How to Grow and Care for Gold Dust Plants

gold dust plant

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Native to Japan, the gold dust plant (Aucuba japonica) is a hardy but slow-growing evergreen shrub. Also referred to as spotted laurel or Japanese laurel, it's known for its splashes of yellow and specks of gold on its leathery dark green leaves. The leaves are glossy and elliptical with 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. This is a very slow grower that can take years to reach maturity but a worthwhile specimen that brightens up a shady area with flecks of gold. Plant this eye-catching shrub outdoors in late spring or early summer after the average last frost date in your area.

Common Name Gold dust, gold dust aucuba, spotted laurel, variegated gold dust plant
Botanical Name Aucuba japonica
Family Garryaceae
Plant Type Shrub
Mature Size 6-10 ft. tall, 5-9 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Partial, shade
Soil Type Well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Purple
Hardiness Zones 7b-10a (USDA)
Native Area Asia
closeup of a gold dust plant

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

gold dust plant in winter

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

gold dust plant with berries

seven75 / Getty Images

Gold Dust Plant Care

Assuming growth conditions are ideal, this plant can reach its maturity in up to 20 years. It generally grows to be ten feet tall. Because the stem of a gold dust plant is thin and spindly, it may require staking if you allow the plant to grow to its potential height.


The gold dust plant makes a great choice for anyone dealing with low-light conditions, such as the north side of a house. It prefers to grow in partial shade and needs to be protected from the bright afternoon sunlight. During the winter months, sunlight can scorch and blacken the leaves.


Gold dust plants grow best in moist, organically rich, well-drained soils. However, they can tolerate average to nutritionally poor soils, even clay soil


The native habitat of Aucuba japonica is in moist woodland areas, thickets, valleys, and along stream beds. In your garden, it will grow best in moist but well-drained soils with established plants having good drought tolerance.

Mature shrubs will only need to be watered once every few weeks but more often in drought-like conditions. Newly planted gold dust plants should be watered weekly (or even twice a week) through their first growing season.

For a specimen grown indoors as a houseplant, water soil when the top layer dries to a depth of approximately two inches. In containers that have been placed outdoors for the summer, keep the soil consistently moist.

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.

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 cool.


Gold dust plants respond well to feeding, but don't overfertilize them because that can cause soft growth and increase the chance of winter injury. Feed gold dust plants using either a slow-release or water-soluble fertilizer in the early spring when the plant begins to bloom.

Fertilize your container-grown gold dust plant once per month in the growing season, using a 3:1:2 ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium for best results. For the amount to use, follow the product label instructions.


Though this is 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 it to its desired height.

Propagating Gold Dust

The gold dust shrub is dioecious, which means that each plant is a male or female gender. Take cuttings from both male and female plants (label them appropriately) to ensure the female plants will be pollinated by a nearby male to produce fruiting red berries in the fall. Here's how to propagate the gold dust plant:

  1. With sharp, clean pruners, take a cutting of about four inches and remove the lower leaves.
  2. Root it in a pot filled with soil mixed with vermiculite and peat moss. Be sure the leaves are above the soil.
  3. This plant will readily grow from cuttings, so keep checking for roots to form. New growth on the plant is the best indication that it has rooted successfully. Once they do, the plant can be repotted or planted as you wish.

How to Grow Gold Dust From Seed

This plant grows so easily from cuttings that the slow method of growing from seed is not recommended. If you do choose to grow the plant from seed, start them in a cold frame in the autumn.

Potting and Repotting

When potting a gold dust plant, choose a container with adequate drainage holes. Container material isn't important when the plant is small but avoid very heavy materials if you plan to move a mature potted plant around your home or patio. To avoid repotting more than every two to three years, start with a container that is six inches larger than the plant's root ball and repot the plant when it begins to become root-bound. At that point, go up in size to a pot that is only a few inches wider than the original. When repotting, use high-quality potting soil that offers good drainage.


When planted in the proper zones, your gold dust plant will survive the winter without additional protection. If the plant is in a container, bring it inside when the temperatures begin to drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut back on watering in the winter months; allow the soil to dry between waterings.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

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.

Common Problems With Gold Dust

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, overwatering, or that it has been exposed to more sunlight than it can handle. If the plant is in a container, try repotting it in a different container with better drainage. If it is outside, try watering it less often or moving it to a shadier location.

  • What are good companion plants for gold dust?

    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.

  • Where should I place gold dust in my house?

    An indoor potted plant should be placed near a window that provides indirect sunlight (such as in front of a south-facing window or filtered through a curtain).

  • How long does a gold dust plant live?

    It can reach maturity in about 20 years and can continue to thrive for several years beyond that when given proper care.

Article Sources
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  1. Aucuba japonica. North Carolina State Extension Plant Finder