With attractive, deep green glossy leaves, cherry laurels (Prunus laurocerasus) are popular garden plants, used both as hedging and as large, spring flowering specimen shrubs. Growing 4 to 8 metres (13 to 26 feet) tall and more than 8 metres wide, cherry laurels become overgrown and untidy when left unpruned, but respond well to hard cutting back. For bushy growth, shorten branches, rather than removing them entirely, because new shoots sprout from buds just below pruning cuts. Prune during dry spells to help prevent infection by Pseudomonas syringae, a bacterium which causes laurel die back disease.
Use secateurs to prune cherry laurel seedlings planted for hedging to encourage bushy growth. Cut back straggly side shoots by half to just above a bud, leaving the central stem untouched. In summer, push a bamboo cane into the ground next to the central stem and tie the two together loosely with garden twine, to provide support as the plant grows. Trim back side shoots by half again.
Prune hedging or specimen cherry laurels two or three times a year to promote bushiness, any time from April to September. Select branches evenly distributed across the bush, and prune them back with secateurs to just above a leaf.
Shorten branches on medium sized, 1 to 2 metre (3 foot 3 inch to 6 foot 6 inch) tall shrubs by 10 to 15 cm (4 to 6 inches). On larger shrubs, remove 30 to 35 cm (12 to 14 inches). Stand back and assess the shrub's overall shape regularly, to ensure an even finish. Allow the plant to regrow before pruning again.
Prune mature, overgrown cherry laurels in March, using a pruning saw to cut back branches near the site they emerge at the centre of the shrub. Saw off branches just above a dormant bud, where new growth will emerge in spring. Leave as many branches as possible to promote bushy regrowth.
Follow up severe cutting back of overgrown shrubs with regular pruning to help shape the shrub and maintain bushy growth. Use secateurs or hand shears to prune new growth two or three times before September of the same year, allowing the shrub to regrow before pruning again.
For a compact, bushy cherry laurel hedge, plant seedlings 2 feet apart. (Ref 4)
Pruning cherry laurel hedges with hedge trimmers saves time but looks less attractive because the shrub's large leaves are cut into uneven pieces. Never leave long stumps above a leaf or bud as these will die back and look unattractive.