Also known as Japanese laurel, Aucuba japonica is an attractive evergreen shrub with broad, shiny leaves. The plant grows best in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 to 10. Aucuba japonica grows 4 to 6 feet tall, though the cultivar “Nana” only grows 2 to 4 feet tall. Several varieties are available, including the yellow-flecked “Gold Dust,” and “Crotonifolia,” which has large, bright yellow splotches on the leaves. Only female plants produce bright red berries that attract birds.
Aucuba Japonica Propagation
Aucuba japonica is fantastically easy to transplant. Feel free to prune this plant. It won’t act as a formal hedge but you can keep it to your preferred height with a little judicious pruning. Just cut the too high stems back to a fork in the branch and it’ll look just fine.
Cutting vs. Seed Propagation
Propagating Japanese laurels from cuttings has several advantages over growing them from seed. Each cutting-grown plant replicates its parent’s genetic characteristics. A cutting from a female “Gold Dust” Japanese laurel cultivar, for example, guarantees offspring with yellow- and white-speckled green leaves and red fall fruit. Cutting-propagated shrubs also have a significant head start in the race to flower production.
Japanese laurel roots readily from semihardwood cuttings taken between midsummer and early fall. The shrub’s current-season growth is at the semihardwood stage if it has mature leaves and firm wood that snaps cleanly when severely bent. These cuttings typically mature in between four and six weeks.
Harvesting and Preparation
Watering your Japanese laurel thoroughly before harvesting guarantees well-hydrated cuttings. Using a sharp knife or pruning shears dipped in a solution of 9 parts water to 1 part household bleach protects the parent plant from contamination. Cut a 3- to 6-inch piece of healthy branch just below a leaf node; if berries are present, remove them to channel energy from seed to root production. Stripping the leaves from the cutting’s lower half reduces moisture loss.
Healthy new plants root from cuttings in well-draining, sterile medium. A 1-to-1 mix of peat moss and builder’s sand or perlite provides adequate moisture while discouraging harmful fungi. After adding the medium to a plastic or clay rooting container, coat the cutting’s base in rooting hormone powder and insert it in the pot to one-half its length.
Dehydration constantly threatens the rooting process. After watering the cutting well, slide its container into a clear plastic bag supported on wooden florist’s sticks. Sealing the bag with a twist-tie creates an impromptu greenhouse to supply necessary humidity. Opening the bag for five minutes every other day permits ventilation. Place the cutting in a brightly lit, warm area out of direct sun to promote rapid rooting.
Testing for Roots
After a month, test your Japanese laurel’s root development by slipping your fingers beneath it and carefully lifting it from the medium. Several strong, white roots indicate it’s ready for a dryer environment. Opening the plastic bag and sliding down the wooden sticks over a period of days acclimates the new plant to lower humidity. When the cutting begins growing new leaves, transplant it to a container of potting soil and give it a few daily hours of outdoor shade until it’s large enough for the garden.