This easy guide shows how to grow a bay tree in the home garden to provide you with an endless supply of this popular herb. Bay trees are grown in both pots and direct in the ground so it doesn’t matter if you don’t have much room.
- Culinary Uses for Bay Trees
- Growing Bay Trees
- Growing Bay Trees in Pots or Planters
- Planting a Bay Tree
Bay trees (Laurus Nobilis) are slow growing trees taking 10 to 20 years to reach full maturity depending on climatic conditions. They are able to grow to a height of 65 feet (20m) high with a canopy 32 feet (10m) wide.
Their dainty yellow flowers form along the stems in early spring however the flowers won’t normally appear for the first few years.
Pruning Bay Trees
These aromatic trees will remain small with pruning and can be either left as a bush or pruned to form a small tree by leaving one middle strong branch.
It may also be necessary to tip prune the tree in the spring as the frost can damage the leaves at the end of the branches.
To make shrubs denser; tip prune the stems above a node at an angle to prevent disease. The new growth will appear in the direction of the node.
These trees are also perfect for creating attractive shapes. The branches can be trained to a fence to create an attractive form or consider creating a standard bay tree.
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Standard Bay Trees
To make a standard form; simply leave one strong middle branch then prune any other branches at the base. Trim any branches growing from the central stem with sharp pruners until it reaches the preferred height.
Cut the top of the stem at an angle above a node. This will encourage the bay tree to branch out from that height.
Culinary Uses for Bay Leaves
Bay leaves are used fresh from the tree in soups, stews and pasta dishes. The leaves are not usually eaten but used to flavor sauces with the leaves removed before serving.
The leaves are easily dried giving you an endless supply. The dried leaves can be crumbled then added to dishes. See this guide to Drying Bay Leaves for more information.
Bay leaves are not poisonous to eat however fresh bay leaves will still have a tough texture even after cooking. Crumbling dried bay leaves into the dish is the best way to eat them.
How to Grow a Bay Tree
Bay trees will grow in a wide range of conditions and do particularly well in Mediterranean climates. They are both drought and frost tolerant being able to withstand temperatures down to 23°F (-5°C).
Bay trees like free draining soils but will do best in soils enriched with compost and organic matter.
The best spot to plant a bay tree is in a full sun to part shade position which has some protection from extreme cold in cold climates.
The best time of the year to plant a bay tree is in the spring through to the end of summer. This will give the new plant time to settle in before winter.
Pick the leaves at any time however it would be a good idea to let young bay trees grow a foot before picking the leaves. Pick the leaves from the bottom of the branches while the tree is young.
Growing Bay Trees in Pots and Planters
Always use a quality potting mix then pot up the bay tree in the spring every 2 years. Be aware that over watering a bay tree in a pot can cause root rot so it is best to let the pot or container dry between watering.
Protect the pot or container from frost during the winter months as the roots are more susceptible to damage in a container. In very cold areas it would be best to bring the container inside if possible.
The bay tree will benefit from a regular application of liquid fertilizer during the warmer months of the year.
When you don’t want to pot the tree up any further it will benefit from having its roots trimmed. Simply remove the tree from the pot, trim the roots by one quarter with sharp pruners then replace back into the pot with fresh potting mix.
Spots on the leaves are usually a sign of waterlogged roots. This is mainly seen on plants grown in containers. If this becomes a problem then improve drainage by raising the pot slightly off the ground with planter feet and reduce the amount you water.
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Planting a Bay Tree
Tools and Materials Needed
- Bay Tree
- Aged manure or Compost
- Liquid Fertilizer – Seaweed Fertilizer is completely organic and promotes healthy strong root development. (Paid link)
How to plant and grow a bay tree direct in the home garden.
- Prepare the Soil
First prepare the soil by adding aged manure or compost then dig in well with the shovel at least 12 inches (30cm) wide by 12 inches (30cm) deep or twice the width and depth of the pot.
- Plant the Bay Tree
Water the bay tree then gently prise out of the pot. Plant in the hole making sure the base of the tree is at ground level. Gently backfill the soil around the roots then water in well.
Apply an inch of mulch around the tree to prevent water loss and protect the roots from frost.
Apply liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks during the warmer months to encourage growth.
- Protect from Frost
Protect the young plant from frosts by covering the top on cold nights with either a container or hessian bag.
Pruning can take place at the beginning of spring for tip pruning and shaping shrubs or anytime during the warmer months.
Bay tree clippings can be put in the compost however to prevent waste it is best to remove the leaves then dry them for yourself or friends.
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