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HOW TO CARE FOR BAY TREES


Bay trees in containers can live for 20 years or more if looked after well, in open ground they can easily live for 50 years. So, they are a herb which is well worth taking a bit of care over.

The glossy green leaves look superb and of course, they are used in a large number of recipes.

Bay tree flower
Bay tree flowers 

Take it one step further with topiary and you can have an evergreen, glossy-leaved work of art which has an edible crop. Although not fully hardy, Bay trees will withstand a few degrees of frost especially if grown in a protected position or near the wall of a heated house.

 
BAY TREES IN CONTAINERS OR OPEN GROUND?


This article is primarily about growing bay trees in containers however they can also be grown in the open ground when given the correct conditions. The particular requirements for growing open ground bay trees are:
  • a temperature which does not drop below -5°C (32°F). Below this temperature the tree may be damaged especially if subjected to windy conditions at the same time. We have seen bay trees grown successfully in temperatures lower than this but they are in well-protected positions and generally next to the walls of heated buildings. For more detailed information about how frost affects bay trees and how to prevent it, click here.
     
  • the soil must be free-draining, heavy clay soil is not suitable. If your soil is clay then digging out a large area and mixing the soil with lots of compost and sharp sand can make the conditions OK.
     
  • their position should be protected from strong winds which would damage the leaves. They prefer a full sun or lightly shaded position in the UK.

If you can provide these conditions then you also need to remember that bay trees which are not regularly pruned can reach a height and width of 12m (38ft) so allow enough space when planting.

GROWING BAY TREES IN CONTAINERS


Bay trees grown in containers generally take three forms. The bush tree as seen in the picture below, (click to enlarge the picture), standard or lollipop formed, and those which have been subjected to topiary and grown into a specific shape.

Container grown trees thrive on being regularly pruned either into specific shapes or simply pruned to keep them to a required height and spread. Not only are they excellent evergreen plants but at the same time their leaves can be used for a huge number of cooking recipes.



BEST POSITION FOR BAY TREES IN CONTAINERS


The best place to position your bay tree is based on years of experience. Getting the correct position will go a long way to avoiding those dreaded brown leaves and other environmental problems. In summary:
  1. The first rule is to grow your bay tree out of harsh winds. That includes both cold winter winds and scorching summer breezes. We would go so far as to say that this rule is the most important of all.
     
  2. In a position where it won't get too much water. This is especially important in spring, autumn and winter where natural UK rainfall levels will be higher than in summer. Bay trees do not like water-logged roots at all. Place the pot / container on stands if possible to allow excess water to drain away as quickly as possible.
     
  3. In winter, position the container either in an unheated greenhouse or outside against a heated house wall. This will prevent wind burn and provide some minimal protection against harsh cold weather. Never bring your bay tree into a heated house, it will damage it, significantly in most cases.
     
  4. In full sun or semi-shade? Before you decide on that make sure the 3 conditions above have been satisfied. If they have, your bay tree will grow very happily in semi-shade although they have a slight preference for full sun in normal UK weather conditions.

A potted bay tree bush

BUYING BAY TREES IN CONTAINERS


Buying bay trees can be something of a minefield. Pictures on the internet are often misleading as far as true size is concerned and of course, the bay tree you receive may well not be anywhere as good as the picture portrays!

It's not unusual to pay £50 for a standard lollipop bay tree in good condition so make sure you buy from a reputable company. You may pay a couple of pounds more but you are far more likely to receive a tree which is worth the money.

Packing is also important, a badly packaged or transported bay tree can easily be damaged. Customer service is also vital if there is a problem. Choose a company which has been in business for several years at least, that in itself a guarantee. Companies which have traded for many years are still trading for a reason.

Out of all of them, our personal recommendation would go to Crocus at the current time. Click here if you want to order a bay tree from them online.

BAY TREE CARE


When you buy a potted bush bay tree it may have been grown so that a number of shoots, growing from the main roots, form the young tree you see above ground. This provides you with an ideal opportunity to split off one or two of the shoots and replant them as separate bay trees. These individual shoots are perfect material for forming another bush or experimenting and start growing a standard bay tree - all for the cost of a single plant.

One online supplier of Bay trees supplies them grown with multiple stems, Victoriana Nursery. If you click on our link to them here you will automatically be given a 10% discount (on everything you buy from them) at the checkout summary. No codes, no fuss just a 10% discount!

To do this gently burrow into the compost around the base of a shoot and trace it down as far as you can. At that point break it from the main root with as much of the stem roots in tact as possible. Now just pot it up in multi-purpose compost to the same depth and water well. The bay stem will grow away with almost no check whatsoever.

Your new bay tree will, in all likelihood, benefit from being potted up soon after you buy it. Multi-purpose potting compost will do just fine especially if the pot has a bit of weight to it. If the pot is a light plastic then you can give it some weight by potting the new plant into John Innes Number 2 compost. Drainage is important so add some stones to the base of the pot before adding compost.

