Aucuba japonica is probably not the first plant that one would choose if faced with all the beauties on the market. However, this reliable plant and its sister varieties are the answer to the headaches of many a plant lover, whether they are facing icy winter’s cold or sweltering summer’s heat or looking for plants for deep shade. And so, year after year, they remain bestsellers. A. japonica and its hybrids are exceptionally hardy, evergreen shrubs that are mainly cultivated for their lovely foliage. Their large, glossy, almost leathery leaves come in a variety of shapes, depending on the cultivar. If you group a whole lot together, it is possible to create a lush tropical scene in a cold winter garden. They are neat, medium-sized shrubs (about 1 m tall) that also look good in pots.
When do they bloom?
The small, almost insignificant, purplish-red flowers appear in spring.
Most suitable climate
The Japanese laurels suit most regions in this country. In very warm, arid gardens they should be planted in the shade otherwise the foliage can burn. They thrive in coastal regions and are wind resistant. Their resistance to pollution and their ability to cope with varying shade patterns mean they afford even the most inexperienced gardener, with a dreary city balcony, a chance to nurture something green.
What they need
Location: full sun and light to deep shade. Also grows well in pots.
Soil: any soil type is suitable, but you will always get the best results if you add liberal quantities of compost. Good drainage is essential – Japanese laurel can survive in dry shade between moisture-robbing tree roots.
Water: exceptionally drought-resistant, but regular watering and a surface layer of mulch around the root system will result in luxuriant growth.
Fertilizing and pruning: fertilize in spring with a slow-release fertilizer and prune if necessary to keep neat. The lovely foliage appeals to floral artists because it lasts so long in the vase.
Good to know
Aucubas belong to the Cornaceae family and are dioecious (male and female flowers grow on separate plants), but this is not really noticeable here in South Africa because most plants sold locally are hybrids or cultivars of female plants that are propagated using cuttings. This obvious lack of male plants results in a mass of beautiful female plants without the striking red berries in autumn and early winter. Perhaps one day we will see a male clone on the local gardening scene, and all our aucubas will suddenly start bearing berries.
In a nutshell
* Endure frost and cold.
* Disease- and pest-free.
* Provide colour in deep shade.
- Aucuba japonica ‘CROTONIFOLIA GOLD’
- Aucuba japonica ‘Crotonifolia’ (Japanese laurel)
- Planting Aucuba japonica
- Planting spotted laurel
- Pruning and caring for spotted laurel
- Learn more about spotted laurel
- Smart tip about spotted laurel
- Aucuba japonica ‘Crotonifolia’ hedging
- Japanese Laurel Hedging
- Japanese Laurel Hedging History
- Spotted Laurel Hedging Maintenance
- Japanese Laurel Privacy Hedges
Aucuba japonica ‘CROTONIFOLIA GOLD’
This evergreen shrub is a commonly known favourite especially in Britain and in milder parts of humid regions of Germany and Benelux. The first specimen was brought from Japan to Europe in 1783, and has been sought after ever since for its unusual shape of foliage and beautiful variegation on some cultivars.
Crotonifolia Gold is a spotted laurel variety selected from Crotonifolia. Its leaves are distinctly yellow spotted, new and top leaves are yellower than bottom and older leaves. They are extremely large for a hardy evergreen plant – usually 10-15, sometimes upto 20 cm long and 8-10 cm wide. Variegation differs from plant to plant. Crotonifolia is a female variety which can have quite attractive, large, red berries if pollinated by a male plant, e.g. aucuba japonica. Birds do not seem to like the berries very much.
Usually considered a house plant it is suitable for outdoor growing, too, upto USDA zone 6 (-24°C). If you wish to make sure the top of the plant will not be damaged in extreme winter frosts (below -20°C) cover the plant with white woven for the few coldest days of winter. Should the top leaves be burnt after winter, just get rid of them in the spring or prune the shrub to healthy (= green) tissue. The plant will readily regenerate from lower branches and will become even denser. Trimming or pruning is best done from April until end June latest.
