Distressed Bay Laurel Plants in Need of Assistance

March 26, 2009

I’ve written about my prized bay laurel plants in the past and shared how attractive, useful, and productive these culinary herb “trees” can be in the backyard kitchen garden.

The only drawback is that those of us gardening in cold climates must bring the plants indoors during the winter months where the home environment can be less than hospitable. And unlike potted fig trees, a cold, dark, garage or storage building just won’t do in this case.

Keep a Close Eye on Bay Laurel Plants Growing Indoors

My usual solution has been to hold off and move the bay laurel indoors as late in the season as possible, and to get it back outdoors as quickly as possible in the spring. Any disease, insect pests, or sickness that took hold during the time spent confined indoors always cleared up as soon as the plant went back outside.

All was fine and I enjoyed a gorgeous and thriving six-foot tall sweet bay tree until just recently. It appears that I was a little negligent in watering my bay tree and it did not make it through this past winter indoors. I’m sad, but can only blame myself, and count my blessings that a smaller bay tree did manage to survive the same treatment.

Th only advice I can offer to others is to pay careful attention when watering those house bound bay trees because once the foliage even begins to dry out, it’s all over! Nothing more can be done for my plant but I’m hoping that someone out there can help relieve Gillian’s concerns over two bay laurels that she is growing and describes from her home in Perthshire, Scotland:

Seeking Diagnosis and Care for Sickly Sweet Bay Plants

“Hi Kenny, I am at the end of my rope with two lovely bay laurels I have in pots at my front door. They are around 4 years old and have always lived in a sunny spot and seemed happy. They flower in the summer months too.”

“Recently, I’ve been noticing the leaves turning very yellow/brown and they have black pin head spots on them too. I am getting quite concerned about them! I have trawled the Internet and asked my gardener and he says it isn’t black spot or any of the usual bay diseases he’s come across.”

“Can you help? Or point me in the direction of someone who can? I’ve attached a pic (click on bay laurel photo for enlarged view) to help! I’d be very grateful for any advice you can give me.”

sick bay laurel tree 300x225 Distressed Bay Laurel Plants in Need of Assistance
The tree doesn’t look that bad to me and I’ve noticed similar spotting and a few yellowing leaves on bay laurels that I’ve grown in the past but the problem didn’t seem too serious and I simply removed the diseased and discolored leaves from the tree.

If anyone can identify the problem for Gillian or recommend an organic remedy to control the disease please leave a comment below. It’s too late to do anything for my favorite bay laurel, but hopefully someone will come to the aid of Gillian’s distressed plant!





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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Chiot's Run March 27, 2009 at 9:07 am

Perhaps the plants just need some soil refreshing, or a good dose of organic matter. I find that when the leaves on my citrus tree do similar things a little bit of ironite does the trick. I have also found that adding some worm casting to my potted plants several times a year keeps them much healthier & happier.

Karens Garden Tips March 27, 2009 at 6:34 pm

I really sympathize with your bay tree problem. I can’t offer a fix but I can relate my own experience with a beloved bay tree so that you may feel better about your care of yours. We went away for three months this winter (Dec-Feb) and had my niece come in and water it and many other plants in our garage. She is over zaelous in watering and we came home to find many plants in standing in water including the bay tree. My point is, you do the best you can and sometimes (like ours) it is very poor and you luck out, other times you don’t. Believe me, I could relate a dozen or more failures in this regard.

Jane Green May 4, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Bay trees can grow very big, in excess of 40ft high and 30ft wide. This is what they want to be able to do. They seem to be much happier in the ground because they are not so stressed.I don’t think they like being in pots, especially terracotta ones, frying in the sun with their roots getting bigger and bigger as the years pass. I would put them into larger pots and try a position which gets some shade during the day. Try it for a while and see if it helps.

joe February 15, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Gillian I share your problem. There are a lot of bull stories out there, some say keep in sunny place others say keep in shade. So which is it. And how often should you water and how much water? Someone has to know I do not wish mine to die. Good luck with yours.

donna February 28, 2010 at 7:59 am

I have a bay leaf plant indoors in a clay pot the leaves have dried up and it seems to be dead. There has been a whitish bug on the plant which I try to remove every so often with a q-tip but it keeps coming back. Does anyone know how to get rid of this bug? It may be too late for this plant but any information will help in the future.
Should a bay leaf plant housed indoors for the winter be watered less? I water it once a week.

Kenny Point February 28, 2010 at 8:05 am

Hi Donna, is it a flying insect? You might try a soap spray or use yellow sticky traps “if” they are causing a problem or stressing the bay plant. DON”T give up on the plant, I had one that totally dried out and turned brown. Gave it up as dead and sat it out on the patio in the spring until I could get rid of it. Lo and behold it later began sprouting out from the base. I pruned back all of the dead wood and the bay laurel plant is doing great and looks even better today! I think that you should water them a little less but it will partly depend on the specific growing conditions in your home.