When potting up a bay tree only transfer it to a pot which slightly bigger than the previous one - 5cm / 2in wider at most. If a potted bay tree is given too much room it can often suffer for a long period of time.

For more drainage it's a good idea to put pot feet under the base of the pot to keep it off the ground and let excess water flow away in rainy conditions. As far as feeding is concerned, a small handful of long-lasting fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone once a month (April to September) will do just fine. Sprinkle it over the surface of the soil and gently work it in to stop it blowing away.

Water sparingly only when the soil surface is definitely dry. Every three years or so re-pot your bay tree into a slightly large container. Take this chance to gently tease some of the old compost from the roots and the surface, replacing it with new compost.

WHEN AND HOW TO PRUNE BAY TREES IN CONTAINERS AND POTS


Bay trees are very tolerant of minor pruning although when they are hard-pruned they may take a year or so to recover. The best time to prune you bay tree is in late spring through to mid summer. Cut away and dead or damaged leaves to a healthy bud which is facing in the direction you want the stem to grow. Cut to shape in exactly the same way. We would suggest that a maximum height of 135cm / 4ft 6in is about the tallest most people can effectively manage for an untrained bush shaped bay tree.

Bay trees often throw up "suckers" or new shoots from just below or just above the soil level. That's fine if you are growing them in a bush shape, they will simply expand the plant at the base which is beneficial. However, if you are growing standard bay trees with a bare stem these suckers don't look good. They should be pruned off with a sharp pair of secateurs if growing above soil level. If growing below soil level just remove some of the soil around the base of the sucker and prune it off as low down as possible. The sucker may appear again in a few months so just do the same again. It doesn't take many attempts (most times one will do) before the shoot stays pruned! The pruned suckers can be used to propagate new bay trees but that is outside the scope of this article.

WHEN AND HOW TO PRUNE LARGE BAY TREES


Large bay trees withstand even very hard pruning very well including cutting back the main trunk, it's difficult to permanently damage an established one. However they are well known for taking two or three years to get back into shape. Like many trees they are best pruned in late spring during a dry period. The plan of action, if you want to halve the size of a large bay tree without disfiguring it completely, would be to prune away about a quarter of the tree in year one then slightly less in year two and finally tidy it up to the required size in year three. Regular pruning after that annually in early spring will keep it to the size you want. It really is that simple!

Your next question may well be what can the bay tree wood and leaves be used for? Obviously some of the leaves should be dried out and given to friends and family for use as a herb. If you have kids then they will find it fun to make a bay laurel wreath either to crown their heads or hang off the door. Young, new bay tree wood can be carved and if you have any really large branches then trim them up to make a walking stick. Let the wood season and dry out before using it and you will have a walking stick for life.

PRUNING BAY TREES TO A LOLLIPOP / STANDARD SHAPE


There is very little information on the internet showing how to prune bay trees to a lollipop shape because the process takes three to four years. However we have done exactly that and the picture on the right shows the results of our efforts - click the picture to enlarge it.

Two things particularly surprised us when growing this bay tree, the first being how easy it was to achieve even though it took four years. The second surprise was how little support the tree required. That slim cane you see supporting the trunk has stood the test of time.

A lollipop / standard trained bay tree

If you enlarge the picture you'll see more clearly that maybe the top lollipop part of the bay tree isn't as tight as shop bought ones but remember a bay lollipop tree of this height would probably cost you in excess of £60 in a garden centre. If we wanted to improve the shape we would prune the stems again to only two shoots to keep a tighter round shape at the top.

To prune a young single-stemmed bay tree to become a lollipop or standard bay 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 them 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.

Standard bay trees are liable to snapping in high winds and will need the support of a cane tied into the main stem. In the initial stages of growth, without a support, your tree will probably very soon start to list to one side and it is at this stage that a cane will be required. This is not so much to support it (when young the stems are very flexible) but more to ensure the main trunk grows upright and straight. As the tree grows more, the support will become too short and you will need to replace it with a taller cane, you may need to do this three or four times.

Tie the main trunk to the support cane at several points as it grows.

The first picture below shows a young bay tree growing slightly lop-sided. The second picture below shows the same tree tied into a bamboo cane to encourage it to grow straight upwards. Click either of the pictures to enlarge them and see more clearly.

A young single stemmed bay tree
 

Young bay tree tied to supporting stem


KEEPING THE LOLLIPOP SHAPE


If you don't prune a lollipop shaped bay tree it will tend to lose some of its shape over a few years. Two things will happen, firstly some stems will grow longer than others causing the ball shape to become uneven. Secondly the ball shape will become less tight and the stems will spread out rather loosely. There's nothing wrong with this, however some people do prefer to maintain the tight shape as it was when they bought the plant.

To help do this prune the stems two or three times a year using a pair of secateurs. Prune them to the length you want to maintain the shape. You will find that there are not many stems to prune if you do it regularly but it will encourage other stems to form which will make the shape more dense.

Plant supports

When you prune a stem always do it to an inward facing bud even if that means pruning it slightly too short. When the bud just below the cut starts to grow it will then grow inwards rather than outwards which also helps maintain the tight lollipop shape.


