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Gardening Answers Knowledgebase

Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Prunus lusitanica, Growth

My customer says his Portuguese laurel which is now a 5 foot tree won't be growing any bigger. It is in the shade, but don't these get 15 feet in height?


SelecTree, the website of the Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute, says that Portugal Laurel (Prunus lusitanica)will do well in sun to partial shade, and may grow up to 35 feet tall, at a rate of two feet a year.

The Sunset Western Garden Book (2001) says that a multi-trunked tree can get as large as 30 feet high and 30 feet wide. Perhaps your customer is expressing wishful thinking, and aspires to grow a shrub rather than a tree. Some people do grow it as a hedge, and clip it frequently to control its size.

Date 2016-12-23
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Prunus lusitanica, Soil testing, Soil amendments

Some of my Prunus lusitanica (Portugal laurel) shrubs are changing the color of the foliage and stems. Normally the leaves should be dark green and the stems are a dark cranberry red. The soil here at the coast is very sandy. I have put composted manure (the type from bags), fertilized them, and added a bit of lime to the soil around the trunk and close to the root zone. I have not seen much of a response. Do you know what is the optimal pH for Prunus lusitanica? I am concerned about these shrubs because I just planted them last summer.


Prunus lusitanica tolerates a wide variety of pH and moisture levels in soils. See California Department of Forestry SelecTree webpage about this plant.

According to the webpage of a local Seattle garden writer, the leaves do change color slightly, acquiring a bluish tinge in late fall to winter. She also says that Prunus lusitanica does not like wet feet.

What colors are the leaves turning? You might consider testing the soil, to make sure things are not out of balance. Here is a link to the Miller Library website's links about soil testing.

Is it possible that the bagged manure was still hot, that is, not fully aged? If so, that could cause problems.

You might also bring in photographs or sample leaves to a Master Gardener Clinic for diagnosis. You can locate a Master Gardener Clinic within Washington State at this website.

Date 2017-05-04
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Prunus lusitanica, Plant diseases, Integrated pest management, Phytophthora

I have two Portuguese laurel shrubs. One has large reddish-purple leaf spots and the leaves on part of the shrub have dropped. It looks like the fungus is spreading to part of the other shrub. Do you have any suggestions? I have raked up as much of the dropped leaves as I can. Would Daconil be safe for Portuguese laurels? I also have Bonide multi-purpose fungicide (contains chlorothalonil), but wanted to see if you thought it would be safe for laurels. Thank you for any suggestions you may have.


While I cannot diagnose the problem remotely, I will offer several possibilities of what may be causing the leaf spots on your Prunus lusitanica (Portuguese laurel). The causes might be bacterial, fungal, or environmental. According to Oregon State University's Plant Disease database, English laurel (and other types of laurel) can suffer from leaf spots and shothole. (Search plant list under the letter P, for Prunus laurocerasus.) Excerpt:

Shothole symptoms are commonly observed on Prunus sp. and can be caused by a variety of factors. The bacterium Pseudomonas syringae pv. syringae and several fungi including Cercospora sp., Blumeriella sp., and Wilsonomyces carpophilum (Coryneum blight) can cause leaf spots and shothole on cherry laurel (English laurel, Otto Luyken, or 'Zabeliana'). Copper spray injury and boron toxicity can also cause leaf spotting and shothole. When symptoms are advanced, it is not possible to identify the cause specifically.

Cherry laurels (English laurel, Otto Luyken, or 'Zabeliana'), P. laurocerasus and sometimes other Prunus sp. including cherry and plum, commonly show shothole symptoms resulting from cultural or environmental stress. Research has failed to identify what specific stress is responsible. Both container- and field-grown laurel can develop symptoms.

Symptoms: Necrotic leaf spots with circular to irregular margins. Bacterial spots are brown surrounded by a reddish border with a yellow halo. Abscission layers develop around necrotic leaf spots causing the injured tissue to drop away, leaving holes and tattered areas in the leaf (as if someone fired a shotgun at the leaf-thus the name shothole). After tissues drop, most often it is difficult to determine specifically what caused the initial injury. Observations of early symptom development, signs, and symptoms on other areas of the plant may help make an accurate diagnosis. Note the holes in the leaves.