Cynthia February 28, 2010 at 5:03 pm

I agree with Kenny. My 15 year old bay, either from neglect, overwatering, or bugs, looked dead one year. I pruned it, added compost tea, put it out in a partial sun/shade area for the summer, (zone 6), and it came back fantastic.

donna March 1, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Great, hope it holds up until it is warm enough to put outside, I applied its first soap spray last night to get rid of the aphids. Thanks for your help

Jenny March 18, 2010 at 2:55 pm

I have had problems with scale insects with my bay trees. They are little white insects which sit on the underneath of the leaves. A bit like limpets, they clamp on to the leaf (often near veins). Becasue they have their hard insect shell over the top of them, many treatments don’t work… these have to be removed the hard way. Soak a cloth in soapy water and rub them off. They can’t just be washed off – if you’ve got these you’ll have to turn over every leaf and rub off every insect! My plants have recovered in the past. This year though the extreme temperature got my largest bay tree and has killed about 90% of it :-(

Anne Bennett March 21, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Suggestions to Jenny regarding her scale insect infestation:
1) Put 1 cup lemon dish washing soap in a fertilizer sprayer, connect it to your garden hose, and spray this soapy diluted solution onto the entire plant / tree, including trunk / stem, branches, foliage and ground around the base of the plant / tree to kill live scale insects. After a few days, check to see if the scale is dead by taking some scale off the tree and rub the scale into your fingers. If your fingers turn orange, the scale is still alive. Spray the soapy solution on your tree again. The soap will not hurt the plant, so you can reply it many times.

2) Clean up around the base of the plant to reduce an environment conducive to harboring scale eggs.

3) If the above does not work, then apply liquid Bayer systemic to the roots of the plant (follow the directions carefully and be sure to check whether this product can be used on a Bay tree). Bayer will retard (not eradicate) the growth of scale and reduce the number of scale eggs that will hatch. This product is expensive and it lasts one year from date of application.

If this does not work, then is possible move the plant/tree to another location to reduce stress such as too much sun. Generally insects do not attack a plant unless its immune system as been impaired.

Hope this helps.

0Richard Biondo March 22, 2010 at 8:36 am

My bay leaf plant is 5 years old. It just produced new shoots but alot of the old leaves are drying out. What does this mean and What can I do.

Kenny Point March 22, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Hi Richard, it sounds like your bay laurel plant has been under-watered and once the leaves have started to dry out that’s a bad sign. It happened to one of my plants and I thought it had died but instead it must have just gone dormant. Weeks later after being set outside where it received rain and sunshine it recovered and began sprouting new shoots from its base. I would water the plant regularly, move it outdoors if temps are warm enough, and watch to see how it reacts. If it seems to die back wait to see if new growth appears and then prune out any dead branches. Good luck!

PattyLamb April 21, 2010 at 3:25 pm

My bayleaf plant is 4 years old. When I bought it it was six inches tall. I planted it in a container indoors and placed on a table next to the window. The sun hits it every morning.( I haven’t move my plant outdoors. I’m leaving in CT) I noticed, this plant just grow new shoots from the top of the main and ONLY stem. The plant is now 3 feet tall. I would like to know what should I do to get the plant to produce new shoots from its base and encourage it to branching and bushier grow.
Please somebody can help me and give me any advise??

Thank you in advance.

scott April 29, 2010 at 4:08 am

I have dried out two bay laurels… the stem still appears to be green… isn’t there any way they can be brought back????
Please help anyone!

Kenny Point April 29, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Scott, I would just continue treating the bay plant as if it were alive… get it outdoors, keep it watered, and wait. Look for it to sprout new branches towards the base of the trunk and prune back any dead branches after the tree recovers. Good Luck!

garbanzoeater May 26, 2010 at 9:48 pm

I’ve grown a bay tree for over 15 years that I started from a cutting myself. They are not hard to grow indoors in a northern climate (Long Island). I root prune it every other year in the early spring because I can’t find a bigger terra cotta pot for it. Therefore, it must be “bonsaied.” Of course you prune it back moderately (15-20% of top growth) when you do this. Use the leaves for cooking. I use Osmocote or something similar for fertilizer. I bring it indoors late Nov to Dec and bring it back out in March. I place it indoors away from direct sun and I give it 2 liters of water 1x a week. You want to induce a semi dormant state, tender growth is undesirable in winter. Remember, young cuttings are very fragile until a good root system develops. Don’t let them dry out or put them in the hot sun, at least not yet!

caronell October 9, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Hi All -
I think that the hardest thing on bay laurels is direct sun. Mine is in a container in almost complete shade/indirect sun and has been vigorously growing new shoots from spring unil now (October). I read somewhere that they like to be pruned in the fall, so have been doing quite a vigorous pruning (harvesting) to shape the plant.

I’ve repotted, and potted up some cuttings, and am planning to put the whole shebang inside at an east-facing slider, so fingers crossed.
I’m in Vancouver canada, so our winters are generally pretty mild, altho this year is the opposite of an el-ninio, which is supposed to mean lots of snow and lower temperature.

