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How to trim a bay leaf tree

Updated February 21, 2017

Bay leaves are used as an herb in cooking and come from the Bay Laurel tree. The Bay Laurel can be regularly pruned to keep it a small to medium-sized shrub, or allowed to grow into a taller tree. Pruning the Bay Laurel tree is done mostly to control the size and the shape of the tree rather than for plant health. The tree should be pruned twice per year at the beginning and end of the growing season.

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  1. Wait until April and examine the base of the tree to see if multiple stems are growing out of the soil. If so, choose the thickest vertical stem to serve as the trunk and cut off all remaining stems at the soil line using hand pruners. If the stems are thicker than 1 inch, use loppers instead of hand pruners.

  2. Look at the trunk of the Bay tree to locate any side shoots growing horizontally from the bottom 1/3 of the trunk. Prune these shoots off 1/4 inch from the trunk using pruning shears. This results in a smooth tree trunk rather than shrub shape.

  3. Trim the foliage on the top of the Bay tree into any desired form, such as a cone, triangle or a circle, using pruning shears. You do not need to have a perfect shape since the foliage will fill in any mistakes. If you do not want a shape, simply prune off the last 2 to 3 inches from the tips of each branch to encourage new stem development.

  4. Wait until August and repeat all of the described pruning steps to remove any excess growth that occurred during the summer months.

  5. Tip

    Repeat pruning annually to keep the Bay tree a manageable size.


    Do not prune the Bay tree after August, or the tree will not regrow leaves and it will remain bare for the fall and winter months.

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Things You'll Need

  • Hand pruners
  • Loppers
  • Pruning shears

About the Author

Kimberly Johnson

Kimberly Johnson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in various online publications including eHow, Suite101 and Examiner. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and began writing professionally in 2001.

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