We use Bay leaves in our soups and stews, but did you ever wonder how to grow your own bay leaf tree? The seasoning is so normal to have in our cupboard it is easy to forget that the leaves are from a tree. The sweet bay leaf tree (Laurus nobilis) is a 40- to 50-foot tall tree native to the Mediterranean region. And its leaves were used to make wreaths on the heads of Olympic champions in Rome.
Bay can be grown simply as an ornamental. It has attractive leaves and can easily be pruned and sheared into topiary shapes.
In the spring, the sweet bay has small yellow flowers which develop into purple berries in the fall. However, frequent pruning will mean fewer flowers and berries.
The dark green leaves are full of flavour, especially when dried. As a seasoning, dried leaves are broken or crumbled into cooking foods and allowed to permeate the dish. The leaves don’t soften though when cooked and that is why we remove them before serving!
We currently have two in the garden started as small plants – they take a long time to grow which is why they are perfect for pots.
How to grow your own Bay tree
Bay trees in containers can live for 20 years or more if looked after well. In the open ground, they can easily live for 50 years. So, they are a herb which is well worth taking a bit of care over.
Decide first where you want to grow them – are you going to use them as a border, in pots or as a Tree in the garden. A lot depends on your location. I live in a place that can have hard frosts in winter so decided on pots that can be moved to shelter in wintertime.
Bays like Fertile, well-drained soil, or high quality organic potting soil. Which is what we planted them in. Young bay plants are best planted in the spring after all danger of frost has passed, giving plants time to establish before summer.
Start with a purchased plant, because bay stem cuttings are incredibly difficult to root. Spring and early summer are the best times to adopt a new bay plant. Outdoors, allow 2m (6ft) between plants being grown as a hedge. When grown in containers, gradually shift plants to a container at least 30cm (12″) in diameter.
The love a warm sheltered spot out of the wind. And you can train them into shapes, if you feel so inclined, by pruning them.
Give them a liquid organic feed in the growing season and water when it is dry it will love it.
How to grow Bay trees in the traditional Lollipop shape
To prune a young single-stemmed bay tree to become a lollipop tree first start by removing all the shoots from the main stem (but not the leaves) except the top main growing shoot. As the bay tree grows in height remove any shoots which appear, normally from between a leaf and the main stem.
After two to three years the stem should have grown to about 90cm / 3 foot. When the tree has reached just below the required height leave four to six of the topmost shoots which emerge from the main stem to grow. These shoots will then form the bushy top part of the lollipop tree. Prune out the tip of the main stem to stop the tree growing higher.
As the top shoots grow, prune the tips after each shoot has formed two to three side shoots. Make sure you prune down to a bud which is facing inwards to encourage a dense top of the lollipop.
Stem or leaves as desired from early summer to autumn. In midsummer, gather perfect small branches and dry them in small bunches. Stored dried leaves in airtight containers.
Repot them every other year and prune any wild branches to keep in shape. Do this and you will have bay trees for years to come.
My Bay Plants are for a re-pot this year!
If you enjoyed this herb guide you can find more form our Snapshot and Snippets Herb garden
- Parsley in the herb garden
- Growing Rosemary in the Herb garden
- 10 great reasons to grow Lemon Balm
- Growing Basil Successfully
- The Herb guides – Growing Chives
- Tarragon in the Herb Garden
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