Bay Laurel Plants

August 22, 2006

Bay Laurel, also known as Sweet Bay is a culinary herb plant that makes a great addition to the kitchen garden and can easily be grown on a patio or deck.

Bay plants are very attractive with their waxy-looking olive green leaves, branches that can be trained to suit your taste, and flavorful leaves that will serve a valuable function as a versatile kitchen spice.

Container Grown Bay Laurel Plants

Sweet Bay PhotoIn its native Mediterranean climate Bay Laurel is an evergreen tree reaching heights of over forty feet. In Northern climates Sweet Bay will grow like a shrub or small plant and is normally maintained at about six feet in height. If your growing region experiences cold, freezing temperatures Bay plants should be grown in containers and moved indoors during the winter.

Visitors to the garden are often intrigued by the ornamental looking Sweet Bay herb plants that I grow in containers on the patio. They recognize the familiar look and shape of the plant’s leaves but often can’t quite place the glossy leaves growing on the plant rather than standing in the common McCormick spice jars.

To grow your own Bay Laurel purchase a six or eight inch tall starter plant from your local greenhouse or nursery in early spring. The plants are more expensive than the typical herb plant, but your investment will be returned in the form of loads of fresh Bay leaves from a plant that will survive over many seasons if properly maintained.

Caring for Sweet Bay Herb Plants

Photo of Bay Laurel PlantPlant your Bay Laurel herb in a twelve-inch wide container that has good drainage but is slow to dry out in hot weather. I like to grow Bay plants in glazed ceramic containers rather than clay pots for better moisture control. Sweet Bay is a slow grower and tolerates being slightly pot bound so you won’t need to transplant it to a larger container for at least several years.

Use a good quality potting soil and place a piece of screen or shards in the bottom of the container to allow the pot to drain easily. Sweet Bay plants don’t require much attention other than providing sufficient water, especially during hot weather. Also, don’t forget to feed the plant with an occasional dose of a balanced organic fertilizer.

Bay Laurel lends itself to pruning, training, growing as an espaliered plant, or even as a bonsai style herb plant. The plants will sometimes send up multiple shoots from the roots but I try to maintain a single main stem and prune the side shoots to encourage branching and bushier growth.

Growing Bay Laurel Plants Indoors

Photo of Bay Laurel LeafSweet Bay can withstand the heat of summer and will grow best when allowed to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Delay bringing your Bay Laurel inside until late fall but don’t subject the plants to any freezing weather conditions.

Once the plants are moved indoors stop applying fertilizer and cut back on the amount of water that you provide over the winter, but don’t let the container completely dry out. Place the Bay Laurel in a relatively cool, well lit area, or use a grow light bulb to supplement the amount of light that the herb plant receives.

In early spring gradually allow the Bay Laurel plants to acclimate to the outdoors in the same manner that you would harden off vegetable transplants. The hardening off process can be completed in a shorter timeframe than for vegetable seedlings, but the Bay plants will need sufficient time to adjust to the harsher outdoor growing conditions before they resume their life outdoors.

Harvesting and Cooking with Bay Leaves

To harvest leaves from your Sweet Bay plant cut the older leaves from the stem with a pair of scissors, or if you’re careful you can simply pull the leaves off of the stem by hand. The large, older Bay leaves are preferred for cooking because they will contain more of the plant’s essential oil and impart more flavor to your favorite recipes.

A single Bay Laurel plant can supply the family chef with more than enough fresh leaves to season meals for the entire year. Harvest the Bay leaves from the plant as they are needed in the kitchen or remove and dry the leaves for future uses.

Fresh Bay leaves will be stronger than the dried herb and if you keep a live Bay plant around there’s really no need to preserve the leaves or purchase the spice from your grocer. Bay Laurel leaves are commonly used to season and add flavor to soups, stews, pot roasts, and other slow cooking kitchen recipes. Remove the leaves before serving because the leaves are tough and may have sharp edges.

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  • Kim

    I have a question about harvesting the leaves on my now-two-year-old bay laurel plants. I see that you say to harvest the oldest, biggest leaves… if you do, will they grow back? Or if I’m growing the plants for aesthetics as well as culinary use should I assume that there will be a bare spot wherever I take a leaf? Any suggestions?

  • A friend of mine planted one of these in her old house and loved it. It’s been on my mental list but somehow I’ve never bought one yet. Thanks for the nudge.

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Kim, unfortunately the harvested Bay leaves will not regrow so harvesting the herb for use in the kitchen will affect the plant’s appearance. But you can harvest from the lower portions of the stems or from fuller areas within the center of the Bay Laurel plant where it won’t be as noticeable. Or just pick a Bay leaf from a different area of the plant each time you decide to harvest. Another suggestion is to use the herb leaves from the sections of growth that are trimmed off to shape the Sweet Bay plant, or from the limbs that are pruned back to encourage the plant to branch and develop side shoots. Don’t worry if you wind up using the younger and smaller Bay leaves in your recipes, just use more of them.

  • Thank you very much for the thorough response, Kenny! I know I sound picky for someone who’s growing edibles, but I have a tiny lot and small house so I try to make my edibles perform double duty as ornamentals, too. I appreciate the help. 🙂

  • In Ovid’s Metamorhoses, the nymph, Daphne was transformed into a bay laurel tree, to save her from Apollo’s unwelcome advances.

