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On Gardening: Mountain Laurels make spring even more incredible

April 23, 2018

Mountain laurels are native from Louisiana to Indiana northward to Maine and all states southward.

The mountain laurels are blooming in the South adding to what has been an incredible spring. No doubt under Mother Nature’s watch full eye the mountain laurel bloom will progress northward in amazing fashion.

Stunning is a word I often use to describe a particular plant but today that word is reserved today for the apparent lack of utilization of the wonderful large shrub or small tree that is native from Louisiana to Indiana eastward to Maine and then down to Florida.

With that huge geographical range, we hopefully have answered your first question, no you don’t have to have a mountain to grow it. Yet you’ll find them along mountainous roads, and a wide variety of habitats. In fact, if you grow azaleas, rhododendrons or blueberries you are a prime candidate for a mountain laurel, and I say let it happen.

Botanically speaking the mountain laurel is known as Kalmia latifolia. When you first see it in full bloom you start to think could they possibly be some kind of rhododendron. They indeed are in the Ericaceae family so they are related.

You’ll find them in some of the most spectacular scenery in our country. My wide Jan and I were doing a little mountain laurel hunting with the camera and found breathing taking old specimen hanging over the gentle rapids of Palmetto Creek in Harris County, GA.

Trout fishermen in the Blue Ridge mountains tell of seeing them hanging over the Toccoa, Chattooga and Nantahala rivers. You’ll find them in residential areas too so you do not have to have a river either.

Morning sun and afternoon shade is the common joke around my house. While that would be perfect know that you’ll find them in more shade and more sun too. They can reach 15 feet in height and look dazzling at less than six feet. That can be their spread as well.

What you’ll notice on older specimen is gnarling, curving trunk with branches that look as though they have a story to tell of times past and things they have experienced. This stout wood was once used for handles of tools.

If you ever have the chance to stand in front of an old timer in bloom you’ll leave feeling as though you have just experienced something grand in the world of plants and that perhaps you have just been taught a lesson on beauty, patience and perhaps a persevering spirit.

So, in the home landscape we recommend the mountain laurel to be planted in fertile, humus rich acidic soil that drains with fervor. If you have tight heavy soil don’t fret plant in raised beds.

In one of my favorite spots along a smaller moving creek I can see rose pink, light pink and white native ones all growing with mere feet of each other. A search on line shows you the rich colors that are available.

The flowers are so exotic in their design. They are borne in terminal clusters, each measuring up to an inch and giving the distinct look of being a five-sided cup. As I mentioned ours are blooming now in late April but in your area your bloom could be June.

Wouldn’t it be fun to just follow the mountain laurel bloom across the county finishing in Maine? It would probably be even more rewarding to plant some at your home that your children and grandchildren would experience over the years. Then someday whether your descendants, or someone else’s, they would look with amazement and learn a lesson of perseverance with the gnarly branches and beautiful flowers.

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