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Spotted laurel, a nice evergreen shrub

Spotted laurel

Spotted laurel is a very beautiful shrub, as nice in summer as it is in winter with its cute red berries.

Spotted laurel key facts

Name – Aucuba japonica
Family – Garryaceae
Type – shrub

Height – usually 3 to 10 feet (1 to 3 m)
Exposure – sun and shade

Soil: ordinary & cool  –  Foliage: evergreen  –  Flowering: end of fall → spring

Caring for this plant from planting to pruning will enable you to increase its growth and development.

Planting spotted laurel

Spotted laurel is a kind of shrub that doesn’t need a lot of sunlight to grow and is thus perfectly suited to growing in shaded areas of the garden.

Favor the fall season to plant it and keep a distance of 30 to 40 inches (80 to 100 cm) between plants if you plan to grow it as a hedge.

If planting in the spring, remember to water abundantly at the beginning to ensure proper settling in.

Lastly, to propagate your spotted laurel: preparing cuttings is your best option.

Pruning and caring for spotted laurel

If part of a hedge, wait for the end of the blooming, in spring, to prune your spotted laurel.

Spotted laurel pruningAs a standalone, pruning isn’t really required, but you could still balance or reduce branches in spring.

Avoid pruning it in fall at all costs, because you’d be interrupting fruit formation, thus depriving yourself of the beautiful cute berries that decorate the shrub all winter long.

  • This doesn’t apply for male spotted laurel cultivars. Indeed, as you’ll discover in a few lines, Aucuba japonica plants are either male or female, not both.  Since male specimens won’t carry berries, you can prune them in Fall.

Spotted laurel can bear pruning very well and can even be pruned back severely if need be. It will always grow back, even if cut directly at the stump.

Caring for your spotted laurel

Spotted laurel is a shrub that is both easy to care for and very tolerant in terms of maintenance.

It resists most diseases well. Additionally, spotted laurel is hardy to the cold and withstands excessive heat, too.

Spotted laurel varieties

There are quite a few varieties and cultivars, all with interesting leaf patterns.

  • A. japonica ‘Gold Dust’ – certainly the most common, with yellow dots sprinkled on emerald green leaves
  • Aucuba japonica ‘Fructo-Albo’ – same as above, but with white berries instead of red
  • ‘Picturata’ – striking pattern of white along the center, splashes along the edge
  • ‘Sulphurea Marginata’ spotted laurel – not spots anymore, but swaths of green and yellow
  • ‘Lemon flare’ – inverse of the ‘Picturata’ with green in the center and white around the edges

Learn more about spotted laurel

Spotted laurel leaves with a cluster of red olive-shaped berries in the center.This shrub is a staple item of our gardens. It bears its beautiful evergreen, mottled leaves all year long, and has the added advantage of bearing cute, little red round berries during the entire winter season.

Spotted laurel grows 6 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) tall in temperate climates, but some Aucuba japonica grow taller than 16 feet (5 m) in their native forest environment – Korea, China and Japan.

Its hardiness makes it a highly disease-resistant shrub. Also appealing to urban garden growers: spotted laurel copes with pollution well if you live in an urban setting.

Spotted laurel, a dioecious plant

The red berries only appear on female spotted laurel trees.

That’s why the question of a spotted laurel not bearing fruit often arises: it is a male specimen.

The botanical term to explain this is “dioecious”. It means male and female plants are separate and different. Both will bear flowers, which look different, but only female cultivars will produce berries.

  • Note that these berries are a boon for birds, but are inedible for humans, and can even be poisonous. If ingested, hurry to call the local poison center for guidance. The toxin responsible for this is called aucubin. It’s found in leaves and in the red fruits.

Smart tip about spotted laurel

Fruit formation only occurs if male and female specimens are planted close together.

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Images: depositphotos: Simona Pavan, Pixabay: Jacqueline Macou, Public Domain: Bernard Spragg
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