  • Thomas Porter

    There are some plants near our home that are definitively laurel, more bush-like than tree-like but the same shape as a bay leaf. Thery are also fragrant with a mild anisette smell. I am tempted to try cooking with them, but, first I thought I would ask if anyone knows if I may poison myself. Any knowledgable responses out there?

  • Kenny Point

    Yes, you can poison yourself or become seriously ill by consuming wild plants that you’re not sure about. To be safe send a sample of the plant that you believe is Bay Laurel to your local Cooperative Extension Office for a positive identification. Or contact the Master Gardener Program to locate an experienced gardener who is familiar with the edible wild plants in your region. Whether it’s bay leaf or any other wild plant or edible weed, it’s important to exercise caution before eating and cooking plants until you are absolutely certain about the identification.

  • r.arslan

    I would like to purchase bay laurel plant can’t locate a source my area. Could provide an on line

  • Kenny Point

    There are tons of online herb plant suppliers such as the Thyme Garden Herb Company that offer Bay Laurel plants and other culinary and medicinal herbs. You may have trouble obtaining herb plants during the winter though as most only ship plants from spring through the summer seasons. Your best chance of obtaining a Bay tree during the winter is to locate a local nursery or garden center that still has Bay plants available in their greenhouse.

  • malamo

    Can you please tell me how deep the roots can penetrate the ground as I am in desperate need to know for I have a serious problem with erosion in my land and I was advised to plant bay plants because “they are deep rooted”
    It has to be bushes and not trees to be planted for my purposes otherwise I will lose the view of my house.

    Thank you very much in advance

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Malamo, I’m not sure how deep down the roots of Bay Laurel plants will penetrate as all of mine have been container grown. But the root systems do seem to be extensive, which should help to control your erosion problem. Bay Plants are easy to prune and maintain as a shrub so you won’t have to worry about disrupting your view. You didn’t mention where you live, so take into consideration that bay plants will not survive the winter outdoors in cold winter climates.

  • Deb

    Our bay plant is on its third winter indoors. Although we water it weekly, the leaves have dried out the past two winters. The first winter it took quite a while, but this winter it happened earlier. The plant is not dead and the leaves have not fallen off, but they are curled up. The plant has started growing new leaves at the soil line that are vigorous and healthy. What do you suggest? Prune it back? Discard dried leaves?

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Deb, spending the winter indoors can be pretty tough on perennial herbs like Rosemary and Bay Laurel. I would remove any dead leaves, check for scale or aphid infestations, do a little pruning, continue watering, and get the Sweet Bay plant back outdoors as soon as the weather permits.

  • Joi

    Thanks for this article and all the comments. Just today I picked up another Bay Laurel. Though I had a potted shrub that did well for several years, it just up-and-died last year. From my previous unsuscessful attempts I found that in my zone 8, very wet garden that staying outdoors through winter was OK as long as I put it on the side of the house protected from wind and wrapped a grass mat around it in the couldest part of winter. From reading your article I will, again pot it for the time being but provide better drainage. And feed it !! sometimes.

  • Andreas

    This is a great resource…thanks! I have a bay laurel tree that has only been indoors since I bought it from a reliable local greenhouse about 8 months ago. It was probably 2 or 3 years old at the time I bought it (3 ft tall). What Deb was describing about her plant was occuring with mine as well, so I repotted the tree, with fertile potting soil and organic bone meal. In addition, I placed some stones and pot shards in the bottom of the pot. Now, it is outside, getting sun, getting watered at reasonable intervals, and it is still drying out and just looking rough. Could you suggest any other strategies for me to prevent my beloved tree from dying? Is there a course the tree may take after it is repotted that can cause it to look worse before it gets better? Thanks so much!

  • Kenny Point

    Thanks Andreas! Some of my bay laurel plant’s leaves started to become dry and brittle over the winter but once the plant went back outside it recovered nicely and began producing a large flush of new, bushy, light-green leaf growth all over as if the plant was celebrating the arrival of spring. Transplanting and relocating the Bay plant outdoors can cause some stress. Don’t move it from indoors to a full sun setting, find a shady spot, keep it well watered, and gradually move it over a period of weeks until it can stand full sun. Good luck with your Sweet Bay tree.

  • Andreas

    One more thing…I discovered what look like little orange “blisters” underneath the leaves of my bay laurel. They are particularly heavy on the sick-looking leaves and they primarily seem to follow the line the stem makes through the leaf. Is this a mold, or other parasite? What should I do about that? Thanks again!

  • Kenny Point

    I noticed something similar on my Bay tree, it looks like some type of scale, and was located mainly on the tops of the bay leaves. The majority of the scale cleared up on its own once the Bay Laurel plant was moved outdoors. I guess I have beneficial predators that have been feeding on the scale. You can remove the bay leaves that are heavily infested and apply an insecticidal soap spray or a summer weight dormant oil spray.

  • Tom

    Would Bay Laurel form a good ‘barrier’ along a 25 meter long boundary between a house & its garden and a shopping centre next door. We are looking for something which would grow to about 10 meters, and provide shelter from the prevailing wind in Winter. They are available to buy at up to 3 meters tall – at this size would they survive Irish winters which sometimes reach minus 6 to minus 7 for a couple of days ?

