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.

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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  59 comments for “Bay Leaf Plants – How to Grow and Care for Bay Laurel

  1. susan
    05/24/2018 at 12:38 pm

    My bay Laurel tree is about 1 year old. I live in Alaska so keep it in doors.

    It has a sticky shiny substance on it’s leaves and on the table under it.

    What is it and what should I do about it?

    • Carol
      05/24/2018 at 12:58 pm

      Hi Susan, Aphids, mites, and hard shelled scales can all secrete a clear sticky substance called honeydew. Check the undersides of your leaves to see if you have an infestation of any kind. Carol

  2. Jim Nelson
    06/26/2018 at 1:22 am

    My little bay tree (bush) is looking a bit sad in it’s pot. I have ‘refreshed ‘ the compost ‘ for the last 2 years. But it looks under the weather this year. The leaves have lost their vibrant colour and are not as big as they were. I think it is pot bound but do not want to increase the size of the pot. Can I trim the root bowl and if so how ?

    • Carol
      06/26/2018 at 10:46 am

      Hi Jim.Yes it is possible to trim the roots ball of a plant and keeping it in the same pot is often the reason to do so. To prune the root ball, use a pair of scissors or pruning shears and cut around and under the root ball. You can be pretty aggressive with it. Go slowly and examine as you go.

      When you are done, use a fork to loosen the soil, teasing out the roots and tangled mass. This will encourage new roots to expand into the soil that will now be in the pot instead of the tangled roots.

      Be sure to keep the plant evenly moist as it recovers from the procedure. It’s normal for the plant to take a little while to get back to growing.
      Carol

  3. Gene Ferry
    07/09/2018 at 3:32 pm

    Hi Carol,
    I just replanted my father-in-laws bay leaf bush and of course it was the hottest week in ca. history ive b1 my plant but still looks like its dying is there anything i can do to save it we face east and its at the front of my house so it doesnt get any shade until about 1pm

    • Carol
      07/09/2018 at 4:38 pm

      Hi Gene. I’ve been hearing about the hot weather in CA! There is not much you can do since it is planted in the ground so it’s not possible to move it to a shadier spot for a while. You could try using a beach umbrella to shade it until the hot weather passes and be sure to give it extra water. My hydrangeas droop like mad in the summer here in NC but extra water does help. Carol

  4. Robin
    07/29/2018 at 10:58 am

    I recently purchased a bay leaf plant, I repotted it and now some of the leaves are dying! Is it shock from repotting it?

    • Carol
      07/29/2018 at 11:31 am

      Hi Robin. It could be shock from replanting. Some of the common problems that lead to transplant shock are repotting at the wrong time (best time is spring) or potting in a different type of soil, or giving them different light conditions. Repotting in a pot too much larger can also cause problems.
      Carol

  5. Gary Tang
    10/04/2018 at 11:00 am

    I am growing a bay leaf plant for half year and I found it withered recently. What should I do?

    • Carol
      10/05/2018 at 11:19 am

      Hi Gary. The plant is badly dried out and may not recover. I’d remove the dead leaves, move it to a less sunny spot (for now) and start watering again. You might be able to take cuttings of some healthy stem sections to try and root for a new plant. Carol

  6. Gina
    10/10/2018 at 12:38 am

    My bay leaf plant looks like a skinny little branch it’s getting tall and no new shoots. How do I get it to fill out.

    • Carol
      10/10/2018 at 7:52 pm

      Hi Gina. If you cut of the top growing shoot, it will encourage the plant to bush out. It also sounds as though it needs more light if it’s growing that way. Carol

  7. Ria G
    10/28/2018 at 4:23 pm

    Hi, I have a beautiful 10+ yr old bay tree that has the tiny flower pods but they haven’t burst open to flowering. I live in the Hill Country of Texas around Henly, Texas. You stated it forms the blooms early spring but it’s now the end of October and no more action. We got a lot of rain this year, did that effect the bloom. There is no rot or change of any kind just unopened blooms. It is the first year I have seen any blossoms, did it get stunted. The tree is doing great. Would love to see it bloom. It’s now about 15 ft high

    • Carol
      10/28/2018 at 9:54 pm

      Hi Ria,

      I have not had a bay leaf that is as large as yours since I have to grow it in a pot and bring it in for the winter. My research does show that bay trees come with both male and female flowers on separate plants and that the trees can take many years to flower. (people consider themselves lucky if they do!) Heavy rains can affect the way any plant grows, so it could be a factor since this could lead to root rot.

