Portuguese Laurel vs Cherry Laurel: What's the Difference?
The humble laurel has proven to be a popular choice for gardeners around the world. Whether it’s an evergreen hedge or a handsome specimen tree, members of the laurel family make great additions to any outdoor space- and are a popular choice for hedging plants thanks to a dense structure. But did you know there are a range of types of laurel plants? This is a wide-ranging family with plenty of options.
When it comes to garden hedges, there are two main options that tend to be the most popular: Portuguese and cherry laurels both have their own distinct characteristics and beauty – which makes choosing between them something of a challenge!
To help you decide, let’s take a closer look at the differences between Portuguese laurel and cherry laurel.
The first main difference between the two is their visual appearance. Portuguese laurel (Prunus lusitanica) has smaller dark green ovate leaves (more visually similar to Bay) which are paired with red stems on new growth.
Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus), on the other hand is identified by its much larger, leathery leaves that are a lighter glossy green colour and more rounded than Portuguese laurel. Its stems are thicker, and it grows substantially quicker, giving this variety a much fuller look - for this reason, cherry laurel tends to be a more popular choice for hedging and screens for those wanting fast impact.
When it comes to flowers, both varieties are adorned with small racemes of fragrant white flowers in the spring followed by inedible red berries which turn a darker black/purple colour. It is important to note that the flowers and berries on both varieties serve little purpose in creating a dense hedge and should ideally be cut off to prevent the plants wasting energy on producing flowers and berries rather than producing new leaf and stem growth. However, if your hedge is already established, then there is no harm in leaving the flowers in place to provide extra aesthetic interest. Both varieties are evergreen and will offer year-round cover.
Both varieties of laurel also have slightly different habits when it comes to growth. Portuguese laurel tends to be slightly slower growing, meaning that it can be pruned without needing to worry about it filling out too quickly. Cherry laurel, on the other hand, is a much faster grower and can become unruly if not kept in check - on the other hand, this makes it a perfect option if you are looking for an evergreen shrub to create instant hedging and a sturdy privacy screen quickly.
Both varieties of laurel hedges also respond well to pruning and can be trimmed into a variety of shapes and sizes, although cherry laurel should be cut back more regularly due to its faster growth rate. Both varieties can be cut back hard if they do get too unruly and they will happily rejuvenate from being cut back significantly.
As with any type of laurel hedging, ongoing maintenance and care is essential to ensure your laurel plants stay healthy and look their best. Some of the top tips to keep your plants in tip-top condition include:
One of the most important things to remember is that both types of laurel plants need plenty of water, particularly during dry periods. Portuguese laurel can tolerate short periods of drought better than cherry laurel, but both should be watered deeply and regularly if you want them to thrive.
When watering hedges, expert advice is to water deeply but infrequently to encourage strong root development - this should be done every 2-3 weeks during the summer months, and will help to keep the plants healthy and hydrated.
But, be warned, both varieties do not like being planted in waterlogged soil and heavy clay, so do ensure that there is ample drainage if planting into wet soil conditions.
Fertilizing can also be beneficial for both varieties of laurel, although it should be done sparingly. Organic matter such as farmyard manure is best, as this will provide a slow-release source of nutrients that won’t burn or damage the roots of your plants. A balanced all-purpose fertilizer is ideal, applied once or twice a year in the spring and early autumn months.
Regular pruning is essential for both types of laurels, though, as mentioned, cherry laurels will likely need more frequent trimming and pruning as they tend to grow more quickly. This will help to control their growth habit and keep them looking neat and tidy . If you want to create a hedging effect, then pruning should be done throughout the year to keep it looking its best.
Another crucial difference between the two species is their resistance to diseases and pests. Portuguese laurel is generally considered to be more resistant to various fungal diseases and pests, although both will require regular care and maintenance if they are to stay healthy and free from issues.
Cherry laurel, however, tend to be more susceptible to diseases such as leaf spot fungi, mildew, and aphids, so it is important to keep an eye out for any potential signs of illness. Regular checks and treatments will help to keep your plants in good condition and free from disease.
Both varieties however will generally pull through most pests and diseases as they are very tough tolerant plants, so it is not normally an issue if a small amount of mildew or similar is noticed.
The climate and surroundings that your plant will be living in will also have a significant impact on the type of plant that is best for your garden. Generally, Portuguese laurel varieties tend to be hardier and can tolerate both hot and colder climates better than cherry laurel, which prefer sun in cooler climates, and partial shade in hotter climates.
The distinction comes largely from the origin of each plant; Portuguese laurel is native to the Mediterranean region, and therefore feels at home and able to tolerate temperatures and full sun in hot climates as well as cold winters in the UK, while members of the cherry family are native to parts of south-east Europe and south-west Asia, which have a more temperate climate.
Overall, it’s important to do your research and know what type of environment your plant will be living in all year round before making a decision. In the UK, the climate is ideal for both varieties so unless you live in a microclimate, don’t worry too much about whether it will survive your climatic conditions.
Portuguese Laurel or Cherry Laurel - Which Plant is Right for You?
Both cherry laurel and Portuguese laurel plants are wonderful additions to any garden and make an excellent hedging plant. However, there are some key differences between the two that should be considered before making a purchase.
Finally, pruning will be necessary for both types of plants, although cherry laurel will need more frequent trimming due to its faster growth rate; though on the plus side, this does allow for a dense privacy hedge to be established more quickly than using Portuguese Laurel
Ultimately, the choice between the two varieties will come down to personal preference and the climate of your garden. With a bit of research, you’ll be able to make an informed decision that will give you plenty of years of pleasure from your new laurel hedge or border.
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