Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
Quick facts and care essentials
• Climate zones 3-7, 16, 17, 28 (Northermost Florida), 31-41
• Partial shade; some sun where summers are cool
• Regular watering
A favorite since colonial times, this East Coast native is a slow grower (to an eventual 10 feet tall and broad) that makes a good underplanting for taller deciduous trees. Flowers, each shaped like a pendent chalice with five starlike points, come in clusters to 5 inches across. The species has medium pink blooms; cultivars offer colors ranging from pale pink to dark rose. Leathery, 2- to 4-inch, elongated oval leaves turn from deep green to greenish gold in winter.
Mountain laurel thrives in conditions suitable for rhododendrons, though it will accept more sun where summers are cool. Give it moist, acid soil well amended with organic matter; spread a 2-inch-thick organic mulch around plants each spring. To ensure a good flower show the next year, pinch off spent blossoms after the bloom season is over.
Note: Leaves and flowers of mountain laurel are toxic if ingested.