Thursday

Growing Bay Leaf (Bay Laurel)


 Bay or sweet bay (Laurus nobilis) is the leaf from a tree in the Laurel family. It's an evergreen that originated in the Mediterranean, where it grows to a height of 40 feet. Bay laurel is beautifully appointed with medium sized, glossy, green leaves. It is not winter hardy in areas that experience freezing weather.

Courtesy of Borealnz at Flickr.comLuckily, bay can be cultivated in a container and brought indoors to overwinter. When potted, it seldom grows taller than 6', but can be cultivated into a dense, rich specimen plant. Bay topiaries aren't uncommon, and they can be very elegant on a deck or patio. That's the good news. The bad news is that bay can be persnickety about its living conditions.

It prefers rich, well-drained soil that has a sunny exposure. Plant your tree away from other plantings. Once it gets started, it will need room to spread out. This isn't a shrub. Because it's considered an herb, it's easy to underestimate bay's growth potential. This is a tree that can last many decades, so give its location some serious thought. Because it likes its soil relatively moist and doesn't like to dry out, consider mulching, and don't forget to water it regularly while it's young.

Keeping Bay in a Pot
If you're planning on keeping your bay tree in a pot, avoid terracotta, and look for commercial potting soil that has good water retentive characteristics, like water beads and vermiculite.

Plan on a 12" pot for a plant that's about eight inches high. Since bay is a slow grower, invest in a larger plant if you can afford it. Bay can be pricey, but you'll be glad you paid a little more.

Growing Bay Leaf Indoors

Make sure your plant gets plenty of sun while it's spending time indoors. Remember, the quality of the light in a room starts to drop sharply as you move back from the window, so give it plenty of clear, bright light, or provide grow lights for it. Bay also dislikes drafts and hot spots, like those near heating vents or exterior doors.

Don't fertilize outdoor specimens you are over-wintering inside. Wait until spring. If you are maintaining a bay indoors year round, try putting it out on a patio for a couple of weeks in spring. A little time outdoors each season will do it a world of good. To make the moving task easier, give it a base with casters. Your back will thank you.

All this sounds like a pain, but a healthy, shiny, specimen can be a beautiful sight.

Propagating Bay Leaf Laurel

Take stem cuttings (four or five inches), or air layer. The end of summer is the best time to start new plants. The cuttings will have to be carefully nurtured; a conservatory where you can keep them in uniformly humid conditions would be ideal. Transplant the following spring.

Harvesting Bay Leaf

You can start to harvest bay once the plant is a couple of years old. The leaves should be dried before use, as fresh bay is bitter. The best wait time is around 48 to 72 hours from the time you pick a leaf. I know you get long-dried bay leaves at the store, but the freshly dried leaves have better, deeper flavor. After all, you aren't going to all this trouble for nothing.

Select the largest leaves. The older the leaf, the stronger the flavor will be.

Uses for Bay Leaf

Bay leaf is a favorite in cooking. It is commonly used whole in stews, sauces and soups. It can be used in both mild and strongly seasoned dishes and works well with many other herbs and spices. Bay Leaf is one of the key ingredients in Bouquet Garni, and ground bay leaf is the signature herb in Old Bay Seasoning.

Bay can also be used as a weevil deterrent. Place a few leaves in the cabinet where you keep your flour and other grains to repel bugs.

It is a pungent addition to potpourri, and an ointment made from bay leaf can help reduce joint inflammation. Bay also makes a very full and impressive base for an herb wreath.




53 comments:

  1. Anonymous10:12:00 PM

    I found this article so helpful in my reaserch! thanks so much!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous4:01:00 AM

    This is very helpful!! I have a wonderful tree and I want to make more trees for friends as gifts...I'll start now at the end of summer:)
    Thank you very much!!!

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  3. Anonymous12:19:00 PM

    Question: at what height, if ever, should I pinch the growing top of a small bay plant to encourage it to branch out?