  • Kenny Point

    Tom, I doubt that the Bay Laurel will survive your winters outdoors, or make a good windscreen in the situation that you described. You’ll probably be better off selecting some type of evergreen shrub to use as a barrier and windbreak.

  • Deb

    Hi Kenny:

    I love my Bay Laurel. I am growing it in a pot, in my kitchen. At first, it was doing really well, but now, the leaves are no longer glossy and they are dry rusty looking. What am I doing wrong?


  • Deb,
    We have 2 four or five foot bay trees that we move indoors and out depending on the season. I’ve seen the dry rusty look in 2 situations. 1, if they are ‘sunburned’, or toward the end of the winter when they’ve been in the dry house all season. We have a wood stove and the room they’re in is terribly dry. I would try and insectical soap (just in case) first, and then if that doesn’t remedy the situation, try mistin them every few days.

  • Kenny Point

    Deb, what are the lighting, temperature, and humidity conditions in your home? Bay Laurel plants don’t grow very well over the long term in the typical home environment. Like Irene, I keep my plants outdoors as much as possible and use supplemental lighting when this herb is growing inside. After spending a few months indoors over the winter the bay plants usually look a bit ragged and can’t wait to get back outside. It doesn’t take much time after gradually easing them back outdoors for the sweet bay to perk up and begin to look like itself again. I’ve seen even dry looking leaves revive themselves, but if they are discolored or look diseased I would remove them from the plant. You can also try misting or set the plant on a shallow humidity tray containing water and stones to elevate the bay plant’s container above the water level.

  • Marilyn Emerson

    My 5 year old Laurel Bay Bush was doing fine until recently. I live in the desert and the leaves are covered with a shiny sticky substance. What is it and can the leaves be used? Is this some kind of disease or pest that can be treated?

  • Kenny Point

    Marilyn, it could be aphids or some type of scale attacking your Bay Laurel. Is there any sight of the pest on the plant? Are the plants growing outdoors where they are exposed to a natural growing environment and access to beneficial insects? If the plant is indoors start by moving it outdoors for a while. If necessary you could later apply an insecticidal soap spray, if that doesn’t help try a light application of a summer dormant oil spray but be careful due to your desert climate.

  • Freda Frazer

    Kenny, I ordered and received two bay plants from a vendor on the internet this summer. The plants have been very happy on my front porch, where they get morning sun. Both plants have a center stalk that is approximately 3 feet tall and three or four small shoots that have come out near the base of the plant. I would like to encourage the plants to have a bushy appearance, rather than having the one tall stalk that continues to grow upward but not outward. I would appreciate suggestions on to prune or not to prune and (if so) how to prune. Thanks for your help.

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Freda, it sounds like your bay plants are growing very well. You can remove about a third of the central stem above a bud to encourage the plant to branch and grow bushier. You can also cut back or remove the side shoots depending on the form that you want to establish with the bay laurel plant. Just don’t remove too much of the plant’s leaves at one time. Good luck.

  • Mary Saunders

    I live in Portland, Oregon, and bought a 6″ plant many years ago that I “knew” might not make it over winter. It is now about 20 feet tall, with three trunks, and suckers at the bottom, and it is threatening to take over the world.

    We get snow and freezes, but it does not seem to phase my tree, which is between the garage and the house by the driveway.

    One year two friends harvested a ton of branches for wreaths, and it didn’t phase the tree.

    As I write this, it has buds on the upper branches. The buds are very tasty and round so they are not sharp. I like to eat them. The flowers smell good. It flowers in the spring as well usually.

    Since I bought my tree I have discovered many others around town, some larger and older than mine. They can take intense pruning. Mine is pruned about 7 feet up from the ground so I can walk under it to get to the back yard.

    My take is that they will survive a great deal more cold than one might think. There are microclimates around many an urban yard. I had an avocado that survived outside for several years as well.

    Cheers! Anyone who lives nearby is welcome to take a look at mine. All my neighbors know they can gather leaves whenever they wish. I am always giving them away.

    Mary Saunders

  • Connie

    I just bought a bay laurel from our local nursery and have no clue how to clean the leaves. They look like they have water rings on them. Is that normal? What should I use to clean the leaves.


  • Kenny Point

    Connie, I’ve never bothered with cleaning the leaves of a Bay Laurel plant and I wouldn’t think that it was anything more than harmless water spots. If you wanted to you could carefully wipe the bay leaves off with a damp cloth.

  • Gio

    My Bay tree was doing great up to 4-6 weeks ago. Most of the leaves have started to shrivel, some show dark patches and more importantly they are kind of sticky to the touch… The tree was outside until October and it has been inside since then. Any suggestion?
    Thanks, Gio

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Gio, sounds like you weren’t watering the bay plant enough during the winter months that it spent inside. The sticky stuff may be from scale on the plant. My bay laurel tree had the same thing happen while it was indoors one year, but it cleared up on its own after the tree went back outside in the spring. I would just water your bay plant a little more frequently to see if it will recover and get it back outside as soon as the weather will permit.