Cultural control: No management practices have been shown to help reduce physiological shothole. For disease-induced shothole, try the following cultural practices.

Avoid overhead irrigation.

Remove and destroy fallen leaves.

Do not plant near other flowering or fruiting Prunus sp.

If the problem is physiological shothole, this is an environmental disorder which cannot be controlled with chemicals, and infected parts of the plant should be removed and destroyed.

Your description does not sound like bacterial blight, which in laurels usually affects only the leaves, but this link, from University of California, Davis's Integrated Pest Management site, may help you see if the symptoms match your plant.

Prunus lusitanica can also suffer from Phytophthora, which may be seen in affected leaves as reddish or purplish discoloration.

It would be best to find out for certain what is causing the problem before attempting to treat it. I suggest bringing samples of the affected leaves to one of the Master Gardener Clinics in our area.

I cannot recommend using pesticides such as Daconil or Bonide (which both contain chlorothalonil), as I do not have a pesticide handler's license. Also, the information linked here, from Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, indicates that there are many more concerns (human health, environmental) about chlorothalonil than simply whether it will harm the Portuguese laurel. If you do choose to use pesticides, you must follow the directions to the letter. Another reason to find out the specific cause of the leaf spot and leaf loss is that it is against the law to use a pesticide on a pest or problem for which it was not intended.

An alternative approach would be to prune the plants severely to rejuvenate them. Portuguese laurel is a good candidate for this type of renovation. Here is more information on how to do this type of pruning. Scroll down to the section on renovating evergreen shrubs. Excerpt, from the Royal Horticultural Society:

Aucuba, Buxus, Choisya, Euonymus, Ilex x altaclerensis, Ilex aquifolium, Prunus laurocerasus, Prunus lusitanica, Taxus, and Viburnum tinus all tolerate severe pruning. Many evergreens are best renovated over several years, removing one-third to half of shoots to ground level, and reducing all other shoots by one-third in the first year. Over the next couple of years remove half of the older shoots to ground level.

Date 2017-04-14
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Prunus lusitanica, Hummingbirds

I have a very large, mature Portugal laurel hedge. A tree service is coming out next week to see about pruning it. It is February and I heard that Anna's hummingbirds are beginning to build nests in our area. I have a hummingbird feeder near the hedge. So, my first question, is now an OK time to have the hedge trimmed for the health of the plant? Second, am I risking disturbing nests at this time? In addition, if the neighbors cut back a significant amount of hedge on their side of the fence last year, am I safe to cut some of the height now, or do I need to allow more time for the shrub to recover?


According to the American Horticultural Society's Pruning & Training (ed. Christopher Brickell, DK Publishing, 2011), the ideal time to prune Prunus lusitanica (Portugal laurel) is late spring or early summer. However, it can produce new growth easily from old wood, so if a plant or a hedge requires renovation, it shouldn't pose a problem. It's always best to avoid pruning on very hot days. The Royal Horticultural Society website has general guidelines for hedge pruning:

"Evergreen hedges
Formative pruning: In the spring after planting and for the first two years after planting
Maintenance pruning: Each summer"

If you are concerned about disturbing the Anna's hummingbirds, it makes sense in any case to wait until late spring or early summer. See this information on Anna's hummingbirds from Washington NatureMapping Program:

"Nesting: As is the case with other hummingbird species, male and female Anna's Hummingbirds associate only long enough to mate. The female is responsible for construction of the nest and care of the young. The breeding season begins in December and usually lasts until May or June. Females will lay a clutch of only two white eggs and will produce only one brood per season. The hummingbird eggs are roughly the size and shape of a small jellybean. The hatchlings will remain in the nest for three weeks."

Portugal laurel is generally considered pretty tough, but if you are concerned about pruning too much at one time, you might want to wait until it is in the height of active growth. To sum up, it seems best for both the hummingbirds and the hedge to wait a while.

Date 2017-04-13
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August 01 2017 12:36:01