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  4. Bay is hard to germinate and starts life as a pretty slow grower. If your plant is at a stage where it's starting to shoot up, growing eight inches or more over the summer season, it's time to start thinking about pruning.

    One popular method is to trim off all lower branches and start training the top of the tree into a ball. It sounds as if you want a low growing shrubby effect for your bay tree, so go ahead and remove foliage from the top to encourage lateral growth. It's best to prune in early spring or fall. You can save these leaves to use in cooking, but the most flavorful leaves are harvested in the hottest part of the summer. Once you start pruning, maintain a twice yearly routine in spring and fall.

    Just as a side note here, you can train bay laurel into a bonsai tree if you'd like to try it. They require a lot of care, but they're beautiful.

    Good luck,

    Sara

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  5. Anonymous9:35:00 PM

    What a helpful article. I purchased my baby bay in August when it was only about 5 inches tall. I've kept it under a CFL grow light and it is actually starting to make new leaves which I didn't expect so soon. It's a whopping 6.5 inches tall now : ) It must be happy it it's new home and it is such a thrill for me. I think it will end up being my favorite herb. Perhaps I will ask my 3-year-old name it.

    Thanks for the help!

    Mars

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  6. Hi Mars,

    I really enjoy my potted bay leaf. Everybody should adopt one.

    Sara

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  7. Anonymous9:33:00 AM

    I have a small bay tree that's only 6" tall. I've had it since last summer and it is only now beginning to grow new leaves. My problem with it is that I think it has scale. I sweats this sticky stuff and I find waxy bubbles under the leaves and on the stem. I clean this regularly but can't seem to get rid of it. Does anyong have a solugion?

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  8. Sanjeev4:04:00 AM

    Hello Sara,

    I found your article very interesting...Would you anybody from India doing Bay Leaf cultivation in commercial scale

    Sanjeev

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  9. Sanjeev,

    I'm sorry. I don't.

    Maybe someone else will.

    Thanks for visiting.

    Sara

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  10. Anonymous9:45:00 AM

    Sara,
    I asked the question above about the scale on my bay plant. I still don't know how to get rid of it as no one has answered my question. I wash the plant regularly in Sunlight dishsoap and the sticky stuff soon appears on the leaves again with the waxy bubbles underneath along the vein. I want to be able to use the leaves in cooking but won't if I can't get rid of this in a healthy way.

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  11. Hi Anonymous,

    I can't diagnose what type of problem you have with your bay leaf. It could be a number of things. Your best bet for a food-friendly solution is to get in touch with your local cooperative extension office. They will help you figure out what the problem is and hopefully come up with a fix that works for both you and your bay tree.

    There are cooperative extension offices across the U.S., and you can find your local office by visiting their main site: http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/

    The service is absolutely free.

    I hope this helps.

    Sara

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  12. Anonymous12:43:00 PM

    great input thanks

    ReplyDelete
  13. This was very useful information, thank you for sharing!

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  14. I ordered some Bay Leaf Seeds on ebay and did not know how to grow them, thank you for this wealth of information I found it extremely useful! Thank you for sharing.
    Katie's Cottage

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  15. Anonymous12:43:00 AM

    Scale insects can be effectively got rid of by spraying white summer oil mixed with water in accordance with manufacturers instructions. The treated plant should be left in a sunny spot, where the sun's heat will kill the scale insects. White summer oil should be easily available at plant nurseries. Just sharing.

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  16. Anonymous1:28:00 PM

    I have a one year old bay plant in a pot that is 18" high with not a single lateral branch. Should I cut it back and if so, how much? Thank you for this very helpful article.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hi,

    A number of things could have gone wrong with your bay laurel worth discovering and controlling in the future: too little water, inadequate light, windy conditions, insect activity (which you should check for right away), etc. If you want to encourage lateral development, one way is to remove about 8 inches of the stem to encourage growth nearer the base of the tree. Don't repot though. Bay likes slightly cramped conditions. If possible, postpone your pruning project until spring, and use the time to strategize how you'll relocate and revise your bay maintenance routine next year.

