How to Trim Laurel Bushes

Laurel bushes, including mountain laurel, are evergreen plants that grow in shrub form in a range of soil and light conditions. All varieties of laurel bushes produce showy flower blossoms in shades of pink, red, purple or white. When left to grow naturally, a laurel bush or hedge can reach 2 to 10 feet, depending on the variety. If you don't have that kind of space in your landscape, trim your laurel bushes to keep them in line.

Trim laurel bushes at any time of year. If the bushes are getting unruly and you want to keep them under control, prune during the summer growing season, suggests Holly Kennell, a retired horticulturist for Washington State University Extension. Summer pruning can curb growth, which can be beneficial in keeping rapidly growing laurel plants in check.

Cut off any dead wood on the laurel plant and any wood or branches that turn dark brown during the hot summer months. Identify dead wood by its failure to produce new growth. The deep brown that sometimes appears on laurel branches and leaves is from scorching from the sunlight on hot days. In either case, cut the branches back at the base, right by the trunk, leaving the circle where the branch meets the trunk intact on the tree.

Maintain the size of the laurel bush by cutting back any branches that extend beyond the size you desire. Laurel bushes withstand severe pruning, so cut the branches back as far as you like to get the result you want.

Clear out the centre of the laurel bush by removing approximately a third of the bush's branches each year. Remove branches from all parts of the bush as uniformly as you can so that you create space between the branches on all sides of the plant. This allows air to circulate more effectively and sun to reach the inner parts of the plant.

Remove spent flower blossoms from the branches left on the laurel bush throughout the summer season to encourage new flowers all summer long. Don't cut the blossoms from the tree with shears or scissors, which may clip off new buds. Instead, pinch off each bud individually with your fingers.

Prune laurel bushes back to only 1 or 2 feet in height if the bush completely takes over the space in your yard. Generally, the mountain laurel recovers to its full-grown state within three years, according to horticulturist Erv Evans of North Carolina State University.


If you have mountain laurel bushes growing on your property, keep children and pets away; all parts of the plant are poisonous.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning shears
  • Pruning saw
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Alexis Lawrence is a freelance writer, filmmaker and photographer with extensive experience in digital video, book publishing and graphic design. An avid traveler, Lawrence has visited at least 10 cities on each inhabitable continent. She has attended several universities and holds a Bachelor of Science in English.