RECOMMENDED VARIETIES OF BAY TREES


There are very few varieties of bay tree aside from the normal one found at garden centres, Laurus nobilis. The other alternative is to go for the cultivar Laurus nobilis Aurea which has yellower leaves.

PESTS AND DISEASES OF BAY TREES


You are unlikely to suffer from pests and diseases with bay trees, most problems are caused by over-watering and exposure to cold and windy conditions. If you see any small scaled insect (especially on the underside of leaves) these are almost certainly bay sucker and the best cure is to spot it early and remove them by hand. If a few leaves are badly affected prune them off.

BLACK POWDER COATING ON LEAVES


This often looks like a fine layer of soot and can affect all the leaves or just a few. It is caused by sap-sucking insects such as aphids which excrete a sugary liquid. This liquid attracts moulds and that is what causes the leaves to appear to be coated in black.

Firstly, wash away the black coating with water. If that doesn't remove it, add a couple of drops of washing up liquid to the water and wash off with that. You will need to wash each leaf individually with a cloth. This will not only make the leaves look and photosynthesise better but it will avoid the unwanted attraction of other insects such as wasps, bees who feed off the sugary liquid.

Then you need to treat the insects which are causing the problem. Simply washing the leaves individually will remove aphids, pay particular attention to the undersides of the leaves. If that doesn't work then a trip to the garden centre for a general purpose insecticide may be required.

BROWN OR YELLOW LEAVES


The most commonly heard complaint is why bay tree leaves are turning yellow or brown and dyeing off. The first step in remedying this problem is to rule out the bay tree sucker as the cause of the damage. If it's bay tree sucker then the new and younger leaves will be curling inwards, older leaves will be mainly unaffected. When you uncurl a damaged leaf you will likely see a tiny woolly insect possibly with some white fluffy cobweb stuff around or near it. If this is the case, see the previous paragraph.

Browning leaves on a bay tree

If not, the cause of the brown leaves is almost certainly environmental - too much or too little water possibly, damage from cold and wind or occasionally too much heat. The key to coping with this damage is to get the conditions correct for your bay tree. Follow the steps below and then wait and see what happens over the next six months, chances are that your tree will recover:

  1. Over-watering, this can be caused by hand watering, badly positioned containers or just too much rain.
    ACTION
    If the container is in a tray then remove it from the tray and put it on pot legs or at least a brick or two to ensure it never stands in water and allows maximum drainage. Only water the plant when the top part of the soil is dry. To check, burrow a finger gently in the soil to a depth of about 3cm / 1in, if the soil feels at all damp at the base of your finger then don't water any more until it feels dry.
     
  2. Under-watering, in winter, spring and autumn (in the UK) this is rarely a problem as long as container grown bay trees are open to the elements. Natural rainfall is usually sufficient.
    ACTION
    In warm weather, summer in particular, a container grown bay tree needs regular watering to keep the soil moist but not water-logged.
     
  3. Cold and wind, either of these can cause significant browning and yellowing of leaves, if both conditions are present then you will certainly have problems. The problem may not be apparent for a couple of months so you need to protect your bay tree from these conditions throughout the year.
    ACTION
    Bay trees may well be damaged when the temperature drops below -5°C (32°F), so in winter position them near the walls of a heated house out of the way of strong winds. Often the best place in winter is in a corner between a fence on one side and the walls of the house on the other. They should be moved to a more open position in summer. Clear the area around the container of all vegetation and preferably place it on a layer of gravel. For more detailed information about how frost affects bay trees and how to prevent it, click here.
     
  4. General care, dead leaves, compacted soil and lack of feeding can all contribute to the general health of your bay tree. If you decide that browning leaves are a problem then take the following action as well.
    ACTION
    Remove the top 3cm / 1in of compost and replace it with clean, new compost.
    In spring and summer, if you haven't fed your bay tree for a few months, scatter some long-lasting fertiliser (blood, fish and bone but not a nitrogen rich fertiliser) onto the soil surface and gently work it into the surface. Only do this if you have forgotten to feed your plant previously and only a very small handful - a level tablespoon should be enough at first.
    Remove all leaves which are completely brown or yellow and dispose of them well away from the plant (preferably burn them).
    Over the next few months inspect your plant weekly (we are guilty of an almost daily look at our bay trees) and remove any damaged leaves. Be careful not to remove all the leaves at once because even partly damaged leaves contribute to the growth of a plant, but remove a few at a time. Damaged leaves attract bugs and disease and slowly removing them will improve the overall health of your bay tree.

WHITE MARKS ON BARK AND STEMS


See the picture below. This is the Wooly Scale insect and we have a section here devoted to this problem.

Wooly Scale insect on a bay tree

BARK IS PEELING OFF / CRACKING


This is an environmental problem rather than a pest or disease. With bay trees in containers the problem is caused mainly by overwatering and / or allowing the soil to dry out and then overwatering. Too much water is causing the trunk to swell and split the bark.