    I hope this helps and inspires other useful comments.

    Sara

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  18. Anonymous10:24:00 AM

    I have a new bay leaf plant that arrived healthy and looks great but had no instructions concerning watering. My plant will live in the house, not outside due to extreme weather conditions. So--how wet/dry should the soil be?

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  19. Hi,

    Bay laurel comes from a hot climate where it rains,but not regularly. Water your baby bay thoroughly, and then let it dry out a little before you water it deeply again. The top of the soil should feel slightly dry to the touch. Once you've watered your plant a few times, you'll begin to get a feel for what it likes. Never let its roots sit in water.

    If you live in a cold climate and your interior air gets dry and hot in winter, keep bay in the company of other houseplants to provide a somewhat more humid micro-climate.

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  20. Anonymous7:40:00 PM

    My 17 year old, 8 foot bay leaf tree seems to have withered up and is dying. I recently moved the tree from CT to NYC and kept the watering schedule the same. The plant gets great western light. I think it may have been the heat from the radiators.

    Is there any way to save the tree? What can I do?

    ReplyDelete
  21. Joan,

    I'm so sorry about your bay tree. To be honest, I haven't had much luck with bay once it starts on a dramatic decline. I have received comments from readers over the years that suggest leaving ailing bay trees alone if they don't show signs of insect activity. Keep your tree watered as you would regularly (and move it away from the radiator and drafts from exterior doors). It may improve on its own. I've also heard of ailing bay trees recovering completely once they're put outdoors for a few weeks in spring. Another option, of course, is to call in a professional arborist. A healthy tree can sometimes come back strong after a setback. I hope that's the case with your tree.

    Sara

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  22. Anonymous8:11:00 AM

    What a treasure of a website! I've just found you. looking for ways to dry lemon peel. Am now subscribed!Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Anonymous1:19:00 PM

    Despite the comment that bay trees are not hardy in freezing weather, my bay has survived temperatures as low as 15 degrees in the Pacific Northwest. And it grew to a height of about twenty feet before I decided to reduce its size.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi,
      I also live in the Pacific NW on the Kitsap Peninsula. I have a friend who has a huge bay tree in her yard and has offered me a start that is growing close to the trunk of the tree. When should I dig it up? And what does it need to start it's new life away from the main tree? I tried to grow a bay tree about 10 years ago with no luck, it died! So I'd like to do this right and end up with a huge bay tree like my friend has.
      Please help,
      Tessa

      Delete
    2. Hi Tessa,

      Thanks for writing. Bay is a very popular herb, but the tree can be difficult to cultivate. I want to address your question in detail, but I have lots of holiday commitments to deal with in the next few days. Watch for a post about growing bay under specific conditions soon after the New Year. This isn't the time to be starting your project anyway, so leave the start where it is for now to give yourself time to come up with the best strategy for turning a tiny sapling into a breathtaking tree. Have a great holiday.

      Delete
  24. Anonymous5:16:00 PM

    Thank you all. I was looking for information and you all have given a treasury of wisdom!!! Sara, thanks so much for the site. I am still "waffling" ;-) about doing this. I truly enjoy the challenges of herbal "babies"... I may just DO IT! Thanks again, all you contributors! csr

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  25. Anonymous12:29:00 PM

    I was thinking, about the person with the 17 year old 8 foot bay tree if it has to do with her moving from CT to NYC and because of that the city water has diffrent chemicals so it is being afected by that. Im not an expert but I would give it some spring water or filtered water and see if it becomes stronger. I did this with a differnt small plant and it became healthy again.
    Good luck

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  26. That's a good idea. Thanks for sharing.

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  27. Anonymous8:23:00 PM

    from a brunch cutting 3 months later there is new growth showing sprouts what next? It's in sand and perlite 50/50.
    Do I transplant it?