It does best in part pun to light shade, and will also live happily in full shade while its variegation will not be as distinct. It needs humus-rich, constantly moist but well-drained, preferably acid to neutral soil. Provide extra watering in frost-free periods of winter when the ground is not frozen. Hardy to min. -20°C, with protection to -24°C (USDA zone 6).
Last update 21-02-2010
Aucuba japonica ‘Crotonifolia’ (Japanese laurel)
Slow growing compact medium-sized shrub. An attractive variegated evergreen that thrives in most soils and aspects. Easy to grow and low maintenance. Generally pest and disease free.
This variety has been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Ideal for beds and borders. A good variety for hedging. Will grow in full sun or partial shade.
Planting Aucuba japonica
Any reasonable garden soil will do but the area must be moist but well drained. Soak the root ball well before planting. Dig a hole at least twice the diameter of the root ball. Back-fill with a planting mixture of equal parts soil and soil improver/compost.
Water thoroughly during dry weather until well established. Mulch with organic matter in spring and add a general fertilizer such as bonemeal. Container grown plants should be watered regularly in summer.
Prune when necessary to keep required size and shape. Best pruned with secateurs to avoid cutting the large leaves.
To keep the variety true, propagate by striking firm shoot tip cuttings in summer or by taking hardwood cuttings in October. Seeds can be sown from September to November.
Spotted laurel is a very beautiful shrub, as nice in summer as it is in winter with its cute red berries.
A summary of spotted laurel facts
Name – Aucuba japonica
Family – Garryaceae
Type – shrub
Height – 3 to 10 feet (1 to 3 m)
Exposure – sun and shade
Soil – ordinary and cool
Foliage – evergreen
Flowering – November to April
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 plant to grow it as a hedge.
If planting in the spring, remember to water abundantly at the beginning to ensure proper settling in.
- Follow our Nature-and-Garden planting tips.
If you wish 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.
- Refer to our checklist on pruning hedges.
As 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.
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, and is hardy to the cold and to excessive heat, too.
Learn more about spotted laurel
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 grow 6 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) tall in our temperate climates, but some Aucuba japonica grow taller than 16 feet (5 m) in their native environment.
The red berries are only born by female spotted laurel trees, that’s why the question of a shrub not bearing fruit often arises: it is a male specimen.
Note that these berries are a boon for birds, but are inedible for humans, and might even be poisonous. If ingested, hurry to call the local poison center for guidance.
Its hardiness makes it a highly disease-resistant shrub, and it copes with pollution well if you live in an urban setting.
Smart tip about spotted laurel
Fruit formation only occurs if male and female specimens are planted close together.
- Discover other very ornamental berry shrubs
Aucuba japonica ‘Crotonifolia’ hedging
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Exceptions to our quick turnaround timescale
Pre-orders – if you have placed an order that includes products on pre-order, then they will be dispatched to you as soon as they are available. If your order includes pre-order bare roots or root balls you will be notified once they are being dispatched (root balls from mid to late October and bare roots from early to mid-November).
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Please note that in the case of damaged plants, if you have not notified us of a problem within 14 days of delivery, we consider you to have accepted the plants and Best4Hedging has no further liability for them should they fail.
You can read more about our returns policy in our terms and conditions here.
Japanese Laurel Hedging
The Japanese laurel, also known as the spotted laurel, is a handsome plant with thick, dark green leaves scattered with yellow stains – hence the word “spotted” in its name – and very prominent red berries that are inedible to humans, but also unattractive to birds. The name of this species may be a little misleading, as the spotted laurel is not actually part of the laurel family, but rather part of the aucuba genus, which explains its botanical name aucuba japonica. This name also reveals that the spotted laurel is an evergreen, as the Japanese words “aoki ba” literally mean “green leaf”. It will hold on to these glossy, green leaves all year round.
