Bay LaurelLaurus nobilis
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Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The Bay Laurel should not be confused with the Cherry Laurel. This large evergreen shrub or small tree provides the ‘bay leaves’ used in cooking, and in the garden it is a handsome plant that makes a large shrub, growing 10 feet tall, and eventually reaching 30 feet. Trimmed it becomes an attractive hedge or topiary plants in many shapes, and potted trees are perfect to decorate your garden or terraces. It is hardy in zones 8 to 10, but in cooler areas it is easy to grow in a container and overwinter in a bright, cool place indoors. Very popular in Europe, its usefulness and versatility should be recognized more in North America.
The Bay Laurel tree grows well in sun or partial-shade, in any well-drained soil. It is moderately drought tolerant once established, but it grows best with a regular supply of water. In the garden it will grow in most soils. In containers use any outdoor potting soil. Make sure your planter has drainage, and water regularly, after the soil has dried a little. Feed regularly from spring to fall, and keep in a cool, frost-free, brightly-lit place for the winter months. Hot, dry interior temperatures will encourage pests to develop. Trim as wanted between spring and fall, drying and saving the leaves for the kitchen.
Better known to many people as a dried leaf used for flavoring in the kitchen, the Bay Laurel is a large shrub or small tree, with evergreen leaves and a handsome look. Often pruned into various shapes, it also makes an attractive natural garden plant in warm zones, and trims easily into dense hedges. Very different from the more common Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus), Bay Laurel is a great plant to grow in a container, use outdoors as an attractive summer shrub in partial shade, and then grow indoors in a cool, bright place, to have leaves for the kitchen available all year round.
The Bay Laurel is a rounded large shrub or eventually a small tree if left untrimmed, that will reach 10 feet in as many years, with a width of at least 5 feet. It will in time mature into a plant up to 30 feet tall, with a spread up to 20 feet, and under ideal conditions, it may eventually grow even larger. For most people though, it will be grown in a planter or large pot and trimmed regularly to maintain any size you want. In Europe, it is often seen trimmed into a cone or pyramid, as a globe on a stem of various heights, and sometimes with a more complex ‘poodle’ cut. The leaves are leathery, thick and oval, tapering to a point, and often with a wavy edge. They are glossy and deep green, with a rich, aromatic aroma, especially when crushed or put into hot liquids. Powdered bay leaves are essential in a Bloody Mary. Every cook knows the importance of bay leaves in the kitchen, and with your own tree, you will never run short. In spring bushes often have small, yellow-green flowers clustered on the stems, and if the bush is female (this tree is one that has separate male and female trees as holly trees), then small purple-black berries may be seen in fall.
Bay Laurel is easy to grow in full sun or partial shade, and in any well-drained soil that is not too dry. Once established it has moderate drought resistance, but it will not grow so well in areas that are constantly hot and dry. It rarely suffers from insect pests or diseases, and this is an easy plant to grow. Hedges and plants in pots should be fertilized with blends suitable for evergreens, but otherwise organic mulches in spring or fall are sufficient.
If you live in zones 8 to 10, then you can grow the Bay Laurel outdoors, as a garden shrub or as a hedge. It is an attractive shrub for background planting, and tolerant of some shade, making it very useful indeed, around your home or out in the garden. For an unusual and durable hedge, plant the bushes 2, 2½, or 3 feet apart, depending on how quickly you need the space to fill. Hedges to 8 feet tall are easily and quickly created, and if needed, much taller hedges can be made with Bay Laurel. The color is dark and rich, and the visual texture is between the very fine surface of the American boxwood and the much coarser surface of the cherry laurel.
In cooler zones, grow the Bay Laurel in a pot or planter that can be moved into a cool, frost-free area for the winter months. The place should not be warm, and a little above freezing is ideal, but it should be well-lit. Plants can be grown outdoors in the months between the first and last frost, although temperatures a few degrees below freezing are tolerated well in fall. Use a pot with drainage holes, and don’t stand the plant in a saucer of water. When watering, ensure that some water flows freely through the drain holes each time, to avoid building up excess levels of salts, which can damage the roots. Allow the top inch of soil to dry completely between each watering and reduce the frequency of watering in winter. Feed regularly from spring to early fall with liquid formulations for evergreens. Trimming can be carried out at any time between early spring and early fall. Save the trimmings, allow them to completely dry in the shade, and store them in air-tight jars to use in the kitchen.
Ten thousand years ago, after the last Ice Age, there were forests of Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) growing all around the Mediterranean. As the climate became warmer, with less rain, they only survived in the mountains, where small remnant populations can be found today in Turkey, Syria, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, the Canary Islands and on the island of Madeira. This plant was highly regarded by the ancient Greeks and Romans, who made wreaths for the head with it, to honor people of high status, or victors in battle. That usage continues today in words like ‘poet laureate’ and ‘baccalaureate’. It has been cultivated as both a source of bay leaves for cooking and as a garden ornamental for 3,000 years.
No kitchen is complete without bay leaves, and no garden is complete without a Bay Laurel tree. This easily grown plant is both attractive and useful in so many ways. Our stock is limited, so order now, or be left sitting on the dock without a Bay.