Bay trees (Laurus nobilis) grow as small, full evergreen trees. They provide both an ornamental and useful touch to the yard. The leaves, usually dried, are used to season a variety of dishes. The deep green foliage provides year-round colour. Bays have minimal maintenance requirements and with proper care can be grown in nearly any climate.
Bay trees prefer full sun but can tolerate some afternoon shading. Full shade weakens the tree, eventually causing it to decline and die. Plant your bay tree in an area protected from strong winds and extreme temperature fluctuations. As a tender perennial, it doesn't tolerate any winter frost but can be grown as a container tree and overwintered indoors in colder regions. Whether you plant in the yard or in a pot, grow bay in well-drained soils since it cannot survive with soggy roots.
These trees can withstand some summer drought but grow best when provided with even moisture. As evergreen trees, the bay never goes fully dormant in winter so requires some moisture year-round. Water landscape plants once every 10 to 15 days, providing enough irrigation to moisten the top 8 to 12 inches of soil. Water potted trees when the top 1 to 2 inches of soil begins to feel dry.
Bays can reach 60 feet tall when grown in their native area, but most landscape trees grow no taller than 10 feet and are usually much smaller. Container plants often reach no more than 3 feet tall, while landscape trees grow larger. Pruning helps keep the tree attractive and controls its size. Trim the tree in early spring and again in late summer to maintain the size and shape desired. Cut back the tree by no more than a third at each pruning. Bay trees can also be pruned into decorative topiary shapes. Save the leaves from each pruning for use as a kitchen herb.
Very little fertilisation is needed to successfully grow a bay. Those planted in the ground get most of their nutrients from the soil, but a light application of a general purpose fertiliser in spring also benefits the tree. Container grown plants need more frequent fertilisation, as frequent watering flushes nutrients from the pot. Apply a balanced, soluble fertiliser at the package recommended rate once monthly from spring until late summer.
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