The solution is to restrict the amount of watering and also try and maintain an even level of moisture in the soil. Bay trees in containers are very tolerant of lack of water for a month or so. If this has occurred don't soak the soil with water, water it back to a moist condition over a month or so.

Bad drainage can also be a problem causing water to accumulate in the container. Raise the container slightly off the ground on gravel or pot legs.

Splitting / peeling and cracking bark can also be caused by prolonged periods of very cold weather. The frost gets into small existing cracks and opens them up.

Victoriana Nursery Bay Trees

There is nothing which can be done once the bark is split but if the upper part of the tree has healthy leaves on it the tree will, in all probability, be fine if drainage is increased. In cold weather move containerised trees to a protected position against the side of a house or into an unheated greenhouse.

BAY TREE LEAVES HAVE HOLES IN THEM


There are two main causes of holes in the leaves and they can easily be differentiated. There is also a third, less common cause, which is the leaf cutter bee. If the damage is to the edges of the leaves it is most likely caused by vine weevils. The damage looks like a bug has munched on the edges of the leaves leaving semi-circular, ragged damage. The picture below illustrates the damage.

Vine Weevil leaf damage
Typical Vine Weevil leaf damage.
Picture courtesy of
http://www.fuchsiaclark.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk

Vine weevils can cause significant damage to all bay trees (the leaf damage is just the start) especially those in containers. Take action immediately as described in our page on how to identify and treat this pest.

The other common cause of holes in bay tree leaves is called Shot hole which is a fungal infection. the picture below shows the typical hole damage to the leaves which are not normally around the edge.

Shothole damage on a plum tree
Shot hole damage to leaves

The damage first appears as brown circular marks on the leaves. The brown spots fall out leaving holes.

The copper fungicide Bordeaux Mixture has previously been recommended as a spray to prevent fungal diseases in bay trees. However it has now (or soon will be) withdrawn from sale in the UK. Currently there are no alternatives which have been scientifically proven to be anywhere near as effective as Bordeaux Mixture

Various alternatives are suggested, for example aspirin solution or milk, but none have been proven to have any effect.

The fungus can also be controlled simply by reducing the number of affected leaves and buds. Firstly, remove all fallen leaves and twigs from around the base of the tree. If the area is water logged, try to provide good drainage to reduce humidity. Prune off affected twigs which have infected buds.

Bay tree leaves can occasionally be damaged by leaf cutter bees although they tend to go for other plants first. The damage they do is similar to the vine weevil picture further above this article. But leaf cutter bees are tidy and neat bugs and the holes at the edges of the leaves are very rounded and not ragged.

Also, you should see the bees at work if they are affecting your bay tree. Our advice is to do nothing, the damage is normally minor and they are unlikely to return to the same site next year. If you spray chemicals to kill these bees the spray will also kill other valuable garden insects.

COOKING AND BAY LEAVES


Bay leaves are normally sold in shops and supermarkets in their dried form and they retain most of their flavour for about six months. To retain this flavour store them in an airtight container kept in a cool, dark place.

Freshly picked bay leaves have a slightly stronger flavour and if you have grown them yourself you know exactly what chemicals and preservatives have been used in their cultivation - hopefully none. The flavour and aroma, dried or fresh, provides a background to many soup, meat and sauces recipes. In Europe the main source is from Turkey and they come from the true bay leaf tree Laurus nobilis. In some other parts of the world they use what is known as the Californian bay tree but this is in fact not a bay leaf tree, it is Umbellularia californica.

To dry bay leaves, cut a couple of stems from your plant and hang them by cotton in a warm dry place. They will have dried out after two to three weeks and can then be put in an airtight jar or plastic bag for use whenever required.

DO BAY TREES HAVE FLOWERS?


We are asked this question frequently and the simple answer is yes. The picture below proves it beyond doubt!

Flower on a bay tree

In our experience flowers are produced in April / May time but only on mature specimens. Younger bay trees do not produce flowers. The flowers are very small, about the size of a five pence piece. We don't remove them because they are unlikely to affect the growth of a mature bay tree.

Flowers on a standard bay tree
Flowers on a standard Bay Tree
Click to enlarge picture

Another question we are asked is are there male and female forms of bay trees and if so how do they differ? The answer is that yes, there are male and female forms. The difference becomes apparent in autumn. Female forms will produce berries (and they contain seeds) whereas male forms of bay trees do not generally produce berries.

BAY TREE LEAVES AND WOOD CHIPS AS A MULCH?


Bay tree leaves and the wood is generally regarded as being acidic, they also take a long time to compost down well. For these reasons we would use them sparingly on a compost heap or as a mulch. In small doses they are fine but not as a main ingredient for compost or mulch.

BACK TO MAIN VEGETABLE PAGE


COMMENTS / QUESTIONS LEFT BY OUR READERS

Date: 20 March 2017 From: Natalie
QUESTION: I hope you can help with some advice I'm looking for with regards re-potting a bay tree. I've attached a photo of the tree and the pot I'm planning to plant it in. I'm just wondering if this pot is big enough for this tree as it is fairly big and has a large trunk - appears to be bigger than the examples I've seen on your web page. I would really appreciate your knowledge on this as I've never had a bay tree.

