Carolina Cherry Laurel (Prunus caroliniana)

Carolina Cherry Laurel, Carolina Cherry-Laurel, Carolina Laurel Cherry

The Carolina Cherry tree (Prunus caroliana) is one of the best evergreens you can find for creating privacy. It features glossy, dark-green leaves. It grows naturally in a dense, upright oval form, though it is often pruned into a hedge or screen. Carolina Cherry has a slower growth rate and requires little maintenance to look good. These are lovely trees that yield dense, fragrant clusters of showy, creamy white flowers in the spring. To some, the foliage has a scent that reminds them of maraschino cherries. It is an excellent street tree and is excellent for a border. These trees withstand heat, dry conditions, wind, and are very durable once established.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Prunus caroliniana, known as the Carolina laurelcherry, Carolina cherry laurel, Carolina cherry, or Cherry laurel, is a small evergreen flowering tree native to the lowlands of Southeastern United States, from North Carolina south to Florida and westward to central Texas. The species also has escaped into the wild in a few places in California.

Prunus caroliniana is not to be confused with its European relative, Prunus laurocerasus, which also is called Cherry Laurel, although mainly known as English Laurel in the U.S.

Prunus caroliniana is a small to medium-sized evergreen tree that grows to approximately 5–13 meters (16–43 feet) tall, with a spread of about 6–9 m (20–30 ft). The leaves are dark green, alternate, shiny, leathery, elliptic to oblanceolate, 5–12 centimeters (2–4+1⁄2 inches) long, usually with an entire (smooth) margin, but occasionally serrulate (having subtle serrations), and with cuneate bases. The leaves of reproductively mature trees have entire margins, whereas those of immature trees often have subtle serrations. The twigs are red to grayish brown, slender, and glabrous. When crushed, the leaves and green twigs emit a fragrance described as resembling maraschino cherries or almond extract.

Fragrant white to cream-colored flowers are produced in racemes (stalked bunches) 5–8 cm (2–3 in) long in the late winter to early spring. The fruits are tiny black cherries about 1 cm (1⁄2 in) in diameter, which persist through winter and are primarily consumed by birds (February–April).

The species has long been an ornamental tree and landscape hedge shrub in gardens in many parts of the Atlantic states of the United States. The tree is considered hardy in USDA zones 7B through 10A. It is often used in areas where a tough broadleaved evergreen tree is needed of modest size. It prefers full sun and well-drained, acidic soil, often developing chlorosis if grown in overly alkaline soil. It is known to grow to elevations of 152 m (500 ft).

The tree is a host plant for coral hairstreak, eastern tiger swallowtail, red-spotted purple, spring azures, summer azures, and viceroy butterflies where adult butterflies nectar from the spring flowers while the fruits are eaten by songbirds, wild turkeys, quail, raccoons, foxes, and small mammals.

Toxicity

The leaves and branches contain high amounts of cyanogenic glycosides that break down into hydrogen cyanide when damaged, making it a potential toxic hazard to grazing livestock and children. Due to this, it is considered highly deer-resistant.

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

Carolina cherry laurel likes sunshine. As a fruit tree, ample sunlight for photosynthesis is necessary for its growth and to provide sufficient nutrition to develop fruit. It should be planted in a spot that ensures it can receive at least 6 hours of sunlight, and ideally no less than 8 hours of sunlight.

Temperature

Carolina cherry laurel is fairly good at surviving in low temperatures. The temperature it can tolerate ranges from -22 ℃ to 42 ℃. It is also not very picky when it comes to water. It does not need a lot of water and is resistant to both drought and flood.

Watering

You should water Carolina cherry laurel and adjust the frequency of watering based on its stage of growth, the local weather, and the condition of the soil. Before budding (in mid-spring), it should be watered once. From mid-spring to just before the fall, it should be watered every month. It needs to be thoroughly watered each time you water it, until the water on the soil surface stops draining away. This will ensure that it has sufficient water for growth.

After watering, remember to loosen the soil and remove any weeds in a timely fashion. Stop watering in the autumn and especially in the winter, otherwise it will suffer from frost damage.

Soil

When planting carolina cherry laurel, you should select a sandy loam soil or loam that is thick, rich in organic matter, and with a slight to medium alkaline pH of 7-8.5. Avoid planting it in a place where salt and alkalis are concentrated. Additionally, make sure that the soil is moist but drains well. It is best not to grow Carolina cherry laurel in clay soil.