      As long as the tree looks otherwise healthy, I would not worry that the flowers didn’t open. Perhaps next year!
      Carol

    • Ria G
      10/29/2018 at 10:42 am

      Thank you for your reply. I agree I am very grateful for this beautiful bay tree. My Mother planted it in the ground against the house facing the west I believe at least 10+ yrs ago. It’s leaves even froze and survived. I guess it’s in a magical spot. This is its first year to have blossoms. I hope it blooms, but if not I have a great culinary tree. I love to dry and share with some of our local restaurants in my home town. If it blooms I will let you know. Have a beautiful day.

      • Carol
        10/29/2018 at 6:18 pm

        Hi Ria. If it set buds this year, it may flower next year. Maybe it’s a late bloomer! Carol

  8. Jeanne
    11/08/2018 at 4:33 pm

    Hi Carol,
    I just bought a bay laurel plant and plan on keeping it in the house as it is now November . Our days and nights are getting colder here in Indiana.
    Is a southern exposure the best place to keep it or will grow lights give the plant the light it needs. Jeanne

    • Carol
      11/09/2018 at 11:33 am

      Hi Jeanne. Bay leaf plants need a lot of light (6-8 hours of sunlight). A Sunny window is suggested to grow them indoors or the equivalent of full sunlight. But grow lights take that light situation into consideration and should work well. Carol

  9. Nadine
    11/08/2018 at 8:15 pm

    What is the coldest temperature a bay shrub in a pot will take?

    • Carol
      11/09/2018 at 11:39 am

      Hi Nadine. Bay really likes a warm climate and it’s suggested that the hardiness zones are 7 and waremer. (some resources even say zone 8 and up.) I have read that a bay leaf can’t take temperatures lower than 20 degrees F Carol

  10. Michelle Urbanovitch
    01/12/2019 at 7:57 pm

    hello, how often do you water a bay leaf plant, I transplanted mine and gave it some food, maybe overwatered. It still looks good it is dry and the leaves have dried up and fallen off one branch, and I turned over one leaf and it looked like tiny flour on it. did I overwater and now its dry and underwatered. I do know it needs better light and I will move it to a grow light, how many hours a day of light yi. Help

    • Carol
      01/13/2019 at 11:57 am

      Hi Michelle. It sounds like your problem is not watering but that you have mealy bugs. This can look like white flour on the bottom of leaves. This can spread through any plants that come in contact with it, since these are small bugs. Either treat for mealybugs or discard the plant. Carol

  11. Lois
    01/21/2019 at 8:31 pm

    Hi Carol. I have large bay leaf tree grown from a little 4 in pot with only 2 leaves on the stem. Now 10 years have flown by and it is between 12-15 feet tall. I live in the beautiful Tx hill country where it is HOT and often in drought conditions. I have yet to see seeds but maybe I have just not looked closely enough. Can these be propagated from a cutting and if so —— how? I have done nothing special to this lovely tree except when 1st planted.

    • Carol
      01/22/2019 at 12:26 pm

      Hi Lois. Most plants will grow from cuttings. For a bay leaf this is best done in lat summer. Choose healthy new stem cuttings (woody cuttings don’t root well. Dip in rooting powder and place in a mixture of soil, sand and vermiculite. It can take quite some time for this type of cutting to root. When you give a little tug and it holds in the soil, you’ll know that roots have formed. carol

      • Lois
        01/22/2019 at 9:09 pm

        Thanks Carol for your help

        • Carol
          01/22/2019 at 9:48 pm

          My pleasure Lois.

  12. Phil R
    01/28/2019 at 10:37 pm

    Carol, not really a question, but I was looking for some info and found your site. Very informative, thank you.

    I live in SE Virginia and my sister bought a small bay laurel as a present a few years ago (three or four now?). I didn’t really know how to care for it and as a lazy gardener, I’ve repotted in a few times, watered it now and then, and put it in the garage when it gets really cold in the winter (I think we’re in Zone 8a). For the most part, it’s doing great, about three feet tall out of the pot with a lot of branches. Most plants that make it in my yard are plants that do well (or at least ok) when I ignore them. We’ve used up all of the dried bay leaves we used to have and only use fresh now, and we have several friends that have visited that have left with fresh bay leaves. Sun in the summer, garage in the winter, and don’t overwater seems to have worked for me.

    • Carol
      01/29/2019 at 1:05 pm

      Glad you like the site Phil. Thanks for your tips on growing bay leaf.

