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Bay Leaf Plants – How to Grow and Care for Bay Laurel

Bay Leaf plants are slow growing trees with leaves that are used as seasoning in cooking. It is also known as bay laurel, sweet bay and simply laurel. If you enjoy growing herbs, this is a great one to try, since it has a very aromatic flavor.The bay leaf plant is also known as bay laurel. It can be grown in containers or as a tree or shrub in warmer zones #bayleafplalnts #baylaurel

Bay leaf plants are a member of the family lauraceae. These trees are native to the Mediterranean region and the leaves are often used in Mediterranean recipes.

Bay Laurel was considered a sacred plant to the Greeks and Romans.  Trees were often planted near temples and the foliage was burned during various rites.

If you enjoy cooking stews and casseroles, your recipe may call for a bouquet garni. This is a bunch of herbs (traditionally thyme, sage and bay leaf – sometimes rosemary and tarragon too) tied in a bundle and added to the liquid to flavor it.

Bouquet Garni

Photo credit Wikimedia commons

Growing Bay Leaf Plants

Have you ever seen a pot of beef stew or a hearty soup with a large leaf in the middle of the mixture?  You are looking at a bay leaf.

The herb adds a robust flavor to soups and stews and has long been used as a seasoning in cooking.

Bay laurel buds

Bay Leaf plants are tolerant of most soil types. Ideal PH range is 6-7, but the plant is somewhat versatile and can stand a range of 4.5 to 8.3.

What it will not tolerate is soil that does not drain well.  Applications of compost or other organic matter will help to keep the soil draining well.

Size of Bay Leaf Plants

Bay Laurel can be grown indoors in pots, and outdoors as shrubs and also as trees. It is a slow growing plant and can reach heights of 59 feet in the conditions are right.

Although the plant is a tree at heart, it can be kept smaller by pruning the plant or growing it in containers near your vegetable garden.

Container grown plants will not get to this large size.  Prune it so that it gets no taller than 5-6 feet so that you can move it indoors when the weather gets colder.

Bay Leaf plants can grow into 60 feet tall trees.

Sunlight and Moisture Conditions

The plant grows best in full sun to partial shade. If you grow it outdoors in hot climates, it will benefit from some afternoon shade.

If you grow the plant indoors, it will need bright light and the occasion misting to keep the humidity level as the plant likes it.

Trees grown outside don’t generally need much in the way of fertilizer but container plants will benefit from a balanced organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion in the spring and summer.
Bay laurel is native to the Mediterranean area

Flowers and leaves

Bay trees are dioecious, which means that both male and female plants are needed to produce seeds that are viable.  The seeds form on the female plants and are contained inside the berries that form in the fall. Each female flower has a single seed.

Female plants have flowers with only a pistil. Male plants have flowers with only stamens. Only the female bay laurel plants will bear fruit.

Bay leaf plants have small yellow flowers that appear in the spring. These mature over the summer and develop into blackish purple berries in the fall which contain one seed. If you grow it as a hedge and prune it often, you will have less in the way of flowers and berries.Bay leaf flowers

The flowers of bay leaf are quite showy.  They start as small buds and open into clusters. The plant smells sweet when flowering but the leaves are quite pungent.

bay laurel flowrs.

Photo credit Wikimedia Commons

How to Grow Bay Laurel

Hardiness Zones

Bay Laurel is hardy in zones 7-10.  In colder zones, it is very frost sensitive, but can be grown in a pot and brought indoors for the winter, or kept in a sheltered closed area where the extremes of the cold won’t kill it.

It can only take temperatures down to about 20 degrees F.

In warmer zones, the plant is considered a perennial.

Drying Bay Leaves

Bay leaves can be used whole or ground in cooking. Harvest leaves from plants at least 2 years old. To dry the leaves, place them on parchment paper on a large tray in a single layer. Leave them for 2 weeks in a warm dry room.

Store bay leaves whole in an air tight container. You can also grind them in a mortar and pestle if you wish, but I always use bay leaves whole.

Dried bay leaves are very fragrant and do not disintegrate during the cooking process. They are removed before eating the cooked recipe.Dried bay leaves

Ways to Grow Bay Leaf Plants

In warmer zones, grown bay laurel as a tree. It can used in topiary to create ball shaped plants. The stems are also grown twisted and they are grown as hedges, too.