    ReplyDelete
  28. Once the cutting has developed at least three half-inch long roots (ideally in spring or early fall), place it in good potting soil in a 4 inches diameter pot that drains well. After a couple of weeks, start acclimatizing it to life in its permanent location.

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  29. Anonymous3:18:00 PM

    I would like a bay laurel tree in my yard in Yucca Valley, Calif. Elevation is 3,800 feet. Winter temps can get down to 28 degree F and summer regularly attains 110 degrees. Soil is sandy desert. Is this a no go?

    Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  30. Those are pretty punishing extremes and the prospects don't look great to me. Bay can tolerate some cold and likes the heat, but it requires a consistent supply of moisture and doesn't like windy conditions much. Your location seems incompatible, or at best borderline, unless you can find a spot in your landscape that's somewhat protected -- and you are willing to give the tree extra care, like regular mulching, consistent watering and maybe a burlap overcoat in winter, until it becomes established. Even at that, one very extreme season could kill it.

    If you have a sunny window, consider growing bay indoors.

    If anyone has experience growing bay around the Yucca Valley, please chime in.

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  31. The secret to keeping potted bay healthy is to NOT BRING IT INSIDE for winter except when night time tempertures dip below 27 degrees F. Then I bring it into an unheated south facing windowed garage. If the garage has no windows, no big deal. I put it back outside whenever night time temps stay above 27 degrees. My ten year old six foot bay standard hasn't had a bug on it.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Anonymous12:40:00 PM

    Nice entry and very good advice. Thankyou.
    Here in the UK I have had a 4' standard bay in a big wooden pot for over 20 years. Mostly I neglected it, but it survived snow, drought, mealy bugs, ants, children etc.

    I re-potted it two years ago into a lighter plastic pot when the wooden pot fell apart (rotted). The old one really was a back-breaker.
    It did NOT survive the winter in its new home. (-8 degrees Celcius and the wind blew the pot over several times.)
    Buying another one to replace it costs a fortune - so I have to start again from scratch.

    What did we learn?
    1. keep the pot off the ground - ants like making nests in Bay roots.
    2. don't use car grease on a band to try to keep the ants off. The bay doesn't like it either.
    3. don't try to grow anything else in the pot with it - even annuals. The rootball is very selfish.
    4. Keep it out of the wind, and don't use a cheap pot with a narrow base and thin walls.

    Very sad.

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  33. You're right. It is sad.

    Unfortunately experience is the best teacher.

    Good luck starting over. I'm sure it's happened to all of us with one plant or another.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  34. Anonymous5:22:00 AM

    I read elsewhere that you can air-layer a bay - has anyone tried it?

    ReplyDelete
  35. Anonymous2:34:00 PM

    I just purchased two bay trees. One has one shoot and is about eighteen inches tall. The other has one main shoot about a foot tall, and five side shoots coming from the base that are about 4-5 inches. Should I prune the side shoots off, or is it supposed to be a bush? I live in Zone 8 in central Louisiana. I had planned on putting them in the ground and keeping them pruned short enough to gather the leaves, but I can leave them in pots if that is best for my area. They are in plastic trade gallon pots at the moment.
    Would someone please let me know what would be best for my area, and about the growing habit and pruning needs. Thank You

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  36. For information about ways you might want to prune your bay trees, try taking a look at the pruning information here: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/Profile.aspx?pid=251

    Maybe someone is willing to comment on their experiences growing bay in Louisiana. I hope so.

    Good luck,

    Sara

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  37. Sara,
    I recently purchased a 5 gallon bay laurel tree and planted it. Now some of the leaves are turning yellow. Our soil does have a lot of clay in it. Is there something I can add to the soil to help my tree?
    Thanks,
    Kate

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  38. Thanks for sharing, the information was exactly what I was looking for. How and when to harvest bay. I purchased a bay tree last spring it was about 8" tall i move it out onto the deck for the summer. I have just brought it back inside for season and it sits in a south facing window surrounded by other plants. It has grown to about 14" now.I love my bay tree and am so happy I have been successful this time around. I killed the first one I tried, so am excited to harvest leaves from my present tree!!

