Skip laurel spacing: what to consider (+ hedge planting FAQ)

Skip laurel (Prunus laurocerasus ‘Schipkaensis’) are seen as the perfect hedge plant by many – they’ll grow almost anywhere, in sun or shade. But there’s a fair bit of confusion about how many shrubs you’ll need to make a row or hedge – confusion that I’d like to clear up once and for all!

For most privacy and border hedges, skip or schip laurels should be spaced at 3 feet apart. Spacing them 2 feet apart can be considered if a formal, dense hedge is rapidly required, or 5 feet apart for a taller, less formal hedge. Skip laurels grow up to 20 feet tall and 8 feet wide if unpruned.

Being a cultivar of cherry laurel, they’re often planted in the same way as regular cherry laurels are – but skip laurel (also known as schip or schipka laurel) is a more compact version of standard cherry laurel – something that needs to be taken into account.

skip laurel flower

Naturally, it depends on what you’re hoping to achieve, and how quickly. Are you a long-game person, or is it important that you have a privacy screen or windbreak ASAP?

By the time you’ve finished this short article you’ll know what to do. I’ve studied and enjoyed these shrubs for a long time, and know almost all there is to know! I really enjoy passing on my experience.

^Affiliate link – check the current price of skip laurel on FastGrowingTrees. Great range of sizes! Read on for advice on what size of skip laurel you should get.

What’s the difference between skip laurel and cherry laurel?

Skip, Schip or Schipka laurel is a cultivar (cultivated type) or English or cherry laurel. It differs from standard cherry laurel in that it doesn’t grow as tall and wide, making it much easier to keep under control. Skip laurel’s leaves are slightly smaller and more pointed, and it’s more tolerant of shade than other cherry laurel cultivars.

A couple of things you need to know firstly, for context:

How tall and wide does skip laurel get?

On average, skip laurel will grow 10 to 20 feet tall and up to 8 feet wide if left unpruned.

After this, the growth rate slows significantly and they don’t tend to get a lot bigger. They usually grow in a vase shape – typically, mature skip laurels grow about half as wide as they are tall. This makes it quite an attractive standalone plant as well.

However, most gardeners will prune their skip laurel, as the intention is usually to make a neat hedge! More on pruning (and how and when to do it) later.

skip laurel hedge foliage

Skip laurel growth rate

How fast does skip laurel grow?

As a general rule, skip laurels grow at a moderate rate of 2 feet per year, even in less-than-ideal conditions. They will get wider by about one foot each year if left unpruned.

This is one of the great things about skip laurel. Whether in sun or shade, whether the soil is thin or deep, they’re fairly reliable in putting on height – provided they are given adequate water.

It’s not invincible though. Two things in particular that I would look for if a skip laurel isn’t growing well are:

  • poorly-drained soil (the roots are waterlogged – look for puddles)
  • chalky soil – not enjoyed by any cherry laurel cultivar

Skip laurel is a particularly shade-tolerant cultivar of cherry (aka English or common) laurel, making it ideal for many locations or as a border around two or more sides of a property.

Skip laurel spacing

How far apart to space these young trees out does depend on what you’re hoping to achieve.

Intended purpose for skip laurelSpacing
A dense formal hedge (height 7 feet or less) for privacy or windbreak3 feet apart
Taller (7 feet+) border hedge5 feet apart
Row of individual skip laurel trees e.g. along driveway15 feet apart

If a very fast barrier is desired, you could reduce the planting distance between skip laurels to as little as 18 inches. Within a couple of years you’ll have a complete barrier, so this is the way to go if you need a fast barrier.

With 5-foot spacing, the increased room for growth will encourage your skip laurel to stretch out taller, though you may end up with a less formal hedge where the rounded shape of each laurel is visible. Still, this is a very attractive look for many yards.

How many skip laurels will you need?

Length of skip laurel border required (feet)Number of skip laurel required for dense hedge (3-foot spacing)Number of skip laurel required for informal open hedge (5-foot spacing)
The number of skip laurel required depends on the type of hedge. For a dense hedge, start your first skip laurel 1 and a half feet from the border end, and for a more open informal hedge, start your first skip laurel 2 and a half feet from the border end. NB. it’s a good idea to buy a spare or two as well, in case one is damaged in transit!

However, the further apart you space these trees, the healthier they tend to be in the long run. More spacing means more space for root establishment, less cross-competition for water and nutrients and less airflow through the foliage – all of which can contribute to pest and disease problems. You probably should know a little about what pest problems to look out for (particularly peach-tree borer) – I’ve made a guide here.

How much room should there be between your skip laurel and a fence, wall or the edge of your border?

You should divide the intended distance between the skip laurels in two, and plant your skip laurel hedge or row at least that far away from the edge of the border. So, if you’re going to place your laurels 3 feet apart, you should plant them 1 and a half feet away from the fence, wall or property edge. But you could increase this distance if you want a particularly thick hedge, since skip laurel will get up to 8 feet wide.

Do skip laurels have invasive roots?

Fortunately, while skip laurel roots are shallow, they aren’t regarded as invasive and rarely will cause any damage or disruption.

I’ve never seen any laurel species’ roots causing issues.

What size of skip laurels should I buy?

The taller the skip laurels are when you buy them the sooner it’ll look like a hedge – but it’s actually generally better to buy these trees small, so they can develop a robust root system that both anchors the tree against wind and helps it to seek out moisture. The smaller the better, in the long run – so don’t be afraid to buy very young ‘bare root’ skip laurels – and enjoy watching them become an established hedge.

The other great advantage to this is that smaller skip laurels are much, much cheaper. See below for more info on choosing skip laurels.

You can check the price of skip laurel trees on FastGrowingTrees (this is an affiliate link – you pay the same, but I get a small commission). This is a reliable online nursery with a big track record. They have a particularly good selection of sizes for skip laurel.

When to plant skip laurels

Generally, the best time to plant skip laurels is between early winter and early spring, although containerized shrubs can be planted all year round.

The three types of skip laurel that are sold are:

  • bare roots (shaken free of all soil)
  • balled and burlapped (B&B, or rootballed)
  • Containerized (in pots)

Form of skip laurelBare rootBalled and burlappedIn container
DescriptionRoots trimmed and soil shaken looseRoots and soil wrapped in hessian sack and tied up with twineRoots in a pot
Planting timeEarly winter to early springEarly winter to early springAutumn/winter ideal, but can be planted in spring/summer
How quickly do they need planted once bought?Within a few days (spray roots with water every couple of days) unless heeled in*Within a few days (spray roots with water every couple of days) unless heeled in*Can be kept in pot for months
What type of skip laurel to buy, cost and planting time

*’Heeling in’ meaning loosely burying the roots of bare-root trees (e.g. in a vacant flowerbed) when they arrive from the nursery, to give you more time to plant them. It’s essential not to let the roots dry out, so unless you plant on the day, heeling in is a must. Another option is to cover the roots in hessian and regularly soak them, but this requires a lot of work and won’t buy you as much time.

Pruning skip laurel

Do I need to prune skip laurel?

Skip laurel is a fairly vigorous grower. If you’re hoping for a dense, rectangular privacy hedge, you’ll have to prune it to keep it in shape. If you’re going for a less formal hedgerow and are spacing them out more, you can allow them to adopt their natural vase shape and your pruning will only be needed if you want to limit their size.

It’s a good idea to prune only the sides of your skip laurel until it’s reached the desired height. Chopping the tops seems to induce a physiological reaction that tells the shrub to stop growing upwards.

This phenomenon is seen in a range of hedge trees, but it’s more common in some than others (a particular example is yew – read more here). So don’t panic if you’ve cut the tops of your skip laurel once or twice already.

What’s the best time to prune skip laurel?

Skip laurel can safely be pruned at almost any time of the year, but the best time is in the late spring or early summer just after the shrub has blossomed. Pruning before this will result in many of the flower buds being cut off, resulting in fewer flowers in spring.

How to prune skip laurel

Skip laurel can be pruned with handheld secateurs or hedge shears, or using electric or motorized hedge clippers. It’s not fussy about where you make the cut – but if doing it by hand, it’s a good idea to cut just above a junction, leaving a healthy side branch – which thins the shrub and helps air get to the center.

If you haven’t got too many shrubs, pruning by hand is relatively easy and will result in a neat job. Electric or motorized trimmers will cut many of the leaves resulting in rougher edges, but these usually seal up well and the end cosmetic result is just fine.

Skip laurel can be pruned back hard – new shoots will emerge from bare wood. It’s remarkably resilient. In fact, if you want your skip laurel to become bushier, cutting it back hard in the early summer is the way to go – a year or two later you’ll have a much thicker hedge than you would have had if you left it alone. “Growth follows the knife” as the old gardening saying goes.

For a privacy hedge, I recommend a little side pruning every summer to keep the laurel growing in an ‘A’ shape – slightly thicker at the bottom than at the top. This looks good and stops the upper leaves from shading out the lower foliage, ensuring a thick shrub all the way to the ground.

Do I need to fertilize skip laurel?

As a general rule, skip laurels don’t need to be fertilized, but it may help them to grow somewhat faster. A slow-release granular evergreen fertilizer can be added to the soil to correct any deficiencies.

I tend to use and recommend slow-release fertilizers as they’re simpler to use and just as effective. Personally, I really like Jobe’s Fertilizer Spikes (check price on Amazon) – put one into the ground for each young skip laurel – or Miracle-Gro Shake ‘N Feed (Amazon link) is an ideal choice if you prefer the type you just spread over the roots. Just make sure you follow the instructions as laid out by the manufacturer – overdoing it can lead to ‘fertilizer burn’.

It’s very important to know about the main problems and pitfalls with skip laurel. I’ve outlined all of these in the below article and included advice on the best care practice to ensure that your hedge grows healthily.

Image attributions:

Laurel hedge, Edwardstone by Hamish Griffin, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Agnieszka Kwiecień, Nova, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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