Aucuba Pruning – How And When To Prune Aucuba Shrubs

Aucuba Pruning – How And When To Prune Aucuba Shrubs

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By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

One of the most attractive home landscape plants is the Aucuba japonica. This slow growing foliage plant assumes a shrub-like habit with glossy pointed leaves and graceful arching stems. The blood red berries will persist on the female plant throughout winter and proper knowledge of how to prune an aucuba can assist in consistent fruiting.

About Aucuba japonica

Aucuba is not native to North America but does perform well in USDA plant hardiness zones 7 through 9. This ornamental shrub can be used singly as a focal point for the landscape, planted in groups as a hedge, or used in containers when young. Japanese aucuba plants are also sometimes referred to as Japanese laurel because of the similar shiny, waxy leaves.

There are many surprising cultivars available, which delight with a host of variances in pigment and texture. Some of the more common ones include:

  • Crotonifolia has white spotted leaves
  • Goldieana has predominantly yellow leaves
  • Gold Dust (or Variegata) has gold flecks
  • Nana is a dwarf form with a tight form and low habit

Growing Japanese Aucuba Plant Cuttings

The shrub grows 3 to 8 feet (1-2 m.) tall but takes years to achieve full maturity. This slow growth habit means aucuba pruning is seldom necessary. However, you should pay attention to when to prune aucuba to keep the dense form and use the cuttings to propagate new plants to enliven the landscape. Dip the cut ends into rooting hormone and push them into a soilless medium, such as peat moss. Keep the plant in a warm, dimly lit area with light moisture. Transplant the cutting as soon as it has rooted.

Aucuba japonica will flourish in organically rich soils where dappled lighting is offered. The Japanese aucuba plant prefers a partially shaded location where soils are slightly acidic and moist, but well-drained.

When to Prune Aucuba

Due to the slow growth rate, Aucuba japonica rarely requires trimming. Although the plant needs little maintenance, it does respond well to pruning to maintain size and a compact form.

The plant is a broadleaf evergreen, which should be pruned in early spring for best results. Light branch tipping or removal of dead wood can be done at any point in the year. A complete overhaul of a neglected Japanese aucuba plant is done in very early spring before new growth begins.

Refrain from fertilizing the plant prior to pruning to reduce the formation of young growth, which would only be cut off during the trimming process.

How to Prune an Aucuba

Aucuba pruning on young plants may only require a thumb and forefinger. Pinching off tip growth will help promote bushiness.

Use sharp, clean pruners for any maintenance project to ensure straight cuts and reduce the chance of disease introduction. Hand pruners are useful for removing errant growth and trimming back the stems to reduce the height of the shrub. Remove the growth to the next growing point for best results. Hedge trimmers are not recommended as they cut into the gorgeous leaves and reduce the ornamental value of the plant.

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Aucuba japonica ‘Variegata’


Striking gold variegated evergreen shrub. Beautiful bright green foliage is so heavily speckled with gold it projects an overall yellow-green appearance. Excellent background for contrasting foliage plants. Prefers moist, well-drained soil.


Slow growth rate to height and width of 4-6’


Containers, patios, accent plant, indoor plant, woodland areas

Plants→Aucuba→Japanese Aucuba (Aucuba japonica 'Mr. Goldstrike')

General Plant Information (Edit)
Plant Habit: Shrub
Life cycle: Perennial
Sun Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade
Partial or Dappled Shade
Partial Shade to Full Shade
Water Preferences: Mesic
Dry Mesic
Minimum cold hardiness: Zone 6a -23.3 °C (-10 °F) to -20.6 °C (-5 °F)
Leaves: Evergreen
Flower Time: Spring
Suitable Locations: Houseplant
Uses: Provides winter interest
Resistances: Tolerates dry shade
Drought tolerant
Propagation: Seeds: Self fertile
Propagation: Other methods: Cuttings: Stem
Miscellaneous: Tolerates poor soil

Great slow-growing shrub for dry shade. It is very easy to root cuttings taken August - November in water.

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Native from the Himalayas to Japan. Seedlings vary in leaf form and variegation many selections are offered. Standard green-leafed aucuba grows at a moderate rate to 610 feet (sometimes to 15 feet.) high and almost as wide can be kept lower by pruning. Buxom shrub, densely clothed with polished-looking, tooth-edged, dark green leaves 38 inches long, 112 3 inches wide.

Minute, dark maroon flowers in earliest spring are followed by clusters of bright red, 34 inches berries in fall and winter. Both sexes must be planted to ensure fruit. 'Rozannie', however, is self-fruitful, producing a heavy crop of berries without a pollinator.

Other green-leafed selections include 'Lance Leaf', with smooth-edged, lance-shaped leaves (male) 'Longifolia' ('Salicifolia'), narrow, willowlike foliage (female) 'Nana', dwarf to about 3 feet (female) 'Serratifolia', long leaves with coarsely toothed edges (female).

Variegated selections (usually slower growing) include 'Crotonifolia', leaves heavily splashed with white and gold (male) 'Fructu-albo', white-variegated leaves and pale pinkish-buff berries (female) 'Picturata' ('Aureo-maculata'), leaves centered with golden yellow, edged with dark green dotted yellow (female) 'Sulphur', green leaves with broad yellow edge (female). 'Variegata', often called gold dust plant, is the best-known aucuba. It has dark green leaves spotted with yellow plants may be male or female. 'Mr. Goldstrike' (male) and 'Golden King' have heavier gold splashings.

All aucuba selections make choice container plants for shady patio or in the house. Use variegated forms to lighten up dark corners. Plants combine effectively with ferns, hydrangeas.

Japanese aucuba is tolerant of a wide range of soils but will grow and look better if poor or heavy soils are improved. Requires shade from hot sun, accepts deep shade. Grows well in low light under trees, competes successfully with tree roots. Tolerates sea air. Watch for mealybug and mites. Prune to control height or form by cutting back to a leaf joint.

Watch the video: A focus on Cherry Laurel hedging: All you need to know about Prunus laurocerasus Rotundifolia


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