  • Mary Saunders

    I second that taking it outside will expose it to sufficient predators to deal with insect issues. My bay is outside all the time, but I take my citrus in and out. When they have had scale, something outside takes care of it.

    I also second that this is a very thirsty tree. It is dry under my outside tree nearly all the time, even though this is Oregon and it rains a lot. It does make it through summer without irrigation. This is a hint that the roots may go deep.

    The flowers smell really good to me, sort of like incense.

  • Gio

    Thank you both for response. The tree has been moved outside immediately!!! I will let you know how it goes!

  • Linda

    I have a small Bay that I bought about 2 years ago. The first year it was fine and I took leaves off not knowing that they would not return. It started not doing well so I repotted it and it perked up. We just moved and I repotted it again but in a much begger pot. It has shots coming up from the bottom but has never flowered. At what age do they flower? Do I need to plant it in the ground? I live in Texas and never taken it inside. I have covered it when the tempeture went down below 40? What can I do to help it flower?

  • Mary Saunders

    I have never done anything special to mine to make it flower. It has been encased in ice some winters. It certainly froze many times this winter here. The buds just seem to go dormant if it is cold, and then they wake up when it gets warm enough. I have found it to be far hardier than nursery owners seem to know about. I cannot remember how old it was before it flowered. I don’t think it was that old, maybe three? Anyone else have input on this?

  • Kenny Point

    My Bay Laurel Plants have never flowered even though they continue to mature and grow larger. My oldest plant is about four years old and at least five feet tall but has shown no sign of producing any flowers. I don’t know if it is just related to the climate where the bay plant is grown.

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  • Mel

    I think I have three bay laurels, in a boarder along my wall. When we bought the house four years ago they were very small and the owner told me to keep trimming it back so it would eventually fill out to cover the wall behind it. Four years have past and despite my ‘hacking’ away at them with shears twice a year, never feeding them and them being exposed to freezing temperatures every winter they have flourished.

    I have a couple of problems with them though, first being that one of the bay laurel bushes has always had mottled leaves and I never thought anything of it until I read this thread. It’s not scale or mould just a yellow spotted discolouration of the leaf, and this bush is the only one that has started to flower for the very first time this year. I think it’s pretty healthy, could this be a slightly different kind of laurel?

    The other two have lovely shiny green leaves but no flowers. The end bush though doesn’t get as much sunlight as the others and doesn’t seem to be ‘filling out’ as well, does anyone have any suggestions for helping it?

  • I bought a bay laurel last year, live in Northern Virginia and left it out all winter. We barely had a winter but the leaves are spotted. Is that disease? I was just going to prune back and see what happens. Good idea or not? Thanks.

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Maria, the spots on your bay laurel plants could be the sign of some sort of disease but I wouldn’t worry about it too much unless it really starts to spread or cause physical damage to the bay plant. Yes, I would prune the affected areas and keep an eye on the plant. You could also take a sample of the spotted leaves to an agriculture extension office to see if they can identify the problem for you, but again I wouldn’t apply any chemicals to the bay laurel and just give the plant a chance to recover from its winter break. My bay plant is pushing out all kinds of new growth and I need to prune it to reduce the height a little and encourage a little more fullness to the plant.

  • Carol Stiles

    Does anyone know the lowest temperature a bay laurel could/should survive? I was intrigued by the post from Mary Saunders from Oregon and her experience. I live in the Lexington, Kentucky area. We have mild winters but a few times a year it can get very cold. Would covering the plant when a freeze is expected be sufficient? Thanks

  • Mary Saunders

    Once establishes, the trees seem to survive quite cold weather. Mine has been completely coated in ice for some days, but I know that ice insulates.

    It has been subjected to dry cold also, but I don’t know the exact temperature.

    My tree is next to a building and concrete, which also mediate temperature. Then there is the possibility that your location may get warmer from global warming.

    If you plant one of these, it may thrive, so you should be prepared for 40 feet of tree unless you prune mercilessly. You should also be prepared that it soaks water down efficiently. It is likely nothing will grow in its shadow for some distance out, unless you water constantly during dry periods.

    If it succumbs, at least the corpse is wonderfully fragrant. My guess is there may be somebody in Kentucky with a successful tree. After all, they make the victory wreaths out of it at the derby, last I heard.

  • rich cosola

    can the bay leaf tree be grown in my area, south florida. thanks Rich

  • Kenny Point

    Sure it can, the bay laurel will probably grow better for you in South Florida than it does here in Central PA, and you won’t have to deal with the issues of moving and growing in indoors during the winter months.

  • Paula Rickson

    How do I start new plants from my bay leaf plant that is over 15 years old??? Can’t seem to find this information anywhere.
    Do I just take cuttings and start them in water to root?

  • Mary Saunders

    It is unlikely you can get them to start from cuttings. But my tree sends up suckers when pruned up from the ground to about 7 feet.

  • Kenny Point

    I think Bay Laurel would be a good candidate for air layering.

  • Tom Zingarelli

    Can fresh bay leaves be frozen for winter use?

  • Kenny Point

    Tom, I’ve never tried freezing bay leaves, but they are very easy to dry for winter use or you can always bring the plant indoors to provide fresh leaves all winter long.

