We have Mountain Laurel bushes on the side of our house that is exposed to a...

Asked April 29, 2014, 10:09 AM EDT

We have Mountain Laurel bushes on the side of our house that is exposed to a lot of wind in a new development in Howard County. They have considerable what I think is winter burn. The same bushes on the front of the house are not experiencing the same browning, Will the bushes come back? What should we do?

Howard County Maryland

3 Responses

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia) is difficult to grow in our area without the added stress of such a severe winter. So, the recovery of your shrubs are problematic. The only thing you can do is to wait for two or three weeks and see how the plant responds to more moderate growing conditions. If there are obviously dead twigs or branches, they should be removed. You can give them the 'thumbnail' test; scrape a small bit of bark from selected twigs and if the tissue beneath is green, it should recover. If the tissue is brown, it is dead and will not come back. You're in good company. Many people have plants that have suffered some degree of winter burn. We just have to wait and see.

Do you have any suggestions of shrubs that would possibly survive in the area better than the Mountain Laurel?

Upon reflection, and following a discussion among the consultants in the room, we are wondering if perhaps your shrubs are Cherry Laurel instead of Mountain Laurel. Cherry laurel is a popular shrub in our area, but it, too, suffered considerably this winter from the harsh weather. The chances of recovery, however, are greater if your shrubs are cherry laurels. Regardless of the species, wait a couple of weeks, then perform the thumbnail test and proceed as recommended earlier.
As for replacement shrubs, if you want the appearance provided by a broadleaf evergreen, consider Japanese holly (Ilex crenata), or winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) Other suitable shrubs are yews (Taxus densiforma), or Henoki falsecypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa).