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Lovely laurel requires some thought

Selecting the right plant for the right place that looks the way we imagined can be a challenge. The catch is “looks the way we like.” By focusing on the three most critical factors we can make our decision easy, but we may have to compromise on the look.

Winter hardiness, amount of average sunlight, and type of soil drainage are the critical three. If you have full sun, a plant that prefers shade won’t work; if you have a spot that is chronically wet and want a plant that requires well-drained soils, it won’t work. And if it is not winter-hardy then none of this will matter.

This lesson was learned the hard way by many of us over the last two Kentucky winters. Schip laurels are a perfect example. Being hardy to USDA zone 6 puts us on the northern boundary for this laurel. Yet it has been widely and commonly planted in our area for the last 10 years. Winter 2013 and 2014 came and went, and Schip laurels that were not planted in the proper sunlight or drainage suffered greatly, while those that were survived and many thrived.

Schip laurel is a beautiful evergreen plant. It has long, narrow, glossy leaves and fragrant white flowers in the spring. It can grow 5 to 10 feet tall or more and 4 to 6 feet wide. It prefers to grow in part shade or filtered sun, and moist but well-drained soils are a must. Most of the failure of Schip laurel that I have seen resulted not just from a cold winter but from full sun and chronically wet or poorly drained location. Three strikes and you’re out is not just for baseball.

Sunlight and exposure as well as soil drainage cannot be ignored and are critical for the success of our plantings. If a compromise must be made it should be in the fine details of how the plant looks, not where it will successfully live and grow. Our landscapes require a financial investment: make it a solid investment for the future.

Shelly Nold from the December 2015 issue.

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