Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is a broadleaf evergreen that grows and flowers well in full sun to part shade, making it a versatile shrub in the landscape. The broad, dark green leaves provide interest all year long. In spring, clusters of cup-shaped flowers open in the shades of white, pink, and red. It's a favorite of bees and butterflies.
The shrub grows naturally in the filtered light under tall deciduous trees such as oak and maple, especially near a wet, swampy area. It flowers best, though, with more sun in an open landscape, but the leaves may turn a yellow-green color in full sun.
Growing Conditions and General Care
Mountain Laurel is hardy to zone 5. In colder areas, it will need to be protected in winter with burlap barriers to block the winter wind.
Purchase plants from your local garden center. Look for the hardiest varieties for cold areas. Plant shrubs from spring, after all, the danger of frost has passed, to summer in well-drained, moist, acidic, cool soils. Avoid windy areas, if possible. Space plants 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 m) apart.
Start seeds indoors in spring at 43 to 54 °F (6 to 12 °C). Take greenwood cuttings in late spring or semi-ripe cuttings in mid-summer—layer in late summer.
Keep young shrubs well watered. Keep the soil evenly moist and acidic with a layer of wood chips or evergreen bark mulch. Fertilize mountain laurel in spring with plant food for acidic-loving plants such as you'd use for Rhododendrons.
Mountain Laurel will get spindly, develop leaf spots, and have few flowers if grown in too much shade. Look for leaf spot resistant varieties if growing under these conditions. It also doesn't grow well in poorly drained soils. It's a slow grower that should only be pruned to shape the plant in spring after flowering. Dead, diseased and broken branches can be taken out at any time. Mountain laurel doesn't have many pest problems.