Despite the fact that the spotted laurel is not particularly common as a hedging plant, it lends itself perfectly for this purpose. In fact, this species is an evergreen hedging plant that has a little more to offer than most other evergreen species that are suitable for hedging. The spotted laurel will give your garden a lively appearance due to its attractive, large leaves and its countless red berries – without being too unconventional, demanding or expensive. It is a very vigorous plant that will last for decades without requiring too much maintenance, which makes the spotted laurel an excellent hedging variety for every garden enthusiast, regardless of your level of gardening experience. Beginners and experienced gardeners will be able to enjoy this attractive hedging plant equally.
Japanese Laurel Hedging History
As one of its common names already reveals, the Japanese laurel is native to East Asia. It originates from the moist areas of Korea, China and of course Japan. It was introduced to the UK in the late eighteenth century and it was immediately appreciated for its striking, glossy leaves. During the early nineteenth century, the spotted laurel became widely cultivated for ornamental use, which is when it gained one of its nicknames: the gold plant, referring to the bright, yellow spots on its leaves. All plants that were grown at the time were female, however, so when renowned Scottish botanist Robert Fortune travelled to Japan in 1861, one of the purposes of this journey was to find a male specimen to fertilise the female plants with. Due to the introduction of male plants, the spotted laurel was able to produce its lovely red berries. And went on to become one of the most popular ornamental plants throughout Europe and the UK. There had been a slight dip in its popularity after World War II, likely as a reaction to the fact that it was seen almost everywhere, but it did not take long until various cultivars were developed, most of which are still widely available at garden centres to this day. This is hardly surprising, as their glossy, vibrant leaves are sure to make any garden look a little livelier and more importantly, the spotted laurel is able to thrive under many difficult circumstances. It can even handle coastal winds and pollution. The spotted laurel is not only beautiful, it is also a tough hedging plant.
Spotted Laurel Hedging Maintenance
The spotted laurel is a hardy, attractive hedging plant that will grow in a variety of soils and is not too demanding regarding its planting site. It will thrive in the sun, in semi-shade or even in the shade and its location does not affect the variegation of its leaves, which is somewhat unusual for a species that carries variegated leaves. The species has an average growth rate of about 20 to 30 centimetres per year, which is not the quickest growth rate found among hedge plants, but certainly not the slowest either. Ultimately, a spotted laurel hedge will reach about 2.40 metres in height and is therefore a great way to protect your privacy with a hedge that is somewhat less formal in appearance than most other evergreens.
As stated before, maintaining a spotted laurel hedge is relatively easy. Pruning once a year will suffice. It does not matter much when you choose to prune your spotted laurel hedge, though we would strongly advise against trimming it during periods of frost. We also strongly recommend you use secateurs for pruning your spotted laurel hedge, as you will risk damaging its beautiful leaves should you use hedge shears. We have described two varieties on our website, of which the female ‘Variegata’ is the most popular due to its bright, red berries. If you are looking for a spotted laurel hedge solely because you like the elegant look of its leaves, you could also opt for the male ‘Crotonifolia’ variety. Both varieties are equally undemanding.
Japanese Laurel Privacy Hedges
There are not many evergreen hedging plants that will thrive in gardens located near the coast, but the spotted laurel offers the opportunity to grow a hedge that does not only provide you with privacy, but also with a beautiful appearance. Its glossy, spotted leaves will make any garden look a little better even during the coldest months of the year and its undemanding nature, as well as its ability to handle even pollution makes the spotted laurel a hedging plant that you will not have to worry about. It can even be grown indoors, as it makes a beautiful potted plant, but it is most often seen as a tall, somewhat informal hedge.
Whether you are a gardener who is just starting out and are simply looking for a beautiful hedging plant that is easy to maintain or you are an expert who knows exactly how to get the best out of any hedging plant, the spotted laurel will certainly make your garden look a little better.