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!

Reader Question: Shrubs that Thrive in Shade


Today’s Reader Question comes from Jesse in Prince George, VA:

I have a shady yard and am looking for advice on shrubs that thrive in shade. I have azaleas but am looking for something a little more exciting.

Well Jesse, it really depends on how much shade you have. As a general rule, if your garden only has morning shade you can grow many full sun shrubs as the afternoon sun is much more intense. If your garden only has afternoon shade, you can consider your landscape to be a shady one. Of course, there are always variables to take into account such as the denseness of your shade and your sun exposure in the winter.

Assuming that you have a shady yard as you indicated, there are a number of shrubs that will fit the bill. Let’s take a look at some of them:

  1. AZALEAS – I know you said that you were looking for something a bit more exciting but have you considered the Encore azaleas? They reliably rebloom in the fall so they offer you two seasons of color. They come in all sorts of colors and heights so there is probably one that will work for your landscape.
  2. CAMELLIAS – I love, love, love camellias but many are only hardy to Zone 7. Since you’re just a couple of counties away from me in Prince George, camellias will offer you beautiful evergreen foliage and fantastic blooms. There are two types of camellias: sasanqua types which bloom in the fall and japonicas which bloom in the late winter and early spring. Instead of making it an either/or decision, why not plant both?
  3. PIERIS – These gorgeous shrubs bloom in the spring and also have evergreen foliage. There are many cultivars available ranging in color from red to pink to white.
  4. shrubs that thrive in shadeHYDRANGEA – Hydrangeas are deciduous but well worth it for their blooms. There are two types of hydrangeas…mopheads and lacecaps. On top of that, many of the older hydrangea cultivars bloom on old wood while the newer varieties bloom on new wood. The newer cultivars can be cut back in the spring without the fear of pruning away your blooms. The picture here is the foliage of ‘Mariesii Variegata’ emerging in the spring.
  5. GARDENIA – In the southern portion of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening region, gardenias appreciate some shade from the afternoon sun. Their blooms are fragrant and make beautiful cut flowers. They can be prone to whiteflies if they are sited in too much sun so take care to plant them in at least light shade.
  6. GOOSEBERRIES – If you are looking to grow a shrub that also produces edible fruit, consider the gooseberry. They won’t thrive in dense shade but if they are afforded good air movement, they will produce a bounty of fruit that can be used in preserves, pies and jams.


Jesse, I hope that I’ve given you some ideas regarding shrubs that thrive in shade. All of these plants are low maintenance shrubs that will thrive with little care once established. If other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers would like to chime in with their favorite shrubs for shade, leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

March 22, 2012Permalink 9 Comments