The bay tree (Laurus nobilis) is a culinary herb that is used in a lot of dishes. Are you considering making Gordon Ramsay’s Pomme Puree, a Caribbean jerk chicken, some beef stew, Indian biryani, Thai curry or Philippino adobo?
These dishes cut across continents yet they all have bay leaves in common. They are also ornamental plants and are used for landscaping. Therefore, they are useful to have planted in your garden.
The most common varieties include: the willow leaf laurel (Laurus nobilis Angustifolia), Laurus nobilis Saratoga, Laurus nobilis Aurea, and Laurus nobilis Undulata.
Benefits of Bay Trees
These plants are of great economic and medical importance and here are a few benefits you would get from having it readily available in your garden.
- Your meals will always be wonderfully scented.
- They are often used to treat migraines.
- They are rich in vitamins and minerals such as Iron, Calcium, vitamins A & C and Magnesium.
- They also aid in digestion.
- They are commonly used as herbal medicines to treat diseases such as earaches, rheumatism, cancer and diabetes.
- They are also used in enhancing perspiration because they cause sweating.
- Some people use it to treat dandruffs.
Clearly, the benefits they provide are a lot and in this article, I will be discussing all the best ways in which you could care for your bay tree.
Conditions for Growing Bay Trees
The bay tree is a perennial evergreen shrub that can live for over two decades when planted in containers and over five decades when planted in open ground. They are native to the Mediterranean regions and can grow up to 60 foot if left untended for a very long time (since they grow rather slowly).
When planting them, either in containers or open ground, the following conditions must be satisfied:
Climate: Bay trees are rather suited to warm climates and are quite vulnerable when exposed to frost temperatures. A temperature below 32°F (-5°C) could damage them extensively. Hence it is advised to move them indoors during the cold seasons rather than leaving them out on the deck or patio.
Although, some bay trees have been seen to survive these temperatures only if they were in sheltered locations that provided them with enough heat like walls of heated buildings.
Wind Conditions: Bay trees are sometimes unable to withstand windy conditions and could very easily get damaged. Therefore, you have to plant them in a sheltered location.
Soil Type: The ideal soil type for planting bay trees would be any well-draining soil. This means that clay soils are out of the mix and general purpose potting mixes will do. However, you could mix your clay soil with some compost to make it suitable for your bay tree.
Sunlight Exposure: Being Mediterranean trees, full to partial exposure to sunlight is ideal for them because they love the warmth.
Soil pH: Bay trees can survive in acidic to alkaline soils ranging from 4.5 – 8.3 in pH.
Hardiness: In terms of how well they can survive in adverse conditions, bay trees can survive in zones 8 – 10.
Usually, bay trees are planted in containers and now that we have discussed the conditions suited for their survival, here is how to care for them.
If bay trees are to be planted in containers indoors, always ensure that they have unrestricted access to sunlight by either keeping them on sunny window sills or placing them in a hot shaded area with partial exposure to sunlight.
They should not be placed next to heated appliances. When leaving them on window sills, ensure that they are not exposed to drafts or harsh winds. This rule is very important and must not be forgotten else the tree becomes heavily damaged.
Remember that they are to be planted in well-drained soils as their roots are shallow and cannot stand getting waterlogged.
It is advised to always let the soil drain or dry out before watering so its roots do not rot or so it does not become susceptible to diseases. However, do not leave the soil dry for extended periods else your trees leaves will begin to turn brown and will dry out.
Potting Bay Shrubs
The best containers for this tree are small ones that have great depth. For instance, a 24 inch container will be ideal for 6 foot bay tree. This is ideal because it would not topple over in the wind. However, you would have to repot every five years or so.
Temperature and Humidity
Also remember that temperatures below 32°F (-5°C) are non-conducive for bay trees as they are only hardy in zones 8 – 10. This is why you must bring them indoors during the winter. In the event of low humidity, keep it misted regularly.