  • Mary Saunders

    Though it is very uncommon for bay branches to make roots while in water, I have had them stay fresh and bright green for a very long time. Branches can be used in floral arrangements, as well. I once sold a bunch to a florist during the holidays.

  • Would a bay laurel plant survive close to the sea? I live in Malta (an island in the central Mediterranean) quite close to a beach and have had conflicting advice as to whether a laurel plant would survive being so close to the beach where sea spray might reach it. Please help.

  • Robin

    I was just given a bay laurel tree that a friend had given up on. This tree is in a container and comes in for the winter time. It has black slime on all the leaves that rubs off (or at least in the rain yesterday it was slimy). On my friends advice we pruned it way back, I now fear too much, so there would be less to treat. So any advice on how to make this tree healthy again?


  • Mary Saunders

    Hello Giselle and Robin,

    Giselle, my bay survived when I was told it might not. I think it likely a bay would do fine. The leaves toughen up and are pretty sturdy. Get a small one to make sure. A garden store near you may know. I am sure it would be less likely to get mildew in a salty environment.

    Robin, the black stuff may be mildew or city dust, which washes off. My bay takes brutal pruning, which barely seems to phase it. I don’t feed mine, to speak of, and I don’t water it either, but it is outside. It gets a lot of rain in winter, which it effectively soaks up, but it manages in the summer, which is dry here, without water.

    The bay plants at my church get less wind than I get, and I don’t think they do as well. I think this is a tree that likes good air circulation.

    Blessings on your bays. I enjoy mine.


  • Sue Hudson

    My bay has survived outside for four years, however I was wondering if it is possible to take cuttings and if so how.

    Many Thanks, Sue

  • Bonnie Ingraham

    Hi Marilyn and others who wrote about the sticky shiny leaf problem,
    My bay leaf is over 15 years old and this is the first year I have seen this problem. The leaves are very shiny and quite sticky to the touch. I looked at some with a magnifier, but didn’t see any signs of aphids, etc.The sicky substance looks like crystals and flakes off with a toothpick. The plant appears healthy and new growth is coming from the bottom. I live in central Maryland, so it will be awhile before it can enjoy the benefits of being outside. Just wondering what this might be and hoping it won’t eventually damage my plant.

  • Bonnie Johnstone

    I have a bay leaf plant which is about three years old. I have been putting it outdoors in spring and bring in in fall.
    It has grown from about 10 in. to about four or more feet, but this winter, since we live in Nova Scotia Canada, of course it has to come indoors. My problem is that many of the leaves are drying up and falling off. What am I doing wrong? This is the first time this has happened, other winters it was fine.

  • Irene

    The same exact thing is happening to one of mine here in CT too. I’ll be interested to see if anyone has anything to try.

    We have 2 plants, approx 4 feet each, that we’ve had for years. We always bring them in in the fall and out in the spring. They always look worse for wear by the end of the winter (a little dry — which I always atributed to the heat of the wood stove — and a little wilty — which I thought was from not enough sun and circulating air in the closed up house), but this year one of them looks like it’s fighting for its life. I’m not doing anything differently between the two.


  • Bonnie in Nova Scotia

    Thank you for your info. At least I know I am not alone. It was such a beautiful plant, and now looks like a corpse. Anyway, we will both hope someone out there has some answers.

  • Mary Saunders

    Sue, you could try taking a branch down underground, leaving it attached to the tree, to see if it will root.

    If your tree is looking bad inside, I would say try putting it out, even if it’s cold. You could also try giving it a vitamin and/or a mineral tablet. I sometimes do this if a plant looks to be struggling.

    My bay is taking over the world outside, but I bring dwarf citrus in. Usually worms and sometimes pill bugs stow away, where they work all winter, tilling and aerating. I took my lime tree to the permaculture booth at the Yard, Garden, and Patio show, and the worms went along. When I got home, the tree was dry and I watered it. One worm came streaking out, along the floor. I had to put him/her back in, where he/she was exhausted, but went back down below the soil after resting a while.

    Cheers, Mary

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  • Susan O

    Has anyone had success in propagating a bay plant? I have one given to me by a old Italian neighbor lady who has since passed away. I am in MA and keep it as a houseplant in the winter and on the deck in the summer. It has done well but my daughter-in-law wants one and I hear they are hard to root.
    Any suggestions?

  • Mary Saunders

    Sometimes when you prune them pretty severely, up from the base, they sucker, coming up underground near the base. You might have better luck getting a sucker to survive than trying to air layer or getting a branch to root. Mary

  • Cedric

    I have a Bay Laurel Potted in a 14″ ceramic pot. It is healthy and seems to grow very quickly. My problem is that the trunk is straight, about seven feet tall, with no branches but plenty of leaves. When I cut the top to make it branch out, it only grows one branch near the cut which grows straight up. What should I try to make it a shrub?

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Cedric, how short did you try cutting the bay plant back previously? I had a well branched tree about six feet tall that I thought died back last winter. It later started to regrow and I cut it back to about a one foot trunk and it did push out a lot of new branches from the shortened trunk. If you are not happy with the way your bay is growing and its form then you may want to take a chance and really prune it down pretty severely in the hope that that will stimulate a flush of growth without harming the plant. Good luck and let me know what you decide and how the plant does for you.

