11 Aucubas to Consider Growing

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Shady spots in the yard can be tough to landscape. Many ornamental plants and shrubs grow best in places that get at least 8 hours of sun, so it’s a challenge to find something with gorgeous coloration that thrives in partial or full shade. If you’re looking for perennials for shade location, look no further than the spotted laurel.

Spotted laurel is a flowering ornamental perennial native to East Asia and Japan. It is often called Japanese Laurel or Japanese aucuba because of its origin but is in a different genus from laurels. Due to its native habitat, it grows best in hardiness zone 7 and higher, where temperatures stay about 0°F in the winter.

This guide will teach you why you want to consider raising aucubas

Characteristics

Japanese or spotted laurel grow as an evergreen shrub or small tree and prefer partial or full shade spots in the landscape. They are known for their glossy, leathery leaves that display stunning shades and variations of variegation. Most types are dioecious — meaning the male and female parts are on different plants — so you’ll need a male pollinator nearby for fruiting.

Why Grow Them

Aucubas are loved as landscape plants because they do so well in shady spots where other plants struggle and because of their showy foliage. But those two aspects aren’t the only reason why you should grow them. Many people aren’t aware of how easy-going the plants are and how many other great attributes Japanese laurels have. 

  • Plants grow into desirable shapes with little pruning needed.
  • They thrive in shady, dry areas — perfect for under trees or close to the foundation of your house.
  • As an evergreen, they maintain their leaves through the winter for year-round interest in the garden.
  • They are resistant to most diseases.
  • Plants tolerate many soil types and pH levels.
  • Once established, they are very drought tolerant.
  • Even in the shade, they have very dense growth to the ground.
  • The biggest problem with aucubas is foliage burns when they get too much sun.
  • There is a low toxicity risk if plants are ingested, and they are not likely to cause contact dermatitis.
These plants are disease resistant, drought tolerant, and easy to grow

11 Types to Consider Growing

There are now ten different species recognized within the Aucuba genus, but the most popular, by far, is Spotted Laurel (Aucuba japonica) because of the plants’ brilliant foliage. Within the species, the cultivars vary depending upon their size and the variegation of the leaves. The following types are the ones most commonly grown.

Crassifolia

​​Growing Zones: 6 to 10

Plant Height: 5’

Plant Width: 5’

Leaf Color: Dark green

Crassifolia aucuba is a male cultivar known for its large, glossy, deep green leaves. The foliage has little to no variegation and is decorated with coarsely toothed margins. In the spring, inconspicuous purple flowers bloom to help pollinate female types. Crassifolia is average size, growing in a rounded form, and is tolerant of most soil types as long as it’s well-draining.

Crotonifolia

​​Growing Zones: 7

Plant Height: 5 to 8’

Plant Width: 4 to 6’

Leaf Color: Medium green with bright yellow blotches

Crotonifolia is a female cultivar that displays one of the most distinctive variegations of Japanese laurels. The variegation is large yellow splashes and speckles of color — it looks like paint has been splattered on the ovate, glossy leaves. If pollinated, it may produce red fruit in autumn. Crotonifolia is tolerant of salt and air pollution.

Crotonifolia is a female cultivar that displays distinct variegations

Gold Dust

​​Growing Zones: 7 to 10

Plant Height: 5 to 8’

Plant Width: 5 to 7’

Leaf Color: Medium green with golden yellow spots

Gold Dust aucuba is a stunning female type that looks like the foliage has been sprinkled with gold fairy dust. It has a slightly faster growth rate than other cultivars and develops toothed leaf margins on the leaves. Gold Dust does best when planted in a relatively sheltered spot and will live upwards of twenty years. Shrubs are drought tolerant once established.

Gold dust has foliage that looks like its been sprinkled with fairy dust.

