How to Grow Gold Dust Plants

How to plant and care for gold dust

Close up of the leaves and berries on a Gold Dust Plant

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Native to Japan, the gold dust plant (otherwise known as Aucuba japonica) is a hardy but slow-growing evergreen shrub. The Aucuba japonica is also sometimes referred to as either the spotted laurel or Japanese laurel.

It's known for having splashes of yellow and specks of gold on its dark green leaves--hence its nickname. Its medium to rich green leaves are glossy and elliptic and have coarse marginal teeth on the upper half of each leaf. In the spring, you can expect to see tiny purple-maroon flowers with creamy white anthers, each with four sepals and four petals, blooming.

If planted outdoors, the gold dust plant can grow to a maximum height of ten feet. It can also be grown as a houseplant. In its native environments, the gold dust plant is most often found in moist woodland areas, valleys, thickets, and along streams from Japan and China to the Himalayas. In the garden, they can be paired with fatsia, camellia, hydrangea, and rhododendron to provide vibrant and easy-care shrubs that will create visual interest in your landscape (and a privacy screen) all year long.

Botanical Name Aucuba japonica
Common Name Gold Dust
Plant Type Evergreen Shrub
Mature Size Up to 10 feet tall
Sun Exposure Partial shade; indirect sunlight
Soil Type Rich, well-drained
Soil pH 4.5-8
Bloom Time March-April
Flower Color Purple-maroon, white
Hardiness Zones 7-9
Native Area Japan

Gold Dust Plant Care

Assuming growth conditions are ideal, the aucuba japonica plant can reach its maturity in up to 20 years. It can reach as high as 15 feet tall, though it generally grows to be 10 feet. Since the stem of a gold dust plant is thin and spindly, it will have to be staked when planting outdoors, if you allow the plant to grow to its potential height.

If you see your gold dust plant turning black, it usually means the roots are stressed. This is most likely due to excess moisture in the soil or overwatering, or even that it has been exposed to more sunlight than it can handle.

Gold dust shrubs are susceptible to a few different fungal diseases, including both root and crown rot. Make sure the plant is never left sitting in standing water (and don't water from above), as fungi can also infect the leaves. They can also attract insects such as nematodes and mealybugs.

Light

The gold dust plant makes a great choice for anyone dealing with low-light conditions, as it grows well in partial shade and actually has to be protected from the bright afternoon sunlight. During the winter months, it can scorch and blacken the leaves.

If you've planted your gold dust plant indoors, it should be placed near a window that provides indirect sunlight (such as in front of a south-facing window or filtered through a curtain).

Soil

Gold dust plants grow best in sandy and slightly acidic soil. Sand and gypsum can be added to clay soils to help bring the pH level down. When planting indoors, be sure to choose a sandy potting soil.

Water

Aucuba japonica is known for being drought-tolerant, as long as it's not prolonged. They have the ability to grow even in the driest conditions, which is another reason they are so commonly planted as houseplants.

However, houseplants should be consistently watered when the top layer of soil dries to a depth of approximately two inches. Established shrubs will only need to be watered once every few weeks, and more often in drought-like conditions. Newly-planted gold dust plants, however, should be watered on a weekly basis (or even twice a week), at least through their first growing season.

Temperature and Humidity

Gold dust plants prefer cooler climates, and can even survive in frigid temperatures that have plummeted to as low as 5 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result, indoor plants should never be placed near a hot window or any other source of heat, and should ideally be kept in a room that is always kept cool.

Fertilizer

You can feed gold dust plants using either a liquid or slow-release, water-soluble fertilizer in the early spring when the plant begins to bloom. Start by fertilizing your gold dust plant once per month in the growing season. Just be sure the fertilizer has a 3:1:2 ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium for best results.

Propagating Gold Dust

In order to propagate the gold dust plant, you'll want to take a cutting, remove the lower leaves, and root it in soil mixed with vermiculite and peat moss--just be sure the leaves are above the soil.

Pruning

Though this a slow-growing plant, it can get leggy, so it's best to consistently prune in the spring to help control its growth. If you've planted gold dust as a houseplant, you should also be sure to prune to its desired height.