Mountain Laurels – If You Want Blooms – Give it Some Sun

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The main thing I find with Mountain Laurels (Kalmia latifolia), when I discuss them with my garden design clients, is they think this flowering broadleaf evergreen shrub should be in full shade because Mt. Laurels are commonly seen in the wild growing under a canopy of trees. However, to get plentiful blooms on typical Mountain Laurel shrubs sold as landscape plants from garden nurseries, you need to plant them where they will get a bit of sun.

Pressed Sample

Pressed Sample

Half-Day Sun Location

Mountain Laurels will provide you with more blooms when placed where they get a half-day of sun, or when situated in a ‘bright’ shady area in your yard or landscape.  Think of a dappled shade location for this plant candidate, where there is some filtered light coming through the nearby trees.  If planted by a house, select a side where the location gets sun for part of the day. Otherwise, the shrub will not flower as densely.  It does tolerate shade well, but when in full shade all day, you will primarily see foliage over flowers.

Little Cup-Shaped Flowers

The colors of the flower buds and opened blooms on Mountain Laurel shrubs range from white to pink, and some cultivars are available in deep reds to lush rose tones.  When the buds appear in late spring, they are shaped like tightly closed pinwheels.  Eventually they open up to reveal small cup-shaped saucer-like flowers in clusters, each holding ten stamens in the center.

Mt Laurels_0005

It is always a pleasure to spot these flowers in the wild while on a hike or when full bloom in a homeowner’s landscape.  But more often than not, I’ve seen the plants look scraggly and lacking leaves and blooms.  Usually this is a result of not enough sunlight, or due to poor growing soil conditions.  Consider the soil as well as the exposure to get the maximum performance from this evergreen spring blooming shrub.

Glossy Green Leaves

The dark glossy evergreen leaves on Mountain Laurels are elliptic shaped, broadest in the middle and narrow on the ends.  It will hold onto its leaves throughout the winter months and typically does not require regular pruning for maintenance.  If placed in full hot sun, the leaves may yellow a bit, so again, achieving some sun with shade is best situation for these shrubs.

Mt. Laurel in a pot at a Garden Nursery

Mt. Laurel in a pot at a Garden Nursery

As this plant matures, it may grow to have a more open and non-full look to its shape.  This growth will also happen if it is grown in full shade or lacking healthy soil at its roots.  I like the description of gnarled growth as written for this plant on See their ‘plant finders’ link below for additional details.

In my experience of seeing Mountain Laurels in homeowners’ landscapes, their shrubs are more open than dense.  In fact, I can only think of one case where I saw a beautiful Mountain Laurel in a foundation planting completely full of leaves and blooms.  When I asked the homeowner what they did, they said all of their soil was formerly farmland.  Their housing development was placed on healthy organic soil to start with.

Acidic and Healthy Fertile Soil

In addition to providing some dappled sun or filtered shade to achieve the best blooms, Mountain Laurels prefer acidic soils to get the nutrients they desire to grow well.  The soil should also be moist, well-drained, and have good fertility with high organic matter.  Mountain Laurel shrubs will not thrive in alkaline soils typically found near home foundations, and tend to suffer if placed in poor soils unable to hold moisture. Many properties are void of healthy soils because the soil was disturbed or removed when the house was built.  If you did not amend your planting beds around your home’s foundation, it may not be well suited for Mountain Laurels because they will suffer from things like drought stress or lack of nutrients.

Mt. Laurel in Foundation Planting, lacking vigor

Mt. Laurel in Foundation Planting, lacking vigor

If unsure of your soil conditions, collect a soil sample first and mail it to the UCONN Soil Lab for testing.  Or go with a holistic approach by amending the soil with healthy compost prior to planting.  Raising the planting bed is also beneficial for Mountain Laurel shrubs because the soil will drain well which they prefer.

When planting a shrub in a poor soil, void of organic life, it usually will not prosper, flower, or flourish.  So remember to consider the exposure, the soil’s existing condition, and don’t forget once you have it in the right spot, to finish it off with some mulch.

The Mulch

Mountain Laurels pair up well with rhododendrons and azaleas due to their similar acidic soil requirements, preferred exposure of dappled sunlight and shade, and sequence of the blooms during the spring time. And they share similar water and mulch requirements.  Mulch is a good idea for these shrubs because all three are shallow rooted and it will help keep the soil moist and cool.  If you are seeing wilt on your shrubs, this can be an indication it needs some watering.  Remember to protect all three of these plants from drying winds, and again, when newly planted, to follow a watering routine until they get established.

