Plant Profile: Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)

Mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, is a wonderful native shrub that grows throughout much of the Mid-Atlantic gardening region. Mountain laurel is blooming right now in Central Virginia and is peeking from the woods’ edge all along the roads that I travel daily. Its light pink blooms provide a nice splash of color amongst all of the green leaves that decorate the trees. It’s growing in the same woods where all of the beech trees were hanging onto their palomino colored leaves this winter.

mountain laurel
Photo courtesy of


Mountain laurel can be a finicky shrub to establish in the landscape here in Richmond, VA. I lost several new transplants in a customer’s yard a few years ago…I haven’t tried to plant any since. They enjoy partial shade and a cool moist soil. They seem to thrive in areas with less humidity than we have here in Richmond. They grow prolifically in the mountains of Virginia and in areas further north. Just because they didn’t do well in a landscape a few years ago is no reason to not give them a try again…I just haven’t had the opportunity.

There are many cultivars available in the nursery trade. Here are some of the most popular:

  1. ‘Bullseye’ – this cultivar reaches 5′ tall x 5′ wide and has white blooms with purple banding
  2. ‘Carousel’ – this cultivar reaches 5′ tall x 5′ wide and has white blooms with cinnamon red accents
  3. ‘Elf’ – if you’re looking for a shorter cultivar, ‘Elf’ only gets 3′ tall and has pink buds that open to white flowers
  4. ‘Olympic Fire’ – this cultivar reaches 5′ tall x 5′ wide and has clear pink blooms
  5. ‘Pristine’ – if you need a clear white bloom, ‘Pristine’ has an abundance of them on 5′ tall plants


Mountain laurel has deep green, evergreen leaves that are reminescent of Rhododendrons. Both rhodies and mountain laurel are in the Ericaceae family and they have similar cultural requirements: acidic soil, shade and moist soil. That’s not to say that they won’t tolerate less than ideal conditions; it’s just that if they were picking a place to live, it would have all of those characteristics.

A bonus of mountain laurel is that all of its parts are poisonous. That means that they are deer resistant. That’s a bonus and beats azaleas, otherwise known as deer candy, hands down. Do you grow mountain laurel? What conditions is it growing in? What’s your favorite cultivar? Share your experiences with other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers by leaving us a comment below. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!