Bay tree ready for re-potting

ANSWER: That looks to be about the size of my largest potted bay tree and it is in a pot about the size you show on the right so you will be OK. Good luck.


Date: 19 February 2016 From: Joan
QUESTION: Hi, I wonder if you can help me with my problem regarding a bay tree.
I had a huge tree cut down in the garden, but when this was done one of the huge branches fell and damaged the Bay tree which has been my pride and joy for a number of years. It still looks healthy, however I’m wondering if I can cut the rest of it to retain the lollipop effect it had before the damage was done.
It is at least 10 years old and now looks quite ‘leggy’ as I’ve been nervous of cutting into it.
Can you give any advice please ?

ANSWER: I wouldn't be nervous about trimming a lollipop bay tree, they are very resilient and it's hard to damage them by pruning. If pruned hard they do take longer to recover compared to other shrubs but they will recover.
As far as reshaping your damaged tree, I would just prune back to the lollipop shape and wait for it to bush out and bulk up. One key point with a lollipop bay tree is to prune back to an inward facing bud. This will help keep the shape tight. See this section above for a more detailed explanation.


Date: 14 January 2016 From: Frances
QUESTION: My two lollipop bay trees are in pots protected from most of the elements by our front porch. They are completely dry and I am wondering whether to water them at all bearing in mind that the weather is about to change to very cold conditions. I last watered them about a month ago. I have had them for 3 years and don't want to kill them by watering them and then it freezing! I would appreciate your advice please.

ANSWER: I always keep my bay trees on the dry side in winter. It's not so much freezing water in the compost, more because they simply need very little water in winter. But I wouldn't keep the compost bone dry. If it really is dry I would water sparingly (half a pint) once and leave it for a week or two. Then check again and maybe water once more if still dry.


Date: 07 January 2016 From: Verona C
QUESTION: I do not have green fingers, but I've always wanted a Bay Tree.
On the advice of the label with my lollipop Bay Tree, I took it indoors. The label said to take it indoors if the temperature was to drop below 5 degrees. I may have read that wrong. It may have been -5. In any case, I took it indoors in or around early November. I didn't water it for quite a while as directed. I then gave it a cup of water in a dish beneath the tree and a little directly at the base of the main stem.
In the last week or two, the leaves have started to curl over and although not yellow are definately yellowy green. The leaves are very dry. There is also some brown spotting on some of the leaves. One of the trees is in my son's bedroom which is quite warm and the other one is in my downstairs bathroom which has no heat in it but no window either. Neither tree are doing well. Should I put them back outside. The temperatures are currently around 0 - 2 degrees. Also, the weather was way too wet this year to leave them outside. I could put them in a shed but it has no windows either.
Any advice? My house is South facing and gets all the South Westerly winds both winter and summer. The back of the house is north facing. Those are the only two sides I can put the trees. I would appreciate any advise you can give me please.

ANSWER: I would give the same advice as in the question immediately below. Certainly the advice to move it indoors at 5 degrees is simply wrong. Minus 5 is about right but get it back outside as soon as possible. In winter I would try and avoid too much water so position it where that is avoided. If the tree is outside in winter for the majority of the time low light levels won't be a problem. Simply move the plants to the sunny side when the rainfall reduces.


Date: 28 December 2015 From: Saundra W
QUESTION: My potted laurel tree is in the house for the winter, as I live in KS. The leaves look greasy/wet, is that normal?

ANSWER: Keeping any type of tree indoors will almost always cause them problems, the atmosphere in a house is not natural for them.

The leaves should not be greasy / wet, that could possibly be the start of a fungal or insect attack. My advice would be to get the tree outside and only bring it inside in very low temperatures. For example, if the outside temperature is 25 at night the bay tree will be fine especially if placed near a house wall and out of the wind. If the temperature drops to 22 or below it will probably be best in the coolest part of the house overnight and then placed outside during the day.


Date: 7 September 2015 From: Not Given
QUESTION: I purchased a lollipop shaped bay tree earlier this year and it is growing well, however in order for me to keep the lovely round shape do I trim back with hedge clippers or pinch out with my fingers. I would hate to spoil the shape but do not want it to grow too large.

ANSWER: I have added a new section above entitled 'Keeping The Lollipop Shape' to answer this question


Date: 19 August 2015 From: Tombochan
QUESTION: Thank you for such a thorough article on bay trees. I have a 3 year old bay tree in a container, sadly last winter the leaves turned brown and all of them fell of, despite a lot of effort to correct the watering. Some of the branches dried off too, and were easy to snap off. However, the tree still seems to be alive, as the remaining branches and the trunk is still supple, but no leaves remain. It did not bring any new leaves or shoots at all this summer. Is there a chance of nursing this tree back to health, or should I give up on it altogether? Thank you. Thanks again!