  • Mary Saunders

    What kind of light does it get and where is the light source? At what height do you want it to branch? My citrus, which are kind of similar, do not branch on a side where there’s no light. If you find a spot where light comes at it from more than one direction, maybe you would get more branching. I’m assuming it’s inside. If it’s outside and this is happening, perhaps you can let light hit it laterally, and that might encourage it to branch out toward the light. I hope you will let us know how this comes out, if you try it.

  • dale

    i live in maryland. i planted my bay some 12 years ago. i have moved it once, what i did to have mine grow outside in the winter is i bought a string of lights ( hardware store) and in the winter i would run them around the trunk area and leave them pluged in all winter for the first 2-3 years. mine is growing great i keep it trimed back to about 5 feet.

  • anynymous

    I have a large Bay Laurel fragrant as can be I use for cooking. It it outdoors in the ground and at all times. It survives winters and does make a nice wind breaker. It grows like mad and I had to trim it twice a year. It’s a tree. Hello? Oh I’m in Oregon. Also my rosemary can survive our winters as they are planted in ground

  • a friend gave me a few “BAY” seeds that he brought from Florence Italy. Thy look like small berries with a black/dark brown ,somewhat hard shell.I would like to plant them and see what happens>
    Should i shell them before planting them or soak them with the shell intact for a couple of days before planting.
    Any suggestions??

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Joe, evidently Bay Laurel is not the easiest herb to grow from seed. I have never tried and could not find much information on germinating the seeds other than that it is slow going and can take as long as six months before the seeds will germinate. Here is a link to an article about Bay that also includes a paragraph related to growing Bay Laurel from seed. Good luck and let us know how you make out!

  • George Bartle

    We have two Bay Trees outside here in Spain on the Costa Blanca, and there are small yellowish pineapple shaped growths at the junction of the leaves to the branch. Any ideas what they could be, and if they need to be removed. We had the same on a Bay that we had in Kent, England, and it did not seem to detract from the flavour of the leaves. Thanks for any info.

  • Kenny Point

    George, I’m not sure what you have growing on your bay trees, do you have a photo of it? Are you sure that it isn’t a part of the plant like a bud or blossom of some sort? If it doesn’t look like a diseased area or insect scale I would leave it and just keep an eye on it.

  • Cheri

    My grandfather brought a bay tree from Greece over 60 years ago. It was planted on a busy street with other non bay laurel plants. It has been butchered down, left to grow as part of a large hedge and later cut back many years to a waist high plant. I live in Portland Oregon. It has survived every kind of weather and mistreatment, but always continues to grow wonderful bay leaves that have been part of my families stews, spaghetti and soups for generations. I now want to take a cutting or shoot, since the property was recently sold. Is it possible to get a cutting in the early spring?

  • Madlen H.

    About 15 years ago I bought and planted what I believe to be a bay laurel. I grew very slowly at first, but has since grown to tree-size with many shoots coming from the roots, and we hack away at it constantly to keep it managable. I’ve harvested and used the leaves on a regular basis, giving away whole branches to friends. It is very healthy, but: I have never seen any blooms. Any clue why not? Also, how do I know that it really is a Bay Laurel and not a California Bay, especially, since I have no blooms to examine?

  • Mary Saunders

    If it is a culinary bay, it will smell exactly like the leaves you can buy in a jar at the store.

    The leaves are not shiny. They are sort of sharp. California Bay leaves are shiny.

    As for flowering, sometimes trees need stress, sometimes they need trace elements. It could be a light thing. It’s sort of hard to tell.

    There are many trees around Portland, and bloom seems common. Whether it is light or soil quality that makes blooming here work, I cannot tell for sure. Mine also sets buds in the very rainy season, and they come out in spring.


  • Madlen H.

    Thanks, Mary. The leaves are definitely not shiny, and have slightly ruffled edges. The flavor is superb. Slightly sweeter, better than the dried from the store. So, I guess, it’s pretty safe to say that I have the real McCoy. I’m in Georgia, and it grows so profusely that I’m supplying all my friends and family. I do wish I could see it bloom, though.

  • Mary Saunders

    I too prefer the fresh leaves. They also make wonderful wreaths and table decorations. Be advised, though, with sufficient water they can grow to forty feet. A consolation is if you have to take it down, it smells heavenly as you cut the wood. This is a windy, challenging environment. Maybe if you cut it enough, it will bloom. Cheers.

  • Lori McCray

    I planted my bay on a southwall in Dallas TX 10 years ago. This is the first year it bloomed thou it has grown to over the house and I have to prune suckers constantly. Last winter we had temps in the 20s and 13″ of snow. Other than shaking off the snow to prevent the branches from breaking the “Tree” suffered no damage. I did have some winter kill branches one year when the temp. went down to the teens but the bush came back that spring. I found that the wood of the pruned branches is also very fragrant and is a great additon to the poporree.

  • Madlen H.

    I guess I’ll just be patient and wait. Maybe the blooms will come eventually. Using the wood in potpourri sounds like a great idea! I, too, am constantly pruning.

  • Teresa

    Where can I buy a healthy plant? Will it survive outdoors in So. Carlina?

