A laurel could belong to any of the nearly 4,000 species and cultivars of the Lauraceae family of evergreen, flowering trees. Aside from the medicinal, aromatherapy or culinary uses for the leaves and flowers of many species, laurels are a fast-growing landscaping choice for hedgerows in tropical and temperate climates alike. To cultivate a thick laurel hedge, an appropriate species should be chosen for the region where it will be planted. Also important are the sun, water, nutrients and pruning provided to let these plants thrive to their fullest screening potential.
One of the more popular choices for a laurel hedge is the bay laurel, or L. nobilis. Also known as a true laurel, this plant is regularly used for bay leaf in various recipes. Other species regularly used for hedges include the California, camphor and Azores laurels — or Umbellularia californica, Cinnamomum camphora and L. azorica, respectively.
Other flowering laurels commonly used in hedges might come from several other families or generas of plants. An English or cherry laurel hedge comes from the Prunus genus, the laurel sumac belongs to the Malosma genus, and the mountain laurel is a member of the Kalmia genus. These are some of the many plants known as laurels but that come from a different family all together.
Creating a laurel hedge takes proper planning. This includes purchasing a species that is suitable for the hardiness zone in which it will be planted and the needs of the landscaping plan. Though most laurels can grow in climates as divergent as the tropics and in more temperate, four-season regions, some can grow as tall as 50 feet (about 15 m), while others will only reach about 10 feet (about 3 m) tall.
For the best results, a laurel hedge should initially be planted with each plant about 3 feet (about 1 m) to 5 feet (about 1.5 m) apart, in moist, well-draining soil under full or partial sun. Since most laurels can grow this spacing distance in just a year, it will only take a year or two to get a dense-looking, flowering hedgerow. Once the trees reach a satisfactory height, some gardeners will prune any new growth from their tops and sides. The result is an ever-denser laurel hedge with a controlled height. Others, of course, let their hedgerows grow to whatever height they can reach.
The laurel is just one of several types of plants used for hedges. More impenetrable are choices like the dense or thorny boxwood, yew or holly plants. Other popular alternatives that still bear striking flowers include lilac, privet, oleander, glossy abelia and quince.