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  39. KAB#1

    It's funny how we come to appreciate those hard won triumphs the most. Good luck overwintering your bay indoors. I'm about to do something similar with my lemon eucalyptus and ginger.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Sara

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  40. You have information on all my favorite plants and how to care for them.
    What a great collection of information.

    Thanks,

    Bobby Myers

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  41. Great article, you have a wonder blog with care instruction for all my favorite herbs. Its a great refernece tool and easy to understand.

    Thank you,

    Bobby Myers

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  42. Hey Bobby,

    Thanks for visiting.

    ReplyDelete
  43. I have questions about propagating the bay laurel. After taking cuttings from an established plant, what do I do with the cutting(s)? Do I place them in water or dirt? Do I need to treat with root starter? Full sun or partial sun? Any other procedures &/or care?

    I know to keep it uniformly well-humidified. Thanks...

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  44. Hi Irzaar,

    Take a 6 inch stem cutting and place it in rich (well-draining) potting medium. Retain about 4 or five top leaves and remove the others with a sharp knife. Use rooting compound or cinnamon if you have it. Plant the stem about 2 inches deep in the soil, and keep the pot uniformly warm and moist. It's best to start several plants at once and keep them tented in plastic out of direct light. Be patient. It could take an entire season to get results, and you're likely to lose a few cuttings along the way.

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  45. Its a beautiful garden plant here in Raleigh, NC.

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  46. My Bay Laurel is now over 9 feet tall. I think I will lop off the new growth at the top so it doesn't get any taller. Love cooking with the fresh leaves - so much better than dried!

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    Replies
    1. I concur that fresh leaves produce a better flavour, but I will often collect leaves and dry them and put them in small jars and give them to friends or anyone who asks.

      Delete
  47. I use Bay often in my cooking. It is an invaluable herd. Although the article states that Bay needs to be nurtured indoors, I planted my 2' sapling five feet from tall a south west facing fence five years ago and my "sapling is now over 12 feet tall and spreading quite rapidly. I am considering lopping of the top, but then again it's so beautiful I want to see it grow even taller and wider! I live in the North East of Ireland so it's not exactly Mediterranean weather, but my tree thrives!!!

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  48. I found this to be very helpful. I bought a bay leaf a year ago and while it is 5.5 inches tall, the leaves had not yet grown. But since reading your article I have moved it away from the heating vent and have purchased grow lights for it which has proven to be effective as the leaves are finally beginning to grow!

    Thank you for also explaining when to propagate the bay leaf as I have been told that the end of Winter was best but that has proven to be unsuccessful in the past, so I will definitely be taking your advice and will do it towards the end of Summer instead.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Homemade Oil Spray FOR SCALE


    Mix 500ml of vegetable oil
    ½ cup of Sunlight dishwashing liquid or other pure liquid soap
    Blend thoroughly and seal in a clean, clearly labelled jar. Store in a cool area for later use.
    Dilute one tablespoon of the concentrate into one litre of water before spraying.

    Oil based mixtures can be used to suffocate mites, scale and other soft bodied insects. They help to repel leaf miner moths and some gardeners even find them effective against grasshoppers. Avoid using on plants with hairy leaves and during very hot weather

    ReplyDelete
  50. I bought a 5" bay about 18 months ago. It was in a small pot outside last summer. I brought it in for the winter (live in Chicago, IL area). I repotted it in a larger pot this spring (about 15") and had it outside on the patio. Since it can get well below zero around here in the winter, I want to bring it inside again, but I have been finding BB size turquoise "eggs?" on top of the soil and am afraid it is some kind of bug I do not want inside. I have not been able to find out what it is, but it does not seem to be affecting the plant at all. Does anyone know what this could be? Right now I plan on putting it in our unheated garage and just put it out during the day when it is not to cold. Our garage is usually above freezing even in very cold weather. Any help would be appreciated. John R.

    ReplyDelete

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