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.
Growing Bay Laurel Shrubs
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.
History and Origins of Bay Laurel Shrubs
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.