiful evergreen shrub with deep dark green leaves.

Key Portugal laurel facts

NamePrunus lusitanica
Family – Rosaceae
Type – shrub, bay

Height – 6½ to 20 feet (2 to 6 meters)
Exposure – full sun

Foliage – evergreen – Flowering – spring – Fruits – fall (inedible)

It bears nice blooms in summer and colored berries in fall and winter.

Ideal for hedges, it is also particularly well-suited to growing in pots or as as a standalone.

Planting Portugal laurel

Portugal laurel, Prunus lusitanica , is planted in fall or in spring as long as it doesn’t freeze.

  • Portugal laurel appreciates full sun exposure but still tolerates part shade.
  • A blend of soil mix and garden soil is perfectly appropriate.
  • In a hedge, provide for enough space between specimens, about 3 feet (1 meter), so that your Prunus lusitanica can grow without suffocating.
  • Regularly water over the 1st year after planting.
  • Follow our guidelines on planting trees here at Nature-and-Garden.

Propagating Portugal laurel

Cuttings in summer are well-suited and usually successful with Portugal laurel. Select softwood stems for the cuttings.

Pruning Portugal laurel

Caring and pruning Portugal laurel - Prunus lusitanicaIt isn’t really necessary to prune, if only to balance the tree if needed after the blooming or at the end of winter.

However, Portugal laurel seems to have been created for the art of topiary and it is very easy to have it grow in any shape you wish.

  • Prune in May or June depending on the climate, just before flowering
  • Pruning once a year is enough to keep a nice silhouette.

Portugal laurel bare and scrappy spots

If your shrub is starting to grow more on one side and has bare spots on another, it’s best to thin the shrub. This will restore light to the center of the shrub. Thinning means removing branches from the shrub until you can almost “see through” it.

  • Use sharp, clean shears and a lopper for thicker branches. A small pruning saw may be useful, too.
  • Disinfect tools before and after to avoid spreading diseases.
  • Remove dead or wounded branches, if any, before proceeding.

How to thin Portugal laurel

  • Select up to four of the longest branches, chosen evenly from around the tree (one per cardinal direction for example, North, South, East, West).
  • Prune these off at a Y-junction about two-thirds into the tree, leaving the other, weaker Y-branch connected to the trunk.
  • Repeat with a new batch of now-longest branches, this time only going halfway to the center.
  • Repeat again with the last batch of longest branches, but only going one-third inwards.

All in all, you should leave about two-thirds of the tree untouched, hence the “up to four”.

  • Smaller trees would only have one or two branches removed at each stage, in total 3 to 6 “cuts”.
  • Larger trees may cope with three or four, leading to up to 12 cuts.

In doing this, the size of the tree is reduced. Light finds its way back to the center of the tree. New branches can sprout from buds on the upper trunk and main branches. This will fill the tree in and eliminate bare spots. Also, plants underneath get more light.

  • The strongest, most vigorous branches are cut back. Their vigor will trigger new buds and branches below the cut. That’s why we go deeper into the tree on the most vigorous branches.
  • It’s important to cut a branch off at a Y-junction, not straight off. Poor pruning will result in a hat-racked tree that is not as elegant and weakens the tree.

Six months later you can repeat the process to reach an even better result.

Learn more about Portugal laurel

Blooming Portugal laurelAs its name shows, this laurel is native to Portugal, and is sometimes goes by the name “Portugal plum tree”.

Prunus lusitanica is part of Prunus genus, section Laurocerasus (like cherry laurel) which itself is part of the Rosaceae family.

It grows in the wild along the Atlantic coast of Portugal and also in the north-west of Africa. The life of a Portugal laurel can span a few decades, usually reaching 25 to 30 years old.

It carries evergreen leaves that are a beautiful dark green, and are wavy around the edges which makes for a very ornamental impact.

Its white-colored blooming appears in summer, during the months of May or June depending on the climate and can extend over many long weeks.

Finally, Portugal laurel will bear cute berries which our bird friends will find delectable. They start out looking like little red cherries that afterwards turn black.

  • Important: leaves of Portugal laurel are toxic. They contain a compound similar to cyanide. Berries are also dangerous when green and light red (very bitter), but become edible when black. They’re not very good, though.

Smart tip about Portugal laurel

To avoid weed growth and retain water needed for its growth, spread mulch at the base of the tree in spring and repeat this every year.

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Blooming Portugal laurel shrub, white flowers by Donaleen under © CC BY 2.0