ANSWER: You don't say if your bay tree is growing in a container or in open ground. I'm assuming it's in a container. If the tree hasn't produced any shoots at all this year then I think the chances of it recovering are very small. But its still worth waiting until next April. Don't water the tree unless it's very dry and don't feed. Good luck.


Date: 21 July 2015 From: Vincent B
QUESTION: We contacted you earlier this year asking about transplanting our bay trees. You were most helpful and as you can see from the result your advice regarding moving them proved to be brilliant. They are now in their new position, have grown considerably and we are very happy. Thanks again!

Replanted Bay trees


Date: 14 July 2015 From: Robert S
QUESTION: Bay tree in pot, leaves gone brown and new shoots coming up through soil. Is it possible to save existing plant or use new shoots to grow a new bay tree. Many thanks.

ANSWER: I would take a "failsafe" approach to this problem. First, I wouldn't give up on your existing bay tree. Cut the main tree down to soil level and let the new healthy shoots take over. They may well grow into a healthy new plant. At the same time I would take one or two new plants from the new shoots. see the link above for how to do this.


Date: 13 July 2015 From: Not Given
QUESTION: My bay tree has holes in the leaves otherwise OK... is something eating the leaves...could it be leaf cutter bees? I have not found any advice on line

ANSWER: We have added a new section above about holes in bay tree leaves leaves which can be found here.


Date: 12 July 2015 From: Kaye Bath
QUESTION: We have just moved to a new house. I have {2} 2year 0ld bay trees in pots but where we have moved is very windy even on a sunny day and my bay trees seem to be suffering the leaves are going yellow and brown. How can I do to help get my bay trees back to health. They are NOT happy trees and more advice on feeding.

ANSWER: Bay trees do not like windy conditions. You need to position them in a sheltered position until they recover. Keep the soil on the dry side and don't feed for the next three months (assuming they have previously been fed). Nitrogen feeds encourage lush green growth which is more prone to wind damage.


Date: 10 July 2015 From: Tracey
QUESTION: Novice Bay tree owner. Not sure how to prune. Lovely ball shaped when I received it but now looking a bit haywire. Do it snip from close or from the tips would like to get shape back if possible.

ANSWER: Lollipop bay trees naturally spread out slightly as they grow over the years. I suspect the professional growers keep them to shape before selling by either netting the tops or keeping them together with wire string. However an annual prune will do a very similar job.

Cut the wayward stems to about half / two thirds of their length and make sure you cut just above an inward facing bud. This will cause new growth to grow inward and maintain the ball shape. Prune gradually over a season rather all at one go. Don't give them a severe haircut - they will in all probability survive it but will take a couple of years to recover properly.


Date: 10 July 2015 From: Bev
QUESTION: I have 2 lollipop bay trees in containers but the bark is peeling, what causes this and what can I do?

ANSWER: I have added a section above about this problem and dealt with it in some detail. Click here to go there.


Date: 5 July 2015 From: Jill W
QUESTION: Is it possible to topiarise a laurel bush and, if so, what shapes would best suit it?

ANSWER: Bay trees have comparatively large leaves which are open. This makes it a difficult plant for topiary. I would suggest you search the internet with a search engine for images of bay trees and topiary. There are some variations on the basic shapes but not many.


Date: 4 July 2015 From: Sue S
QUESTION: We have been clearing our unkempt garden back and have found that our bay tree in the front of the house has seeded itself in amongst our Yew tree at the end of the back garden, it is approximately 8 foot tall but with a very thin trunk so not sure how it would withstand being moved, when and how would you advise us on moving it. We where hoping that we could put it into a pot but again not sure on what size would be appropriate.

ANSWER: Bay trees are a lot tougher than most people think, but, and it’s a big but, if grown in containers they need the correct treatment. Here’s what i would do.

First cut the tree down to 1m / 3ft. Harsh treatment but it won’t harm the tree over the long term. It's probbaly tall and thin because it is searching out light. Cut it down now. Then wait until autumn. Do not water the tree even in very dry conditions.

In autumn dig it up with as much rootball as you can. If you are transferring to a pot the rootball will need to fit in but only with a couple inches of extra space. I would suggest a pot no bigger than 45cm / 18in. A 30cm / 12in pot might look small but it also will be fine. If you will be re-planting in open ground, the larger the rootball the better.

For replanting in open ground make sure the position is protected from harsh winds. Semi shade or full sun are both fine. Personally, from years of experience, I would go for semi-shade if that means it is better protected from winds. If re-planting in a container use normal multi-purpose compost. Water in well and place the tree in semi-shade or dappled shade and well protected position. Do not water again unless the compost becomes absolutely dry. Do not feed until next spring. Treat the plant harshly as far as water and feed is concerned.