Fertilizing

Carolina cherry laurel likes to be fertilized. A sufficient amount of fertilizer will ensure that it grows healthily and bears fruit. Organic fertilizer is usually used for its base fertilizer. When applying fertilizer, dig a circular trench around the external circumference of the tree crown, at a depth of 38 cm and a width of 28 cm. Apply the fertilizer evenly throughout the trench, then backfill the soil.

Fertilizer should be applied twice a year, the first time prior to blooming, to supply nutrients for the flowers, and the second time when the fruit is growing larger, to supply nutrients for fruit growth and to increase the yield.

Planting Instructions

You can purchase carolina cherry laurel saplings in garden centers. Pay attention to two things before planting. First, choose an area of the garden that has a lower altitude to plant your carolina cherry laurel. This will help it to acquire enough water because its roots are shallow. Additionally, apply sufficient base fertilizer before planting it, mostly organic fertilizer. Once planted, remember to water it soon after, until the water on the surface of the soil stops draining away. When this happens you have provided sufficient water.

Pruning

Carolina cherry laurel sprouts on branches that have strong budding capabilities. However, the branches can easily become overcrowded and need frequent pruning to maintain the shape, air circulation, and light exposure within the tree. This also helps to prevent pests and diseases while at the same time helping the leaves receive more sunlight.

Carolina cherry laurel can generate a large amount of fruit without any artificial pollination. Because carolina cherry laurel can produce a large number of flowers with a high yield of fruit, to maintain its growth and the quality of fruit, it is recommended that some flowers and fruit be removed to concentrate the nutrients for the remaining fruit. As a result, there will not be a large amount of fruit, but those left will be of higher quality and have an improved flavor.

Propagation

Carolina cherry laurel can be propagated by grafting. Select healthy and strong that have 3-4 fully developed buds for grafting in mid-spring, or directly use buds for grafting in the summer.

Cut a T-shaped opening in the stock, and insert the branch or bud into the cut between its xylem and phloem, while making sure the phloem vessels are in contact with each other. Then, use plastic wrapping to bind them together. After 10-20 days, when the cut has healed and the branch or bud has survived, the plastic wrap can be removed.

Transplanting

The best time to transplant carolina cherry laurel is between Spring (S3) and early Autumn (S5), as the mild climate allows for optimal root growth. Choose a spot with partial to full sun, ensuring well-drained soil. Remember, gradual acclimatization to its new location provides a better transplant outcome.

Pests and Diseases

While mostly pest and disease free, it can still become susceptible to aphids, scale insects, verticillium wilt, and powdery mildew.

III. Carolina Cherry Laurel Similar Trees or Varieties

When it comes to the Prunus genus, you can find a few cultivars that include:

  • ‘Otto Luyken‘ is a compact plant you can grow as a hedge. It reaches up to four feet high.
  • ‘Schipkaensis’ has a spreading habit with upright growth with glossy narrow foliage. It can reach up to 10 feet tall.
  • ‘Zabeliana’ reaches four feet high but can spread up to 12 feet and is slowly growing, making it a popular choice for ground cover in small gardens.

IV. Uses and Benefits 

Carolina cherry laurel is a shrub or tree popular for its evergreen leaves, which grow densely enough to make it a good candidate for hedging. Further appeal is added by its delicate, showy white flowers and bird-attracting fruit. This drought-tolerant plant is easy to grow and makes a good specimen tree, and it is wind-friendly enough to be a good windbreak. It makes a great addition to coastal, informal, and cottage gardens. Floribunda rose and rock cotoneaster look great and grow well with Carolina cherry laurel.

V. Harvesting and Storage

The fruits of carolina cherry laurel usually ripen in the early fall and can be picked for eating. If the fruit needs to be stored or transported a long distance, it is better to harvest the fruit before it softens, such as during the late summer or early fall. Note that fruit should be handled gently and, ideally, and the twig should remain on the fruit.

Carolina Cherry Laurel (Prunus caroliniana) Details

Common name Carolina Cherry Laurel, Carolina Cherry-Laurel, Carolina Laurel Cherry
Botanical name Prunus caroliniana
Plant type Native Plant
Hardiness zone 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b, 10a, 10b
Growth rate Fast
Harvest time Fall
Height 15 ft. 0 in. - 35 ft. 0 in.
Width 15 ft. 0 in. - 35 ft. 0 in.
Sunlight Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
Flower color White
Leaf color Green