How to grow Aucuba
Aucuba (spotted or Japanese laurel) is an easy to grow, evergreen shrub for brightening dry and shady parts of the garden with its shiny, dark green or yellow spotted leaves. Shiny red, autumn berries are a real bonus on female plants. It will also make a good hedge in difficult, low light areas.
- Easy to grow evergreen shrub (does not loose leaves in winter)
- Grows well in partial or heavy shade; also in a sunny spot
- Tolerant of most soil types
- Dislikes soils waterlogged soils
- Suitable for milder coastal areas
- Good for hedging in shade
- Female plants need a male pollinator to produce berries
All you need to know
Choosing the right aucuba for you
If you are looking for a medium-size, hardy, evergreen shrub for difficult shady and dry spots, Aucuba is one of the best plants to consider. However, it will also grow in sunny spot and on most soils, making a very versatile shrub. It can be also grown in large containers.
Did you know
Ingestion of any part may cause mild gastrointestinal upset.
Leaf colour, flowers and berries
Many cultivars have yellow spotted or blotched leaves adding interest to dark, gloomy borders. If looking for more unusual evergreen shrub, consider Aucuba himalaica var. dolichophylla with its distinct long, narrow, lightly-spotted, willow-like leaves or Aucuba omeinsis with its bold toothed leaves up to 25cm (10in) long.
The spring flowers are insignificant, but on female plant they are followed by bright red berries as long as a male plant is growing nearby to be a pollinator. The plant label should indicate if you are buying male or female
Gardeners often use the word variety when referring to a specific plant, but the correct botanical term is 'cultivar'. Whichever word you use, it means a distinctive plant or plants, given a specific cultivar name and usually bred to enhance certain characteristics, such as flower or fruit size, colour, flavour or fragrance, plant size, hardiness, disease resistance, etc. Additionally, it is worth knowing that, botanically, variety has another meaning - it refers to a naturally-occurring distinct plant that only has slight differences in its looks. For example, Malva alcea var. fastigiata differs from typical plants by having an upright habit.
Aucuba as hedging
Aujcuba responds well to regular pruning, making it also a good choice for hedging in shady spots where other hedging plants would struggle.
Eventual size and shape
If left unpruned, most cultivars will reach around 3m (10ft) high and wide. There are more compact cultivars, such as Aucuba japonica 'Rozannie' and Pepper Pot, growing to 1.5-2m (5-6⅔ft) tall and wide, making them a good choice for containers.
Aucubas are widely offered for sale all year round as container-grown shrubs from a garden centres, nurseries or hedging plant suppliers.
If looking for more unusual cultivars, try contacting:
Container-grown aucuba can be planted at any time of year, but just avoid planting when the soil is wet or frozen in winter and during dry spells in summer. Planting in spring and autumn is best.
Grow in any soil as long that is not prone to being very wet. They like sun or shade. However, aucuba cultivars with heavy yellow spotting on leaves can suffer from leaf scorch if planted in a very sunny hot, dry position.
How to plant
Prepare the soil before planting. It is always beneficial to improve the whole planting area (not just the planting hole) by digging in organic soil improver such as garden compost or a manure-based soil conditioner. Dig in one bucketful per square metre (square yard) to a spade's depth.
If growing plant an individual specimen, allow at least 1.5m (5ft) between shrubs. If grown as a hedge, plant 60cm (2ft) apart
Planting your shrubs: our guide below takes you step-by-step through planting shrubs.
Planting a hedge: follow our guide to hedge planting.
Planting in containers
- Pot up in spring. Use a peat-free compost with added John Innes or a mix of two parts John Innes No. 3 and one part peat-free multipurpose compost and one part grit or perlite to improve drainage
- Gradually increase the container size over several years, repotting each spring, aiming for the final size least 45cm (18in) deep and wide
- Though tolerant of dry soils when established, water newly planted Aucuba regularly during the first growing season from spring to summer when rain is lacking
- Established plants seldom need watering with the exception of extremely hot and dry summers or if planted in full sun and dry soil
- Mulching with organic matter such as leafmould, garden compost, manure-based soil conditioner or horticultural bark will help to retain moisture in the soil and reduce moisture stress
- Mulches and mulching
- Apply general fertiliser such as Vitax Q4, Growmore or fish, blood and bone after planting in spring
- Regular feeding of established plants is not generally needed
- If plants are not growing well or have developed blackened or scorched leaves, they may benefit from a spring application of a general fertiliser
Plants in containers
- Container grown Aucuba will need regular watering like any other containerised plant as the shrubs can not spread their roots in soil to seek water
- Check the growing medium regularly to check if not too dry including during the winter time.
- Feed with general liquid fertiliser from spring to late summer according to the manufacturers recommendations or incorporate a slow release fertiliser granules into the compost in spring
When to prune
- Prune free standing shrubs in spring
- Trim established hedges from mid-spring to late summer
How to prune shrubs
- The first spring after planting cut back the last year's growth by one third to encourage more bushy growth
- On established plants prune back overlong shoots spoiling the shape and cut back any shoots showing signs of dieback, to healthy growth
- If the shrubs become bare at the base or overgrown, renovate in stages over several years by removing one in three of the main stems close to the base each year
How to prune hedges
- On newly planted hedges shorten the last year's growth by one third in spring until established
- Trim mature hedges from md-spring to late summer.
- Renovate in spring
- Aucuba can be easily raised from semi-ripe cuttings taken in late summer
- If you like a bit of a challenge, try growing Aucuba from seed. Collect ripe berries and sow them in the autumn in trays or pots. Overwinter in a cold frame or place pots at the base of a house wall. Germination can take up to 18 months
- You can also try to root branches growing close to the ground in spring or autumn using the method of layering
Aucuba is generally free from pest and disease.
The leaves can develop blackened areas and a the shoot tops many collapse known as aucuba blackening. This is usually caused by wet soil around the roots, especially during cold and wet winters. To avoid this problem all together, plant in well-drained soils. Remove affected leaves or shoots in spring. Encourage new growth by feeding with general fertiliser such as Growmore in lateFebruary.
Cultivars with heavy yellow spotting on their leaves are best planted in shadier situation as the foliage may be scorched if planted in full sun and very dry soil.
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