Date: 22 June 2015 From: Kris Levy
QUESTION: not sure what to do, so I hope you could help. My bay leaf sprig that I got from the plant store is slowly dying. I'm not sure why, because I know I don't ever water it and the soil is loose. The leaves of the plant are turning brown, not a yellow brown but a deep dark brown, and when the leaf if completely brown it starts to turn white and die. I get new growth, though of those buds had died, but when I have tried to place this plant outside the new growth just dies. The plant store just says it's too much water, even though it doesn't look the same as a over watered images I have looked up, and the pot I have it in is too big, but that doesn't make much sense and it doesn't look like the over watering images I looked up. If you need a picture I am more than happy to send you one.

ANSWER: The plant store is correctly identifying two key problems with newly bought and small bay tree plants, overwatering and potting up into too big a pot. We can rule out overwatering because you say it has not been watered at all. That then indicates that the new pot is too big and this could well be the case. Bay trees do not like being grown in pots which are large for their size.

You say that placing the plant outside results in some parts of the plant suffering. Bay trees should never be kept indoors, that most definitely will harm them, they need to be kept outside in all but the coldest weather. If the plant store will not give you a replacement I suggest you move the plant outside even if it does not appear to recover. Keep the compost slightly drier than normal, place the plant in light shade, cross your fingers and hope! Do not feed it for the next three months.


Date: 17 June 2015 From: Denise
QUESTION: My bay tree has white spots with a brown centre growing all up the trunk of the tree it actually looks like bird poo to look at. When you touch it, it's very sticky. What should I do.? It's about 4 years old.

ANSWER: It's difficult to be 100% sure without a picture but it sounds very much like scale insects and given your description, it's probably Woolly scale insects. See the picture below which is Woolly Scale insect on a blackcurrant bush.

Woolly Scale insect on a blackcurrant bush

For more details on this pest and how to treat it see this page here.


Date: 14 June 2015 From: Susan Griffin
QUESTION: What kind of feed do I use

ANSWER: A small handful of long-lasting fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone once a month (April to September) will do just fine. Sprinkle it over the surface of the soil and gently work it in to stop it blowing away.


Date: 13 June 2015 From: Steven
QUESTION: I have white foam coming from the joints of my bay leaf bush can anyone tell me what this is please

ANSWER: Can you send a picture to help identify what is going on? Send it to the email in our Contact Us section and I'll do my best to help.


Date: 9 June 2015 From: Lynne Everett
QUESTION: I have a small bay tree in a container kept indoors and all the leaves have a sticky residue, can you tell me what this is and what to do.

ANSWER: Sounds very much like aphids, you might not be able to see them at the moment but they are there. It could also be whitefly which are more common on plants indoors. The only real solution is to spray with an insecticide.
One problem which makes bay trees very susceptible to these attacks is that you are keeping the tree indoors. They are far better kept in the open.


Date: 8 June 2015 From: Sue
QUESTION: Are all bay trees edible, I have one in the garden of a house I have just bought not sure what type it is?

ANSWER: If it is Laurus nobilis, to give it an exactly identifying name, it is edible. But be very cautious if you are not sure what it is. I'm no expert on poisonous plants but I do know that laurel trees (as opposed to bay laurel) are poisonous. The rule is, with all plants, if you are not sure what it is don't eat it.


Date: 5 June 2015 From: Verda
QUESTION: I recently purchased a bay laurel tree. It came in a pot, and I think it would be best to leave it in the pot until fall. I did not want to uproot it at this time, am I doing the right thing, leaving in the pot that it was shipped in or should I put it in a different pot, perhaps a larger one?? I had a bay laurel for many years, and I did leave it in the original pot for about a year or more, it worked out fine.

ANSWER: Bay trees will survive fine in their original pot for many months. Remember to pot it up though in autumn because it will grow during this summer.


Date: 26 May 2015 From: Not Given
QUESTION: Hi my Bay tree has 5 or 6 branches but looks very willowery but has no bush shape about it. Would it be best to prune right back and hope it bushes out

ANSWER: In principle yes, but you don't say if it's a lollipop or bush form. I assume from the question that it's a bush form. If you cut a bay tree stem to just above a leaf node the stem will start to bush out as it grows. This can be done repeatedly every two or three nodes to achieve a bushier plant.


Date: 28 April 2015 From: John Gale
QUESTION: I've just hard pruned my multi trunk 30 foot high bay tree which I have to do about every five years and want to know if, having put all but the thicker stems through a shredder I can use it either as a mulch or for compost.

ANSWER: Good question, I have added a section above (click here) to answer your question.


Date: 26 April 2015 From: Emma
QUESTION: Hi my bay tree leaves have turn brown, some leaves are half brown half green its in a pot against the garage. Should I cut brown leaves off? Can u give me some advice as I've read some advice and seems it could be a lot of things!!!???? Thank u

ANSWER: See the section above (click here) for the reasons for leaves turning brown.


Date: 7 April 2015 From: Tom
QUESTION: We have two bay trees in containers, last year a lot of the leaves were covered in a black coating, like a fine layer of soot. I don't know if that was the cause, but the shrubs attracted an unusually high number of wasps. Have you come across these problems before?