Written by Cathy Testa

Useful Links:
UCONN Plant Database
State Symbols USA
Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder

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To see photos of Mountain Laurels and other Evergreen Shrubs blogged about on ContainerCrazyCT, visit Cathy T’s Pinterest Board:

Forest Floor and Waterfalls at Enders State Park



Visiting a walking trail in the woods always brings a bit of exercise and exploration of nature’s treats, yet this time when hiking Enders State Forest in Granby, CT last Sunday, there was heartfelt sadness for I recalled the recent reporting of a teen girl falling from the cliffs.  It reminded me how dangerous it can be when walking this place.

I slipped at the top of a cliff there last summer, but caught my balance.  My husband said I practically gave him a heart attack.  It is not a place you want to walk without being extremely careful, and perhaps with some professional experience as a hiker.  I am usually the biggest wimp when it comes to any challenges along hiking trails, so it was a surprise to me too when I slipped, yet that memory plus the news of a loss of life at this park, made us all the more cautious as we took every step down to the slopes to view the waterfalls in several locations.

Enders State Park

Enders State Park

The recent rainfall in Connecticut has created not only roaring waterfalls at Enders, but a lush and full forest floor thriving with healthy ferns, mosses, and lichen clinging to the boulders and trees.  It feels like an air conditioned room as you travel the paths through the tall trees.  The mist from the waterfalls gently nourishes the plant life tucked in everywhere, between rocks, on decomposing bark, and from the ground. Soft cushy moss softens your steps in some locations and the sound of the rushing water is like a meditative force.  In the summer, when the water is low and calm, it is a secret swimming hole too.  And with a blanket and picnic lunch, this place offers tranquility with places to rest on the earth after taking your walk through the woods.

Alive with moss

Alive with moss

Only a few other people were there the morning we went, one apparently a professional photographer with lots of gear and a  helper to assist.  Another was an elderly couple walking the trail, one with a cane.  I wished I had taken a walking stick along myself.  I wondered if they knew about the young lady falling recently, but I didn’t mention it.  I wanted to say, be careful, it can be slick out here – I had a scare myself last year.  I don’t know if I can ever go back “on the cliff” parts again, and certainly this could not be attempted with the rushing waters going over a steep precipice on this day following several heavy rainfalls.

CT's State Flower

CT’s State Flower

It surprised me after we finished our hike, and drove to New Hartford to see the Saville Dam and Barkhamsted Reservoir, a favorite of Steve’s, and had lunch at Chatterley’s in town there, how many locals have never heard of Enders Forest.  Is it a kept secret?  It IS a gem – a miniature Niagara at the moment.  Funny how something literally around the corner, maybe 6 miles or so down the road, is an unknown to locals in New Hartford.

Enders State Forest in Granby, CT offers many treasures.  It is truly an outdoor living room.  To me, the forest’s natural plants, tucked among roots expanding and clinging onto the slopes and surfaces, are a favorite treat.  It is seeing nature in its true form, being served by its surroundings of a natural environment, pretty much untouched. And the native Mt. Laurel, CT’s State Flower, was in bud and bloom which was an additional bonus to going in June.  I’m sure we will return in the heat of summer to cool off as well.  And perhaps during the winter to see the ice on the waterfalls.

Great place for lunch or dinner

Great place for lunch or dinner

Some tips should you decide to venture there:

BRING: Bring a walking stick, good hiking shoes are a must, lunch and a blanket.  It would be nice if benches were in the park, but there are large bounders and places to sit as you watch the falls and enjoy the surroundings.  Bring a suit if the water is low for the pooling areas.  Don’t forget the camera.

MOTORCYCLE: If you are a motorcycle lover, this is a great route for the bikers.  Nice curvy roads, and some are recently paved, so smooth riding for you to enjoy.  Normally we would have taken the Harley, but there was a chance of rain (like I said, I’m a wimp).

GO TO LUNCH:  If you didn’t pack a lunch, go to Chatterley’s Cafe, take a left out of the entrance and head down the road to New Hartford, CT.  It is located at Two Bridge Street, 860-379-2428.  Great martinis and really excellent menu of appetizers, salads, fish, veal, chicken, and meat entrees.  Food is very good.  It was an old hotel apparently, you can see photos in the entrance, some famous people have visited this place – worth a stop.  Right next to this cafe are some small and quaint gift type shops.

SEE THE DAM: Before you go to lunch, of course, stop to view the Saville Dam and Barkhamsted reservoir.  There is a huge wall to view the water from, and across from the building with the big wooden doors, is a round cement map surrounded by a fence, check it out – interesting.  You have to cross the street to see it.  There is a parking area next to the dam that is usually open during the day hours.

USE CAUTION: And please, be super careful; when walking Enders.  The moss on the ground can be slick, and the soft earth is deceiving if near the edge of a slope.  But overall, it is definitely a nice place to visit for nature’s offerings.  A true gift by the land donators – the children of John Ostrom Enders and Harriet Whitmore Enders, donated in 1970.

Cathy Testa

Container Crazy Cathy T