Dabido October 12, 2010 at 10:35 pm

I have had a bay laurel in a large Italian terra cotta pot for several years. It stays outdoors year round and survives our winters (Portland, Oregon). I would like to put it in the ground, but don’t know how much shade/sun is best. It has been shaded by large trees where it sits and is pretty lanky rather than shrubby. I would like it to be more of a shrub or small tree. Pruning one time did not really help. The remaining shoots/branches just shot out longer than ever. I assume this is because it needs more light, but don’t know for sure. Suggestions?

Kenny Point October 14, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Hello Dabido, my Bay trees receive full sun and do well growing under those conditions. Pruning also did help them to branch and become bushier. It does sound like your tree could use a sunnier location.

cindylou October 16, 2010 at 6:52 am

i was told by our local plant farm folks to place my Bay Laural tree in a spot that will protect it from north winds and afternoon sun, and to bring it indoors during the winter months. i was also told it does not do well if over-watered. So far it is doing well by following those instructions.

Debbi March 11, 2011 at 6:08 pm

I had a healthy beautiful Bay Laurel….that is until I trimmed the main shoot, trying to get it to bush. The bush branches were beautiful, but the main shoot, sprang very high and was out of proportion, so I trimmed it. My bay immediately began to die. All the leaves turned first yellow and then brown, and although I still see some green in the main shoot, the side shoots have died, and it appears the main shoot may as well. What did I do wrong, and what can I do to try to save it?

Kenny Point March 15, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Hi Debbi, sorry to hear about your Bay tree but I wouldn’t give up hope for it yet. I’ve had a tree revive after it was completely brown and I thought it was lost. I don’t know why it is reacting that way but for now I would only trim out the dead branches if any, and watch for signs of new growth. Has the bay tree been receiving adequate water? Is it growing indoors or outdoors, and what part of the country do you live in?

Daisychain April 12, 2011 at 11:49 am

Hi there, I have a four foot bay which has been in a pot for over 10 years. It became pot bound so I planted it out at the edge of my patio in place of a phormium which had been lost due to the last severe frost we had here (Bucks, uk). Since it has been in the ground we have had another very cold spell and the leaves started to get black spots, then turn brown, this has spread all over the tree to the point where there are about four leaves which are green. Most of the side shoots I have tried to bend have snapped off suggesting it is dead. There appear however to be some tiny buds starting right at the base. If I cut every dead-looking bit off this tree it will be miniscule…. is this the correct thing to do?? I really want to save it!!Thanks!

Kenny Point April 13, 2011 at 9:57 am

Hello, I would cut the bay tree back but not as far down as you have suggested. Then give it time to see if it will resprout. Good luck I hope it recovers and I had a tree that I just knew was completely dead… and today the same tree is over six feet tall and bushy.

Freda Wyatt April 21, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Hello
I have not lived in my home long and outside the back door i had this health green bush. It suddenly went brown the leafs are dried up. A friend of mine visited and said it was a bay leaf Bush, we checked the stem to see if it was dead but they are still green we also notice new growth at the bottom, what should i do cut it right down get rid of dead leaves or is the plant not worth saving HELP! this gardening life is new to me.

Kenny Point April 21, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Hi Freda, I would try to save the plant… just prune out the dead stuff, keep it watered as needed, and give it a chance to rebound. Good luck!

Andrea April 26, 2011 at 9:22 am

I live in Chicago and I have a small bay laurel plant that I bought last summer. So far, it’s still alive but I’m having a problem that I haven’t been able to find any answers for. Some of the mature leaves look like something is taking a big bite out of them. I figure that the “bites” are being done by some sort of aphid. Also, there are bright green new leaves forming, after they’ve grown to about a 1/2 inch, they turn dark brown and curl up and die. So I sprayed them with insecticidal soap. The new leaves look worse and it’s too soon to tell if the mature leaves are being helped. Does anyone know what might be causing this? I can send a photo if necessary. Thanks!

freddie May 4, 2011 at 2:03 pm

I have two bay trees growing next to one another outdoors, they are exposed to the wind. One tree is fine but the other has small black spots all over the leaves. These leaves are then turning brown and dying. Soon the tree won’t have any leaves left! What should I do? Looking online just seems to give conflicting advice.
Thanks

Ranelle June 8, 2011 at 6:46 am

Hello, I have my first bay leaf plant and love it. Its only 8″ tall and has two branches from main shoot (only shoot) I have it planted in a clay pot because in Kentucky I believe it has to come inside in the winter. I have noticed the main shoot has started to turn brown at the base, right were it goes into the dirt, anyone know what I can do?
THANKS IN ADVANCE.

Debbie January 27, 2012 at 8:15 pm

I have a bay leaf plant and for about a month and a half my leaves have like a clear sticky secretion on the on them. I moved it inside in the fall and it was doing ok, but I am beginning to worry that maybe I have watered it too much. Would this cause what I’ve described going on with the leaves or could it be something else?

lulu August 22, 2012 at 3:32 pm

anyone know why my friend’s bay leaf tree is oozing like oily stuff from its leaves. the ground is turning blacking cos of the drippings. is this some disease. i cannot find anything about this on line. what would help ? just prune it ? help.

joana November 20, 2012 at 1:04 pm

have exactly the same problem lulu, did you find an answer to that?

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