  13. Eulalia Ross
    01/31/2019 at 9:39 pm

    I have a plant that we have called a bay leaf plant for ten years. But the leaves are more rounded. I have seen them in the islands growing very tall.
    The leaves are drying and falling off.

    Is there more than one type of shaped leaf for a bay plant.

  14. chandana
    02/06/2019 at 1:39 am

    I like to study about bay leaf plant how to grow in sri lanka thanks.

  15. Sharon
    02/08/2019 at 9:24 am

    I have a bay leaf plant that I pruned off the top to get it to fill out which it did and is growing well. I wish I had cut it shorter because the stem is about 7″ tall before the branches start. The stem has several “buds” on it. Should I leave them alone? Will they sprout into new branches?

    • Carol
      02/08/2019 at 10:16 pm

      Hi Sharon. Any place that you gut a growing stem will result in new tips coming off that point of the cut (usually two, one on each side.) You can cut the tip lower down, but you’ll lose those tips, obviously. Also, cutting the tip of a growing stem will sometimes push new buds off the stem making a bushy plant. Any new buds below the stem should make new branches. Carol

  16. Samantha Paige-Graeber
    03/01/2019 at 3:50 pm

    I think I killed by bay leaf plant. The leaves look dry and a bit discolored. Can it still be saved?? Thank you

    • Carol
      03/02/2019 at 11:27 am

      You can try adding water but when a plant looks like this it almost means that it’s dead or dying from lack of water.

  17. Helen
    03/25/2019 at 2:25 pm

    I have a Bay Tree isn’t 15 years old we keep in the house. This year the leaves are dry falling off the branches. I water once a week, it’s by a window. Any suggestions?

    • Carol
      03/25/2019 at 3:19 pm

      Bay trees are not really meant to be grown indoors when larger. It is likely pot bound. Check the root ball and if the soil is totally full of roots, repot into the next size pot and add new soil around the roots.

  18. JF
    03/26/2019 at 2:12 pm

    I have a few bay trees that are about 3 yrs old. I mistakenly kept them sheltered for to long one winter and almost killed them. This year I kept one inside and another in a porch. The one inside did much better, even growing a shoot pretty quickly to about the same height as the other branches (I want to say a foot). My problem though is I was hoping to have it grow tall. Or rather more tree then bush (7shoots). What can I do to have it more like a tree.

  19. Jacqueline
    03/27/2019 at 7:47 am

    Gotta say, I really wouldn’t risk planting another bay tree outdoors. It worked well in the Pacific NW, but we’ve lost every bay we’ve planted here to frost. Although we’re right on the line between 7b and 8a (central NC), the winter weather is recently too unpredictable. There were a few nights below zero this year.

    • Carol
      03/27/2019 at 2:59 pm

      I find the same thing. 7b is a tricky zone. Carol

      • Carol
        03/27/2019 at 3:03 pm

        Pruning techniques are what determines how a tree grows. If you have 7 shoots and no main trunk, it’s lot likely to form a tree shape. You could try cutting off some of the shoots gradually to see if one main shoot will thicken and form side branches.

  20. Karen Z
    04/01/2019 at 12:06 am

    HI! I have a bay tree that I planted about 25 years ago. I planted it on our hillside, close to a wooded area. I noticed it today. It is about 15 feet tall with a full shape. And it has another juvenile bay tree next to it, about 6 feet tall. They are healthy and gorgeous!
    Is there a preferred time to harvest leaves? And can a vinaigrette be made from the leaves?
    I am so excited that my tree has survived all these years! I live in the greater Seattle area, zone 7. It has survived cold winters and dry summers. It has the beginnings of flowers/berries on the branches.

    • Carol
      04/01/2019 at 11:21 am

      Hi Karen. Bay leaves cab be harvested any time during the growing season. If you want to harvest a bunch of them at once, the best time is mid summer, when the leaves are at their peak. I don’t know about the vinaigrette. I assume so but have not tried this.

  21. Dorothy Washington
    04/01/2019 at 2:56 pm

    My bay leaf tree leaves have dried up from lack of water and sun what can I do t restore it

    • Carol
      04/02/2019 at 11:05 am

      If the plant is really dead, there is nothing much that you can do to restore it. Try watering and moving it closer to sunlight. If it doesn’t start showing signs of growth, it’s time to replace it.

