Mountain Laurel Care
No summer vacation to the North Carolina mountains would be complete without the sight of mountain laurel blooming in full glory along the steep, winding roadsides.
Mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, is a flowering shrub native to the eastern United States, found from north Florida to southern Maine. A member of the blueberry family, this evergreen blooms in May and June with round clusters of white to light pink star-shaped flowers.
Mountain laurel flourishes naturally on rocky slopes, but can be tricky to grow in the home garden. With a little patience and the proper conditions, however, this slow-growing shrub, which reaches up to eight feel tall, can make an attractive addition to the landscape (Note: All parts of the plant are poisonous). It combines well with other spring-blooming shrubs like dwarf summersweet and Virginia sweetspire.
Mountain laurel, which is hardy in zones 4 through 9, prefers acidic, evenly moist soil and near perfect drainage. For that reason, the shrubs are not drought tolerant, nor will they tolerate heavy wet clay. Even though they’re considered shade plants, these shrubs need partial sun (morning) in order to bloom properly.
Be sure not to plant mountain laurel too deeply. The plant’s crown should be just above ground; otherwise, it may suffer from rot. Mulch the shrub well with organic matter, and deadhead the flowers throughout the summer for extending the bloom period.
If color’s your thing, consider varieties such as ‘Carol’, a smaller shrub (grows to three feet) which produces dark pink buds that yield nearly white flowers, and ‘Sarah’ which has bright red buds that become bright pink flowers.