  • Madlen H.

    Teresa, I live in Augusta, Georgia and have had my ‘tree’ since the mid 90s. It got so big that my husband chopped it down several times. Right now it looks more like a bush. It made it unscathed through a few ice storms (the pine trees weren’t so lucky!). Go to a reputable nursery where you should be able to get a nice plant. Good luck!

  • scooby

    are these plants real?

  • kimberly

    I have two bay trees, ten feet tall, one is on either side of the sidewalk in my “postage stamp” front yard. I am not sure of my options for pruning them.I would love to see ideas. Topiary, round, unusual?? Should I have chosen other trees? Flowering evergreen cherries? Any ideas for this north facing front yard?? Maybe I should put an ad out for the bay trees and plant something else. I really don’t care for the yellow blooms. A nice white fragrant small flowering evergreen tree, might be better for these lawn trees. Any thoughts would be appreciated.
    1000 Thanks,

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  • Angela

    I went away this summer for a month and the weather got really hot while I was away. All the leaves on my bay tree are dry. What should I do?

  • My bay leaf plant was growing beautifullly for several years, until a year ago it somehow became infested with ???? 0 there appeared to be webs on it, the leaves had some sticky reidue on them, the tiniest of flies seemed to be flying around it – all cleared up after a summer outside, but problem reappeared when plant was brought in – the plant is now gone!! What happened? how could this have been prevented?

  • Kenny Point

    J.M. Urillo, I have had plants struggle some winters after I brought them indoors and think that the problem may have been that there were insects or some disease that the plant could fend off on its own while outdoors, but that it became a problem as the plant was more stressed from living inside the house. I leave the plant outside as long as possible and get it back outdoors as soon as I can in the spring. I would also give it a close inspection before bringing it indoors and treat if I noticed aphids, scale, of other issues.

    Don’t be so sure that the plant is gone though… I had a bay go completely brown and dead looking one year, but to my surprise it came back to life and resprouted from the lower trunk after it had been moved outside for about a month.

  • Mary Saunders

    I agree that plants that appear to die from being inside can sometimes come back from what appears to be dead.

    Also, bays can take more cold than one might think.

  • vicki

    Hi, I have gotten a lot of good info from your column and comments, thanks for the help. I live in Louisiana and the last couple of winter seasons we have had some severe freezes along with snow. I covered my trees when it got really bad, but a couple still suffered damage. These were smaller trees, and the big branch of the tree was damaged. There are some leaves on my satsuma, but for the most part you can tell the limb (bark) is damaged. There are shoots coming out from near the ground are they viable fruit bearing plants, or are the trees gone? Thanks for your help.

  • Mary Saunders

    Vicki, I would say you will just have to wait. I thought my grapefruit was dead one winter early in its life, and stuck it on the back porch to deal with it later. It came back beautifully, and that might have been 20 years ago!

  • PatF

    Kenny, Mary, et al.,
    Thanks to all of you for the comments and replies. I live in Tacoma, a peninsula in Puget Sound about 120 miles straight north of Mary. In general, the weather here never sinks to actual freezing. Based on Mary’s reports about her Sweet Bay, i bought a true bay 3 years ago. It is potted in a half-barrel in deference to local native gardeners who don’t want it shooting up suckers in the “wild.” I’ve never brought my bay inside.

    Alas and alack! This past winter was severe (for here) and over 90% of the bay showed severe frost damage. Following all of your suggestions, i pruned off the dead areas — even to cutting some leaves in half. And i watered and re-mulched. Happy days are here — there are bright green shoots at the bottom of the plant and little budding points on some of the older branches.

    Yesterday, my son dug a huge hole in the front yard and we sank the half-barrel in, with lots of stones in the bottom of the hole and packing earth around it well. Now anytime real frost comes, i’ll just cover the plant with row cover. Many thanks for helping me save my bay. Unfortunately, my sassafras didn’t survive — another challenge.

  • Mary Saunders

    I sometimes eat some of the bright green new leaves. They are tasty.

  • PatF

    ;-)) Think i’ll wait until it’s recovered a bit before i do that. I *will* keep it in mind, thanks!

  • Sarah UK

    Hi Kenny
    I live in the UK and have 2 small bay trees that are kept in containers. They were doing well until about this time last year when they developed lots of tiny black spots on the leaves. There was no improvement after a few months so I decided to prune the bad leaves. Unfortunately, the situation was worse than I had thought and I ended up removing every single leaf from the trees! I left the trees outside all winter (from what I have read, this seems like a bad idea)! It has now been nearly a year and I have not had any signs of re-growth. Is there anything I can do to encourage re-growth? Or does it sound like they are dead?

