Mountain laurels are probably one of the most hardy and versatile ornamental trees. They offer beautiful, fragrant flowers, evergreen foliage and thrive in a variety of environments. They are quite pricy if you try to buy one from your local nursery, however mountain laurels are super easy to grow from seed if you have the patience.
Mountain Laurel Growth Habbits
Being a hardy tree that thrives in a range from full sun to full shade, mountain laurel’s growth habits can vary widely. Old specimens with good sun and deep soil can grow up to 20′ tall and have a tree like form. In more poor growing conditions, it might not get larger than bush size. Foliage density can also vary from dense and bush-like (the norm) to a sparse and whispy look when sunlight is limited.
Rate of growth can also be quite variable. It’s been my experience that some years, some mountain laurels appear to not grow at all. However, during good years they might grow 3′ or more. When mt laurels grow, they grow fast, but their lack of reliable growing years has caused them to have a reputation of slow growing. If you plant a mt laurel in good light, with some soil and good watering mechanism, rapid growth can be expected.
Growing From Seed
If you wait for mountail laurel seeds to mature, they become very, very hard. To facilitate sowing, seeds must be scarified. I’ve done this successfully using techniques varying from sandpaper to rubbing them on the concrete in my driveway. However, there is a shortcut! If you harvest seeds in late June through early July, seeds will still be soft, however, still very viable! No scarifying necessary. Just plop them in some soil and they’ll grow. I have found that success rate is nearly 100%. Mt Laurel seeds are very easy to sow.
The seeds of mountain laurel are actually poisonous if ingested. Indians used to grind up the seeds into powder and make narcotic drink out of it. In small animals it is said to be lethal to eat the beans whole. I’ve personally never heard of this every happening. I have both small children and mountain laurels at my house. I have found that usually the mountain laurel seeds do not eject from the pods on their own so even when my daughter plays with them, she can’t get at the beans.
The two common insects that get into mountain laurel typically show their face in the early spring. There is a species of caterpillar that like to eat mt laurel foliage and a sap-sucking aphid like bug, lopedia, that can cause some damage. Most of the time, both of these pests only cause cosmetic damage. For them to really put the plants life at risk there would have to be other stresses that are compounding the problem.
The other common problem I run into with mountain laurels is a people problem. They tend to get planted too deeply which leads to trunk rot, girdling roots, thinning canopy and eventually death. This problem is easily avoided by proper tree planting practices. And, even if you have already planted your mountain laurel and it is too deep, an airspade can be utilized to remove some of the soil around the base of the trunk.