The Portuguese cherry laurel definitely has the potential to become the new trend plant in German home gardens. He is currently making the first steps in this direction. He deserves it. However, with the restriction that it should be combined with native trees, then the laurel cherry also fits in ecologically. In terms of decorative value, she does so willingly anyway. The laurel cherry is satisfied with almost any location and really undemanding in terms of care.

Beauty with potential

The Portuguese cherry laurel has some special features to offer:

  • Branches with wine-red bark, a nice contrast to the lush green leaves
  • White flower spikes that are horizontal in contrast to the upright branches
  • The size of the panicles of flowers depends on the shape (trimming) of the cherry laurel
  • When pruned into a neat cone, small panicles will develop within this shape
  • When allowed to grow freely, the flower spikes get really big and grow in all directions

The selection of the location depends largely on the planned growth pattern. The Portuguese cherry laurel grows bushy and upright and is usually pruned so that it does not grow higher than 2.3 meters. It can do more, up to 9 m in cultivation. Depending on whether you want to let your Prunus lusitanica grow freely or prune it regularly, there must be more or less space available at the top.

With the space to the sides it looks similar. You must provide at least the growth height in the horizontal. With a view to the effect a little more. The panicle blossoms on the free-growing cherry laurel grow larger and tower over the leaf line. This spectacle should be adequately admired with some free space around it.

Speaking of admired – the Portuguese cherry laurel is evergreen and brings life to the garden, especially in winter with its red-green contrast. It should therefore also be in view from the window.

Otherwise, Portuguese laurel cherries can be set as a hedge and cultivated in all possible locations in the garden in all possible sizes. The incredibly pruning-friendly cherry laurel can also decorate the front garden as a mini tuff or frame the terrace in pots.

location and soil

Admiration seems to be the most important thing for him. The Portuguese cherry laurel makes so few demands on the soil that you could probably plant it almost anywhere in the garden. If given the choice, the Portuguese laurel cherry prefers dry to fresh soil, which can hold water well, but also releases it again when it gets too much.

The pH doesn’t matter, normal values ​​around 6.5.7 are of course best because they make the most nutrients available to the plants. But the laurel cherry can also cope with a slightly acidic soil. In the basic direction, the original Mediterranean island limestone soil inhabitant tolerates a lot. The Portuguese cherry laurel will grow in any normally nutrient soil.

He is just as frugal with the light, with us like a little more. Mediterranean brightness does not prevail here, but in addition to sunny locations, it also accepts partially shaded ones without any problems, because in its homeland it tends to thrive in shady places.

She also accepts the German temperatures, perhaps with a secret chill, because the laurel cherry seems to enjoy the heat. It is considered to be extremely heat-tolerant.

The better cherry laurel for Germany

It is hard to understand why the Portuguese laurel cherry has so far hardly been found in our gardens, while the common laurel cherry (Prunus laurocerasus) can be found in every second garden in some areas.

The Portuguese laurel cherry is at least as undemanding and tolerant of pruning as Prunus laurocerasus – and is said to look better with smaller, more densely serrated and softer leaves. In addition, the common cherry laurel comes from the Near East, where it is a little warmer. Prunus lusitanica is considered to be much more hardy.

The small leaves of Prunus lusitanica resemble bay leaves ( Laurus nobilis ) much more than the leaves of P. laurocerasus do. It can also replace the laurel in German gardens, albeit unfortunately as an ornament and not in the cooking pot.

The Portuguese cherry laurel also has its downsides, like any tree with a foreign home if you plant it as the dominant tree in a German garden.

The just mentioned Prunus laurocerasus, which the managing director of the German Nature Conservation Union (NABU, Sönke Hofmann) classified as a “highly toxic, ecological plague” for nature, can serve as an example of this dark side. The newcomers that were brought in are being planted excessively, have already been released into the wild in forests and are spreading there at the expense of native nature (https://bremen.nabu.de/tiere-und-plants/plants/21750.html). Harsh words, in view of the “inflation of these shrubs” in German gardens, which, together with the “prohibited bad habit of dumping shrub cuttings in forests”, lead to their spread in forests, but obviously justified.

Individual case studies on Prunus laurocerasus already exist. They make the cherry laurel look as bad as the NABU boss described it. In Switzerland, Prunus laurocerasus is already on the black list as an unwanted invasive neophyte, which can only be sold with a declaration, if at all.

In this respect, too, the Portuguese laurel cherry is available as a substitute: Prunus lusitanica is used e.g. B. not considered problematically invasive by the responsible Swiss scientists and even suggested as a replacement plant species. With the requirement to check at least every three years whether the replacement species has not also become invasive.

Prunus lusitanica is also said to be flown to by some insects, is said to have so-called extrafloral nectaries (= nectar glands outside the flowers) in the leaf axils, which also please bees, and some native birds are said to eat its berries.

Nevertheless, the following always applies: Trees from a foreign home should be combined with native trees, which are ecologically more valuable simply because all native animal species have adapted to them.

