Kalmia latifolia, or Mountain Laurel, is wonderful evergreen shrub native to the Eastern United States. The growth is fairly slow but some varieties can get to over 10ft tall. In recent years new cultivars have given us blooms that range from white to red, banded, and even some that start deep red when closed and turn white as they open. They make a great companion to rhododendrons or azaleas.
Mountain Laurel needs a moist, acidic soil, but it also needs good drainage. Partial shade is fine, or full sun in a sheltered area, where it won't get the worst of the winter winds in cold climates. In hot climates it really needs the shade. I like to amend the soil with some organic matter each spring and keep a nice layer of mulch around the base during the winter. Mountain laurel grows well beneath trees where it's lightly shaded. The native varieties are hardy to -20 degrees F, but mulching and a sheltered location helps it to do well during the winter. If you live in zones 4 and 5 try not to plant your laurel in an open exposed area. It might do great in the warmer months but the exposure to winter sun and wind is not good for the plant.
Mountain laurel will bloom in May and June. As soon as the blooms have faded, snip them off to help the plant spend its energies on next years blooms. You can also prune the shrub at this time to keep it small and bushier. But don't use a heavy hand-keep the pruning light. Mountain laurel is deer resistant, BUT if the deer are hungry enough they will munch it. Note too, that the foliage and flowers are toxic if eaten, so keep this in mind when picking a location if you have small children.
Mountain Laurel is an acid loving plant. It likes to be fertilized much the same as rhododendron. I always recommend getting your soil tested before you apply any fertilizer. However, if you do apply without testing do not over use fertilizers. More is not better. Also do not apply fertilizers after early summer.
There is a variety of Mountain Laurel that grows in warmer climates. Sophora secundiflora, which is has been called Texas mountain laurel is reported easy to grow and may be an alternative for hot climates.
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