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My Favorite Evergreen Shrub: Otto Luyken Laurel

Posted Jun 06 2009 12:04am

Above is a picture of my favorite shrub:
Prunus laurocerasus 'Otto Luyken.' The photo is from a neighbor's yard - the 6 I have planted are still tiny. In my zone 5 landscape with slightly alkaline soil, there are relatively few choices for broad-leaved evergreen shrubs. Rhododendrons, azaelas, pieris and other acid-loving shrubs look sickly here without extensive soil amendment & maintenance. Many others just can't handle the cold. Otto is hardier than other laurels, and it makes a nice choice for the evergreen backbone of a bed or for a low hedge.
Otto is a mid-sized shrub - about 3 feet tall by 5-6 feet wide at maturity. The flowers aren't especially pretty - clusters of tiny white flowers form white 'candles' on the shrub in spring and (less heavily) in fall. But I don't grow it for the flowers. In fact, I kind of wish it didn't flower. I am drawn to this shrub for the glossy, dark green leaves that give it a polished appearance all year long. I love elegant plants, and this one fits the bill.
Other details on this plant: it's rated a 6 on the OPALS scale (an allergy scale with 10 as the worst). That's a so-so rating, considering that it's a shrub, not a tree.
Monrovia rates Otto as hardy for zones 6-9, but it's growing just fine all around my zone 5b neighborhood (click the link for more photos and info from Monrovia's site). After a particularly bad winter we might all be pruning some dead chunks out, but that's OK with me. One note for growing broad-leaved evergreens at the edge of their hardiness: these plants continue to lose water through their wide leaves even in the winter, but when the ground freezes the roots can't absorb water. Drying wind exacerbates the problem, so they'll do best in a protected site. Young plants that struggle in the winter while their rootball is small might do much better once the roots grow deeper, into the nonfrozen soil.
Otto hasn't had any insect problems for me, but I wonder if it would suffer from scale in milder climates.
When my shrubs get larger, I plan to use the foliage in flower arrangements.
I purchased my shrubs in 2007 from Home Depot at $5 for a 1 gallon-sized pot. They were tiny but affordable. I needed one more and couldn't find it at HD last summer, so I splurged and bought a 2-gallon size for $25 at the local nursery. It's much larger and prettier.
Since I can't grow pittosporum and all the other broad-leaved evergreens I loved in California, I'm especially grateful for dear Otto. If you live in zone 5b to 9, you might consider this shrub for your yard as well.
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