  22. Diana
    04/06/2019 at 7:42 pm

    I purchased a bay leaf tree each for my twin sister and me for our birthday. We both live in Southern California. Neither one of us know anything really about this type of plant, but we both want to be able to use fresh bay leaves in our cooking. I purchased 6″ plants, so I guess it’s going to take awhile. Maybe I’ll buy another larger one. Your site is very informative. Thanks!

    • Carol
      04/07/2019 at 10:45 am

      Yes, larger plants will give you more leaves for cooking without stunting the plant. Glad you are enjoying my site.

  23. Carol lindbloom
    04/13/2019 at 10:46 pm

    My dad gave me a plant he said was a laurel bush about 25 years ago for my yard, I was told recently that it’s a bay leaf tree!?!? It has flowers every year and then they turn into a medium color green like a large grape size then those seem to drop off and have a large seed inside that looks like a hazelnut so to speak, wild birds seem to go nuts over these. Is this a bay leaf tree I can use for cooking? My parents have passed away so I can’t ask them, I have google the name and not sure it’s eatable to use?

    • Carol
      04/16/2019 at 9:44 am

      Bay laurel does indeed grow to a tree but starts out as a small bush. To be sure, you could take the leaves to a garden center and ask there.

  24. Mary Ann
    04/20/2019 at 11:35 am

    Hello. I have a bay leaf that is making me very sad. I purchased it about 3 years ago and it was doing great. However, last winter here in the state of Washington we had a very bad winter (not normal) with 24″ of snow along with freezing temps. I not sure what to do with the bay as that all the leaves are brown. I waiting to see if there is going to be new growth and have not seen anything. It is not planted in a pot, it is in the ground. I don’t know what to do for it. Help

    • Carol
      04/20/2019 at 9:54 pm

      Hi Mary Ann. Winter with lots of snow and freezing temperatures can be hard on Bay plants and trees. They are only hardy in zones 7-10 and if temps are lower for long enough to be more in line with a colder zone, it can kill the plant.

      The best thing is to prune it. Dead leaves will sap the strength of even a healthy plant and one that is distressed even more so. Then look for signs of new growth. If you don’t get any, the plant is likely too far gone.

      Sometimes, nature just does things we don’t want and there is not much we can do other than start over.

  25. Annalise
    04/27/2019 at 4:02 pm

    My potted bay was doing relly well, but then developed something causing it todry out. I pruned down to the healthy area, and though it is growing, the leaves are now very thin and large, as if it were a different plant altogether., What is going on? MAybe it needs to be brought outside?
    Thanks

    • Carol
      04/27/2019 at 9:08 pm

      Hi Annalise. Too little light can definitely be a cause of poor growth on a bay leaf plant. Take it outdoors to a filtered spot and gradually move it to more sunlight and it should improve. Also check under the leaves of the plant to see if you can see any bugs, which can cause spindly growth.

  26. Cris
    05/30/2019 at 1:19 am

    Hi. After a heavy rain, the water gathered in the tray of my potted laurel is literally vinegar, yellow colour. How did that happen? I don’t usually leave it in heavy rain, for fear of all minerals in the soil being washed away, but this rain occured during the night…

    • Carol
      05/30/2019 at 3:57 pm

      I’m afraid I don’t know Cris. Perhaps one of the other readers has an answer.

  27. Sharon Usyk
    06/24/2019 at 5:11 pm

    Hello,
    I have a stable bay leaf tree which I have had for quite a few years. This year, I bought 2 smaller ones from our garden center. On one, all the leaves turned brown and fell off. The remaining stems (3) are turning dark and seems to be rotting from the top down. The 2nd one started to do the same but seemed to stabilize and even had some new shoots between the stem and leaves. But sadly, all those leaves are turning brown and curling up as well. Any way to save these plants? I know they are not infested with scale, if that helps any.
    Thank you!

    • Carol
      06/25/2019 at 11:08 am

      Hi Sharon. I’m not sure what to suggest if a plant is rotting from the top down. I have not seen that happen. Normally rotting occurs from too much moisture but it starts at the sol level. You may have just purchased bad plants. Sometimes this happens with the haphazard nature of watering in garden centers. Perhaps another reader has some advice.

  28. yury j nosaville
    07/15/2019 at 11:41 pm

    Excellent review,very educational.

    How to treat mealy bugs?

    would appreciate the answer.

    Yury

    • Carol
      07/16/2019 at 12:14 pm

      On small infestations a 70% or less solution of rubbing alcohol in water may be dabbed directly on mealybugs with a cotton swab to kill them or remove them.

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