ANSWER: I have added a new section above entitled BLACK COATING ON LEAVES (click here to go there) which explains what causes this and how to deal with it.


Date: 24 March 2015 From: Andy Clarke
QUESTION: I have two Bay plants in 30cm pots, kept in an enclosed sunny porch. They have thrived for two years and are around 80cm tall. Last autumn they began to show signs of sticky residue on the leafs. I sprayed them with the home-made potion of baking soda/veg oil/bio soap/water and they seemed to stabilise. During this winter they started to die back with dead-looking leafs on the lower portions of the plants. Eventually becoming unsightly. I had read your advice re. not watering during the winter but as the leafs were becoming dry and withered, I gave them a good soaking, but did not let them stand in water. One of the plants picked up, the other looked worse and worse as the winter drew on. Come the Feb/March better weather, they both showed signs of new growth, and I took the worst one into the back sheltered yard as it was so ugly. It is now sprouting vigorously with lanky shoots and new large leafs which are forming at the end of the withered, shrivelled stalks. My instinct is to prune hard, both to try to keep some shape, and to force the new growth to replace to lower shrivelled portions, but this will mean cutting off the only signs of life! Your advice would be gratefully received.

Bay tree with shrivelled leaves

ANSWER: I would be wary of cutting off all the new healthy growth, I suspect it would work but I I also wouldn't take the chance with a bay tree that's not in good condition. Why not try pruning away about half the healthy growth? That should force some buds to break but at the same time retain some healthy leaves to provide energy. Rather than prune half of the healthy top growth away I would prune half the stems reasonably severely. If all goes OK you could prune again next year.


Date: 14 January 2016 From: Elaine Blackshaw
QUESTION: When and how to move a Bay Tree?
We are moving house and for the past 8 yrs have cared for 2 lollipop bay trees. We appreciate it is not the ideal time for moving established trees which are grown in the ground but would appreciate your advice on whether it is practical and if so what measures we should take to ensure a happy transition into ground. Kind regards.
 
ANSWER: I've never moved a bay tree so I can't pretend I'm an expert. My advice though would be the same for almost all evergreen small trees - move in October (not possible in your case) or March. The concern with moving evergreen trees in winter is that the cold and / or dry conditions can damage them much more easily soon after transplanting.

Dig the trees up with as much of the rootball intact as possible. Replant to exactly the same depth as before. Bay trees have relatively shallow roots so when planning to move it go for a wide rootball rather than a deep rootball. That way you will do least damage to the parts of the roots which matter. Water well not only to provide moisture but to allow the soil to settle and come into contact with the root ball. Add 5cm or of mulch around the base of the trees but not touching the stem.

Inevitably some root damage will occur but remember that it is the tiny fibrous roots which absorb the all important water. Damage to the larger should be avoided but even more important is to protect the fibrous roots from damage.

On the practical side, minimise the time the tree is out of the ground to the absolute minimum. If you can dig the new holes (or most of it) before you dig up the trees that would be best. If the trees are out of the ground for any period of time wrap the rootball in a damp cloth of some sort to minimise evaporation.

Date: 07 December 2014 From: Susan Wotton
I need to protect bay tree containers that are in an open position and too heavy to move. Will wrapping them in horticulture fleece be sufficient?

ANSWER: We have written a very detailed article on how to protect bay trees in pots from frost. Click here to read it now. Horticultural fleece or frost jackets do protect from frost BUT they need to be fitted as described in our article and also they should be removed asap after the very cold weather has passed. Leaving them on too long will cause condensation which in turn can cause rotting.

Date: 29 July 14 From: Suzie
Not intending to, I've let my Bay tree grow to 16 feet or so. Can I safely cut the main trunk back by half and still have it survive and look decent with pruning?

ANSWER: I have included a section above to answer your question along with a few suggestions on how to use the prunings. Click here to read it now.

Date: 29 July 14 From: Ray Bishop
Geoff: I think the temperature has something to do with the scent of bay leaves. Have you moved your bay tree to a cooler and/or shadier place?

Date: 26 June 14 From: Geoff
Just read your Bay Tree article and found just about everything there is to know about it, except why my Bay has lost its smell. I originally purchased from BandQ in a small pot about seven or eight years ago and it has grown into a nice bush about seven feet tall and is still growing. Up until this year it has always had a very nice strong Bay Tree smell, so any idea why it has stopped would be appreciated. Thanks in advance, Geoff.

ANSWER: My understanding and personal experience is that Bay Tree leaves give off almost no scent unless they are heavily crushed or cooked. So I'm surprised that in previous years you were able to smell the tree. On that basis I wouldn't be concerned that this year is different, maybe it's returning to its normal state rather than the opposite. Anyone else with any other opinions?

Obviously scent is a subjective matter and it's also possible that the environment around the tree previously protected it from wind and concentrated what little scent it gave off. Maybe now something has changed to allow more air circulation. Whatever the reason, the lack of scent is not unusual.

We have temporarily disabled more questions because we are unable to cope with the workload of answering them at the moment. We are seeking more staff to help with this problem.