Since bay is only hardy to zone 8, Bay Laurel is often grown as a houseplant in colder zones. For best results re-pot a container plant every 2-3 years

Bay laurel grown in a pot.

Photo credit By Petar43 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,Wikimedia commons

Pest and Diseases

Thankfully, bay laurel is resistant to most pests and diseases.  Weak plants can attack scale and aphids.

Treat infected plants with an organic pesticide. Common problems with bay leaf plants is simple over-watering, cold temperatures and lack of sunlight.

Propagation of Bay Leaf Plants

The plants take a long time to germinate from seed.  Normal plant propagation is from cuttings or air layering. The cuttings need to root in a heated propagator with high humidity.  It’s quite difficult to propagate.

Other uses of Bay leaves

In addition to using bay leaves in recipes, they are also used in many other ways.  The extract of bay laurel has been used in astringents and even as a treatment for open wounds.

Bay leaves soaked in water and formed into a poultice has often been used to treat poison ivy, and other poisonous plants.

Bay leaves and extracts are often used in massage therapy and aromatherapy to give some relief from of symptoms of arthritis and high blood pressure.  The leaves of bay laurel plants have long been used to make wreaths, garlands and crowns.

It is common to see the shape of a laurel crown on trophies. In early Greek and Roman times, crowns were created with stems of the plant to crown the athletes and rulers. Bay laurel crown

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Sharon B

Monday 11th of January 2021

Hi there,

After owning this plant for about 10 years, I just tonight realized it's a laurel. Thank you, Google. :) No idea where I got the plant. Ha! In June 2020, it sprouted tiny pink flowers for the first time ever. I think because I put some soil from an outdoor garden in it.. maybe with fertilizer? Then, in Oct, the flowers became red berries, and eventually turned into purple/black berries. They're still hanging on after a couple months. Is it possible to grow another plant from one of the berries/seeds? How would I do it, and what type of soil should I use? I have 2 large skylights, and the plant seems happy right under the sunlights. Thanks so much! Any help you can provide would be much appreciated. :)

Carol Speake

Tuesday 12th of January 2021

I have no experience in growing bay laurel from seeds, but perhaps a reader can chime in.

Daniella

Sunday 18th of October 2020

Hi! What is the best way to increase the vertical growth of this species to turn into a tall tree? I planted 10 of them against my wall in my backyard for privacy purposes 4 months ago, but have not seen any significant growth. They are watered well and my gardner has even given them vitamins. What do you recommend I do? Thank you so much for your article, it is very informative!

Loretta Wymbs

Friday 18th of December 2020

Accelerated growth on any outdoor plant is like a business...location, location, location! Also, in my experience growing lots of herbs successfully, giving too much food in the soil is just that...too much. just allowing your trees to grow at their own pace will give you a healthier tree. Supporting it by giving it (or them) just the right amount of attention, and sunshine should produce happy, healthy trees! Pest control and the right amount of water is important, too. Best of luck to you to grow healthy trees. If you have a co operative extension group in your area or a nursery, they may help with information as well!

Carol Speake

Tuesday 20th of October 2020

I can't offer suggestions on how to make a plant grow more quickly. So many factors go into growth and they vary all over the world in different locations.

David

Saturday 19th of September 2020

Hi! I got a small bay laurel in the spring. It looked great but didn’t grow at all, so repotted it into an 8” clay pot in August. It’s grown a few new leaves and seems healthy. When should I bring it inside? When frost is threatened? Before? Should I take it back outside during the day in the fall?

Thanks!

Carol Speake

Sunday 20th of September 2020

It depends on your hardiness zone. In zones cooler than zone 7, the plants will need to be moved indoors before frost hits your area. Bringing it in and out is fine if the weather is on your side but not when it gets too cold.

Peggy Anderson

Tuesday 8th of September 2020

I put a few bay leaves in my kitchen cabinet to deter insects from infesting flour, cereal etc. Works for me.

Cora

Wednesday 2nd of September 2020

Hi, once my bay plant prosper, ants attack the roots. I do not know what to do.

Carol Speake

Wednesday 2nd of September 2020

My experience is that once ants are in a plant it is hard to get rid of them.