Bay trees can grow in any soil type as long as it is well drained. Thus meaning that it can grow in alkaline and acidic soil of pH ranging from 4.5 – 8.3. Potting mixes are perfect for planting in containers.
Organic fertilisers such as kelp and fish emulsion are used to introduce organic matter to the soil. However, they are not really necessary since bay trees do not require much food due to the fact that they are slow growing plants.
Caring for Bay Trees during Winter
Bay trees hardly survive the winter, especially those planted in containers because the soil in it freezes faster compared to the soil in open ground. This prevents the shrub from absorbing water, ultimately leading to it dying off.
Therefore, to help it survive the frost you should:
Repot It in a Larger Sized Container: The larger the container, the longer it takes for the plant to freeze to death. Although, these shrubs survive better when their roots are constrained they hardly survive frost damage.
Move the Container to a Warmer Yet Covered Location: An unheated greenhouse or garage would be the ideal location because not only will it protect your tree from harsh winds, it also will not leave it exposed to harsh winter temperatures.
Place It Next to a Heated House Wall: This is a simple yet effective method that helps the bay plant thrive during the winter. It provides the ideal temperature for your bay tree to grow without you having to worry about much.
Keep the Well-Drained Soil Moist: Bay trees do go into hibernation during the winter periods and during this period it requires less food and water. Watering and feeding is only absolutely necessary of soil dries out completely.
Use Frost Protection Jackets: Bay trees are usually damaged from their roots up in the winter and frost jackets are a way to prevent that. Using this is quite tricky because of not done properly it might cause the plant to rot. They are placed around the plant to cover it without touching the plant to trap condensation around it. It traps warmth around the plant and must be taken off immediately winter is over.
How to Prune Bay Trees in Containers or Open Ground
Bay trees are able to withstand heavy pruning and since they grow to about 60 foot, you might want to keep it to a dense manageable size and shape. Since they grow rather slowly, it might take a very long time for them to recover (probably a year).
Typically, the bay shrub grow new shoots above soil level and depending on the shape you want them to grow, it may or may not look fine. Always prune them during the later periods of spring because it is the time when new shots appear.
Therefore cutting and trimming at this area helps you determine the density and shape that appeals to you.
How to Harvest Bay Leaves for Use in Recipes
Before harvesting bay leaves, you must ensure that they have matured for 2 years. You could cure the harvested leaves by letting them dry in a warm place on some parchment paper. You could then crumble the dried leaves for use in various dishes.
Common Pests and Diseases of Bay Trees
Bay laurels are usually pest free. However, here are some pests and animals that could pose a problem for your culinary plant.
Bay Tree Sucker: The bay tree sucker are rather small insects that feed on the sap produced by bay laurels. They do not affect the health of the tree but you will begin to notice the edges of the bay leaves beginning to curl and eventually they may turn yellow or brown. To get rid of them, simply use a systemic spray or burn the affected leaves.
Wooly Scale Insects: A clear evidence of these insects feeding on your shrub is that white spots begin to appear on its bark and stems. The white spot is a substance secreted by the female wooly scale insect to protect and cover her laid eggs. To get rid of them, insecticides are not enough. You will have to squash the eggs by hand.
Vine Weevils: These create holes in the leaves of the bay tree. They mulch on it leaving hardly enough for you to use. This makes them a significant cause of damage to most bay trees.
Shot Hole: This is a fungal infection that also causes holes in bay leaves. Simply cut off the affected leaves or use a copper fungicide to get rid of it.
Leaf Cutter Bees: These are also another major cause of holes in bay leaves.
Cracked or Peeling Bark: This is usually caused by over watering or dry soil instead of pests or diseases. Too much water is what causes the spits in the bark. It can also be caused by prolonged exposure to frost.
Bay trees are very significant plants to have since they have very many benefits. From being aromatic, to being medicinal and perfect for all kinds of dishes. They are a must have for every household. They do not require much attention as long as they are appropriately cared for.