Golden King

​​Growing Zones: 7 to 10

Plant Height: 6 to 8’

Plant Width: 6 to 8’

Leaf Color: Green with golden yellow blotches

The Golden King aucuba makes a fantastic privacy screen, hedge, or living fence with its dense foliage, taller stature, and showy coloration. The heavily variegated green and gold leaves stay beautiful all year to create a gorgeous sound-dampening barrier. Golden King is a male cultivar and displays exceptional drought and salt tolerance.

Golden king has dense foliage and a taller structure making it a good privacy screen

Green Dwarf

​​Growing Zones: 6 to 9

Plant Height: 2 to 4’

Plant Width: 2 to 4’

Leaf Color: Glossy green

The Green Dwarf aucuba is the most compact cultivar on the list, topping out at four feet in height. It has a slow to moderate growth rate and makes a great seasonal container plant in climates that drop below 0°F. Sword-shaped leaves give way to small purple flowers in spring and small red fruit in the fall if the flowers are pollinated.

Marmorata

Growing Zones: 7

Plant Height: 6 to 8’

Plant Width: 3 to 4’

Leaf Color: Dark green with heavy yellow spots

An improved variety from Crotonifolia, Marmorata aucuba is less prone to sun scorch than other types. From a distance, the large leaves on this female shrub appear golden due to their heavy yellow coloration. Marmorata grows on average 6 – 10” per year and does well as a container plant in partial shade spots, producing red berries in the fall.

Mr. Goldstrike

​​Growing Zones: 6 to 10

Plant Height: 4 to 6’

Plant Width: 4 to 5’

Leaf Color: Green with gold variegation

Mr. Goldstrike is a fantastic choice if you’re looking for an excellent male pollinator with spectacular color. Its glossy, pointed leaves display the heaviest variegation of different cultivars, and inconspicuous purple flowers bloom in spring. Plants like moist, well-drained soils the first couple of years but are then incredibly drought tolerant after the roots establish.

Nana

​​Growing Zones: 6 to 10

Plant Height: 3 to 4’

Plant Width: 2 to 4’

Leaf Color: Dark green with gold flecks

Nana aucuba is a compact variety that grows upright to stand about half as tall as the others at maturity. This small stature makes it a great foundation shrub. The mainly green foliage is touched with flecks of gold, and flowers give way to red fruit in the fall. Nana tolerates temperatures down to -5°F if protected from the wind.

Picturata

​​Growing Zones: 6 to 10

Plant Height: 4 to 6’

Plant Width: 4 to 6’

Leaf Color: Yellow gold centers with light green margins

The hardest to find cultivar on the list, Picturata unfurls foliage that is opposite in color of the other cultivars. Instead of green with touches of yellow, its leaves are mainly yellow with hints of green. In the spring, it is adorned with small purple flowers that have creamy white anthers. Picturata is slow-growing, taking ten years to reach mature height. 

Picturata has mainly yellow leaves with hints of green

Rozannie

​​Growing Zones: 6 to 10

Plant Height: 3 to 4’

Plant Width: 3 to 4’

Leaf Color: Dark green

With leaves that almost look artificial because they are so shiny and perfectly formed, Rozannie grows in a compact, spreading habit. Being self-fertile, it doesn’t need a pollinator but produces even more bright red enormous berries in the autumn if there is a male plant close. Berries will last all winter since neither birds nor deer like them.

Serratifolia

​​Growing Zones: 6 to 10

Plant Height: 4 to 6’

Plant Width: 4 to 6’

Leaf Color: Deep green

Also known as the Sawtoothed aucuba, Serratifolia has sharply serrated dark-green leaves longer in size than the other cultivars. The sharp serration of the Aucuba japonica picturata pairs beautifully with other fine textures plants like ferns that thrive in partial shade. In the autumn, the female plants bear bright red berries for an extra splash of color.

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About the author: Carley Miller is a horticultural expert at TheGreenPinky. She previously owned a landscaping business for 25 years and worked at a local garden center for 10 years.

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