Good native additions to the Portuguese laurel (evergreen, same habit, same site requirements) are Ilex aquifolium, holly, and Taxus baccata, yew. If same shape/requirements are not important, there are many native trees that fit alongside the cherry laurel. You can easily put together a wonderful, super ecological bird protection hedge, framed by two laurel cherries at the gate. You have already combined environmental protection and a tidy (gentle-looking) house entrance.

plants and care

The Portuguese laurel cherries are planted like all woody plants, i.e. in the form of a ball in spring or autumn (natives better in the autumn, warmth-loving exotic species such as P. lusitanica use/need the summer to grow in). Well-rooted container plants can also be planted in late spring and summer.

There is not much else to say about the care of the laurel cherry. She wants enough water, but definitely not permanently wet feet. Especially in winter, a Prunus lusitanica should never be too wet.

flowers and fruits

Flowers and fruits of the Portuguese laurel cherry are extremely attractive – if they are given the chance to develop properly. The most important argument for letting a Prunus lusitanica grow freely is the magnificent flower it then produces: Upright and/or laterally projecting, white to cream-white flowers bloom from June on up to 15 cm long panicles and exude their pleasant fragrance .

The flowers are followed by red-violet drupes, which are usually undifferentiatedly described as (slightly) poisonous. They are, at least the cores (seeds), such as leaves, shoots and roots. They all contain cyanogenic glycosides (organic sugar compound with hydrogen cyanide, recognizable by the bitter taste) – but they are also found in the kernels of apricots, almonds, plums, sour cherries and sweet cherries. And even in several of our most ordinary foods like strawberries, beans, peas, tapioca, and lima beans; However, either in harmless amounts or the food is traditionally cooked before consumption (destroys the hydrocyanic acid compounds). As are the fruits of the Prunus laurocerasus in Turkey, where this cherry laurel is grown to make jam.

The uncritical classification of (cooked) fruits of Prunus lusitanica as poisonous can therefore at least be doubted. The choice of Prunus laurocerasus as poisonous plant of the year 2013 does not change that. This was done by the Wandsbek Botanical Special Garden, a media campaign in which citizens voted. They have already chosen crocus, coffee, poppies, poinsettias, tulips, tomatoes and potatoes as poisonous plants of the year. All with toxic parts, all presumably already involved in animal or human poisoning accidents, but either eaten very rarely or very rarely in harmful quantities. With tomatoes and potatoes, it’s also quite difficult, kilos of raw green tomatoes just don’t taste good. 96 kilograms of potatoes in their skins should cause capacity problems for the ordinary eater.

hibernate

The Portuguese laurel cherry got its name because the first Prunus lusitanica was introduced to England from Madeira (Portugal) in 1648. In fact, this species of Prunus is found throughout the southwestern part of Europe. So Linnaeus was a bit more precise when he named this laurel cherry “Prunus lusitanica” a good century later. He was referring to “Lusitania”, the Latin name for the south-western part of the Pyrenees peninsula, of which Portugal occupies a relatively small part alongside Spain.

It is warmer on the Iberian Peninsula than here, but in the north there are also very cold winters with regular snowfalls. The northern occurrences of the Portuguese cherry laurel are probably the reason why this laurel cherry is considered to be very hardy in our country.

Nevertheless, cautious tree growers only recommend planting the young plants in the garden immediately in mild locations. The more critical the climate, the more advisable it is to buy from a nearby tree nursery that grows laurel cherries outdoors. The young plants in particular need winter protection in the first year. They are also said to be sensitive to cold winds. If the location is appropriate, wind protection would also be advisable.

The evergreen Portuguese cherry laurel continues to grow throughout the winter and continues to evaporate moisture through its leaves. It must be watered on frost-free days. Caution is called for in the strong winter sun when the temperatures are below zero at the same time. This then thaws the leaf veins at the top, the plant evaporates water, but cannot draw any more from the frozen root area. This can cause cherry laurel (and other shrubs) to dry out and brown the leaves. In order to avoid this (e.g. with sensitive young plants), the plant must be shaded in such weather conditions.

To cut

The Portuguese laurel cherry is very tolerant of pruning and should reliably sprout again even after severe pruning.

You can cut the laurel cherry into any shape you want, if you don’t want it to be an artificial figure, one pruning a year is enough. You should start this in the spring. If you prune in the second half of summer, you would be pruning away the flowering buds for the next season.

Conclusion
The Portuguese cherry laurel is an asset for the home garden, but: If you cultivate the laurel cherry as a topiary hedge, pruning takes away its decisive charm, the luxuriant growth, flowering panicles and colorful fruits that are free to unfold in all directions. Laurel cherries as a hedge/shape need a lot of pruning care; Free-growing cherry laurels usually get too big for home gardens. Laurel cherries as the dominant woody mixture are not really good for the garden or the environment ecologically. In combination with native trees, the Portuguese laurel cherry is recommended.

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