    Many thanks

  • Mostafa Kamal

    Hi Kenny,
    I live in Banglagdesh and working in a Spices research centre in Bangladesh. Now i like to work on Bay leaf (Cinnamomum tamala), but i found serious gall on its new leaves and exit hole on these gall which means that insect cause this gall. Finally these galls damage the whole leaves of plants. So, now my concern is to know how is this gall, which insect in responsible for this gall and how can i manage this gall problem in bay leaf. There is a little information about it in internate and books. So please send me some information through my mail address which will help me to run ahead my research work in a right way.
    I am looking forward for ur reply.
    Many thanks

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  • domenica

    Hi Kenny,
    I leave in Dubai, for the past 7 months I have been looking to buy a bay leaf plant but I cannot find it nowhere… could it be for the climate?
    here in the summer the heat can reach 50 degrees with humidity 75 to 80 % can bay leaf plant survive in this climate? the plant need to be in a shadow corner or can be left in the sun?
    I am looking forward for a reply?
    Many thankhs in advance Domenica

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Domenica, I think that you can grow a Bay Laurel plant in your climate but is there a local greenhouse where you could inquire? I would try to find a local supplier or check with a mail order source and ask whether they think the plant would survive the trip to your location. Your plant would probably appreciate some shade and need to be watered on a regular basis, especially until it was well established.

  • Mary Saunders

    Domenica, have you looked at the location from the link below?

    It looks as if the garden places have been re-locating within Dubai, which can be a problem here in Oregon also because they need a lot of space, and other kinds of businesses also want that space.

    Few things can take severe pruning with as good grace as bay, but if you cannot find one, citrus leaves can be used in cooking, and I have had a lime tree I take in and out for over 30 years. Properly fed and with aerated soil, citrus could possibly serve as a useful plant in place of a bay.

  • domenica

    To Mary Saunders,
    I would like to thank you for your response to my e-mail,
    I will go there this week-end from the map it looks very
    easy to reach…..hope they have what I am looking for..
    Many Thanks again

  • Pm

    I live in Ct.. Do you think it is safe to leave my bay plant out forthe winter,just bought it, it is about 10″ tall. Thanks….

  • Kenny Point

    No, you’ll definitely want to bring the bay plant indoors for the winter if you live in CT.

  • Mary Saunders

    If and when you bring it in, don’t over-water, but mine is a pretty thirsty tree. One of the issues is that it seems to like to send deep taproots, so this could be part of the problem for people who bring them in. Since they thrive so well where I live, they may like winter humidity as well, which can be a challenge if you have forced-air heat. Sometimes I wish they could talk.

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  • Stephen

    We have a 5 foot X 2 1/2 foot bay leaf tree or bush that we bring in and out seasonly. While in for the winter it looses many leaves and some times we notice aphids. the aphids we address by letting live ladybugs feast and that usually helps. What i was curious about is that while in side it looses a lot of its leaves is this a natural self pruning process? Or is it possibly in the wrong size pot it’s in a 20 wide buy 18 deep now, plus I generally water it every other week I think it is about 45 to 50 years old it was given to us as a gift with a lemon lime tree same size and age that out grew its place in the home it was in any advise for caring is welcome. Thank you

  • Mary Saunders

    Stephen, it may not be getting enough water. You can get a moisture sensor to test. You also may want to take it out and give it a bath on days that are warm enough. They get naturally washed outside a lot in Oregon in the winter, and they can get gigantic here, planted out, 40 feet tall is one I know of here. It is amazing it has lived so long in a pot.

  • Maria Q.

    I live in Tucson, AZ. I proudly brought home my Bay tree this spring with much confidence of success since I felt my area was perfect for it. I potted my Bay in a beautiful pot and adored it. It looked so happy as it sprouted new leaves. Unfortunately this was short lived. The leaves started turning brown and drying out in spite of regular generous watering. The weather started getting hotter and I moved the pot in the shade, receiving only about an hour of morning sun. A few leaves started spouting and I was hopeful. The new leaves have stayed bright green and the bay still looks sick now after about a month. I watered more and only got mushrooms at the base. What can I do to rescue my Bay? Repot or should I just start over again?

  • Mary Saunders

    Hi Maria, I have found that many of the sucking insects that attack citrus attack bay as well. Make sure the plants are clean of sucking insects. Scale can be scraped off, for example. Also, you are probably overwatering. See if these issues can be addressed to help your tree.

  • LyndaGauthier

    Kenny, I have a nice sweet bay that is about 6 yrs old. This is the first time on some of the branches the leaves are completely brown and the rest of the bush looks healthy . Can you give me an idea what has happened? We have had a lot of rain in Atlanta this year. I cannot see any pests on the branches.

  • Bill

    Hello, I purchased a few Mediterranean Bay Leaf bushes from you last year. A few months ago I thought it would be a good idea to fertilize them with ashes from my fireplace…. boy was I wrong. The leaves turned
    Blochy brown with black spots and hints of yellow orange…. yikes!!! help these guys are sick, i transplanted them to a new location with new soil. They were extremely healthy and are now about 2ft tall, each plant still has about 40 leaves…. can you help me pls? Thanks, Bummed Bill from Oregon

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Bill, you did not purchase the Bay plants from me because I have never sold any. I would just keep an eye on them but not do anything else that might disturb them and see if they can bounce back and recover on their own. Water as necessary and apply some fully matured compost if you have any, but other than that just let the be and hope for the best. Good luck!

  • sonia

    my bay laurel got dug op roots and all roots kinda hot cut off to not to bad. can I replant it ?

  • livefreeordiehard

    I live on the east side of Dallas and am looking for a bay laurel tree. Does anyone in this area sell them? Thank you.

  • TBeezy

    Do you where in MD I can purchase a seedling?

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