Bay trees are low maintenance and with just a little bit of pruning in the summer it’s easy to keep in good shape. Read through our bay tree care guide and learn everything you need to know on how to look after a bay tree.
Bay Tree Quick Facts:
- Latin name: Laurus nobilis
- Position: Bay trees love a sunny or partially shaded area of the garden.
- Watering: Water regularly with well-drained soil during the growing season. Don't allow roots to stand in water. Less water is required in winter but don't allow to dry out.
- Hardiness: Mostly Hardy, can withstand temperatures down to -5°C. Bay trees may need extra protection from frost in winter, especially younger plants.
- Pruning: Prune in spring and summer for shape. Conduct any hard pruning in spring with a lighter pruning in summer. An ideal evergreen topiary tree that can be clipped into a wide variety of shapes.
- Soil Type: Well-drained and fertile. If planted in a container, re-pot every 2 years.
- Planting: Great for container growing and planting in the garden.
- Feeding: Mulch topsoil with organic fertiliser and add slow release fertiliser to the compost during the growing season. Feeding is not needed throughout winter.
- Care Difficulty: Moderate
Our range of ornamental bay trees have been carefully trained and pruned to grow in very specific shapes - designed to add sophisticated flair to your garden, porch or patio.
Once trained by our specialists on the nursery, maintaining this shape should be easy, plus growing them will also provide you with a supply of fresh and fragrant bay leaves - what a treat!
Pot Growing Bay Trees
The best way for a novice gardener to grow bay trees in the UK is to grow them in containers.
A pot grown bay tree prefers a sunny, sheltered location in the garden. This ensures that the tree will get enough sun throughout the year but allows for it to be moved when winter comes around and the temperature starts dropping into the minus figures.
When to Repot a Bay Tree
Repot your tree into a larger container in the first 12 months, to give the roots more space to grow; spring is usually the best time to carry this out. Remember to always choose deep pots with good drainage holes.
How to Repot a Bay Tree
To repot your bay tree follow the tips below:
- We advise that you withhold water for a couple of days in advance to allow the soil to dry out slightly.
- Loosen the soil around the edge of the pot and pull the tree out by the base of the main stem
- Add some extra soil into the bottom of the new pot before you insert the plant. We recommend John Innes number two for bay trees - with 10-20% added horticultural grit or perlite to improve drainage.
- Fill in with a mix of soil, compost and grit
- Water the plant thoroughly, and keep it well watered for several weeks to allow the roots to bed in.
After this first repotting your tree will need to be repotted every few years as it continues to grow and deplete the nutrients in the potting soil. If the tree is too large to re-pot, you could refresh the potting soil by replacing up to 50% of the old soil with fresh.
Bay Tree Feeding
Bay trees become hungry during their growing season and may need some slow-release fertiliser. Start adding slow-release fertiliser granules throughout spring or summer or by adding a layer of organic matter (mulch) to the topsoil. This will allow for the nutrients to penetrate the soil slowly for the tree to use. Avoid using any fast, liquid fertilisers on your bay tree.
Throughout winter when the bay tree is less active is should not require any feed or fertiliser.
Bay Tree Watering
Just like other potted plants, pot grown bay trees have restricted access to water, so will need to be watered regularly in hot or dry periods.
Water the tree regularly throughout the summer checking the soil every couple of days. Check by feeling the top first inches of soil. If it feels dry then give the tree a deep watering making sure that the water can drain away freely from the pot.
Bays do not react well to having wet feet or waterlogged soil so make sure the pot has good drainage is an important step. If you suspect that the pot isn't draining well enough then you will need to look to some ways to improve it.
In the short term, under watering will be much less harmful than overwatering, so always be modest with the watering can!
Bay Tree Pruning
Conduct the hard pruning of your bay tree in the springtime. This is the best time to get the initial shaping in for the tree. Once the tree starts in the growing season you may need to get another lighter pruning done in the summer just to neaten up the shape.
To keep the tree healthy trim back any new shoots and inward-facing buds.
Bay trees tend to grow more quickly, so may need additional pruning in summer to maintain a good shape. Simply trim back new shoots to an inwards facing buds
In summer, pinch back the tips of any stems that have grown too long, to limit vertical growth and encourage fruiting side shoots.
When to Prune a Bay Tree
Bay trees can take a light pruning throughout most of the year, however, the best time for you to start your pruning is in late spring which can then be finished throughout the summer.
In summer, your bay tree will be growing much more vigorously and pushing out lots of new growth. This means it may need a bit of light additional pruning to ensure it maintains a good shape.
How to Prune a Bay Tree
In summer, start by pinch back the tips of any stems that have grown too long, to limit vertical growth and encourage fruiting side shoots.
Pruning a bay tree to maintain a good shape consists of removing any new shoots and inward-facing buds that are affecting the overall silhouette you are wanting to achieve.
For general health, prune away any dead, diseased or dying branches so that the tree can put its energy in the healthy new growth instead. Cut back diseased branches to the closest healthy bud that is pointing in the direction you wish for it to grow.
While bay trees can take a light pruning it may take them extra time to recover from a very harsh prune.
When to Harvest Bay Leaves
Bay leaves are used within a variety of different cuisines and recipes. From flavouring different types of meats to soups, stews and more they are very versatile in the kitchen.
They can be harvested year round and used fresh so you can pluck them whenever you need them, however, if you wish to dry them to skip the trip to the garden each time then the best time to do this is throughout summer.
June and July are when the leaves have the highest content of their aromatic essential oils. This means you get the most fragrant leaves to dry. To get the leaves at their freshest and highest quality they should be picked from the tree just after the morning dew has evaporated from the leaves.
Fruit and Flowers
Bay trees can produce tiny little yellow flowers. In order to produce any fruits, the female tree needs to be pollinated so if there is only the one tree then it may never produce fruits.
Bay Tree Problems
Bays are evergreen trees and while it is normal for them to drop a couple of their leaves here and there make sure to keep an eye on it if the issue starts to get worse.
As bay varieties are used to hotter climates, watering them too much is an issue and they will not tolerate having wet feet. If your bay is planted in the ground make sure the drainage of the soil is sufficient enough. You can improve soils drainage by adding organic matter or grit to the soil.
Cold and Frost
A cold snap can do much damage to many plants but especially the Mediterranean varieties. Bay trees can be pretty hardy when it comes to being in our UK gardens but beware of weather dropping below 5 degrees and try to protect your trees from any frost.
Nitrogen DeficiencyIf your tree isn't overwatered, underwatered or affected by frost and the leaves are still turning yellow this is a sign of another issue. Yellowing leaves on a bay tree can also be an indication of nitrogen deficiency. This can be fixed easily by adding a good layer of mulch to the surrounding soil. There are many other issues that can arise with bay trees due to minerals in the soil. It may be wise to conduct a soil test to see what minerals are lacking in the surrounding soil. The cure will be based on your findings.
Bay Tree Winter Care
Bay trees are hardy down to around -5°C, however, as soon as temperatures drop close to 0°C we recommend moving your tree to somewhere more sheltered.
If you live in a particularly cold area then we suggest moving the tree to an unheated greenhouse or conservatory to protect it from the extreme temperature and frosts.
In milder areas, the tree can be moved to a sheltered area of the garden away from any frost pockets or cold, harsh winds.
Send a High-Quality Bay Tree as a gift
Bay trees make wonderful gifts for foodies and are extremely popular to send for birthdays, new babies and weddings.
We have various sizes and styles of bays our most interesting is probably the double stem corkscrew bay tree. The intricate double helix stem will add an elegant flare of style to any garden.