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Bay trees are incredibly popular for the pungent leaves they produce used in a variety of dishes and ornamental designs. You can grow bay plants as a wonderful centrepiece in a herb garden, an elegant guardian on either side of your front door, or a plant that you can use for punctuating your border gardens and adding that vertical shape and height you really need.
The one thing that bay trees do need is a sheltered position in full sun and they can be tender so protection in winter to protect them from hard frost is essential but easily provided, by using fleece and moving to a sheltered position if grown in pots.
How to grow bay trees
Growing in containers
Bay trees can be grown either in the ground but they can adapt well and sometimes do better grown in containers. If you grow them in containers they can suffer when the weather turns, especially the winter weather in the UK which is why you need to move the container to an area that is light and protect against frost while also covering your containers with lagging or bubble wrap and covering the plants with horticultural fleece if they are left outdoors.
During the winter it’s especially important to raise the pots if you can on something like 4 bricks or some sort of raised platform to allow excess drainage. Ideally, you want to bring bay trees grown in pots into a cold greenhouse or into a cold conservatory until spring but this is not always possible.
Watering and feeding
If you’re growing them in the ground or in pots, it’s important to keep the plants well-watered especially during the summer and during the growing season, you want to feed them on a monthly basis with a general fertiliser.
Similarly want to keep them pruned which will likely coincide with your need the pic a few leaves for cooking anyway. Young plants can be pruned from late spring and through summer.
How to plant Bay trees
When to plant bay trees
If you purchase a younger plant it is best to place them in the ground in the springtime once any danger of frost it’s over so usually sometime in May for most parts of the Uk, maybe a little sooner further south and a little later up north. This will also give your plants enough time to get established before the warmer summer months arrive.
Choosing the right position
Choose a location that is sheltered from very strong wind and has access to full sun. Like most plants, they need good drainage so if your soil isn’t well-drained and you don’t feel like altering the soil you can grow bay trees in pots as long as you pick containers that are at least 30-40cm across.
Choosing the right compost for growing in pots
If you grow them in pots we recommend using a soil based compost something like a John Innes potting compost as it helps to retain moisture better.
Like any other plant, Bay trees come with an array of potential problems. The biggest issue is going to be scale insects on the underside of the leaves.
These suck the sap out of the leaves and leave in their place honeydew which eventually encourages sooty mould. We recommend spraying scale insects with a pesticide but they can be a little tricky to control and what pesticide you use will depend on if you harvest the leaves. Remember many pesticides cannot be used on plants you harvest and eat including bay trees.
Similarly, there are sap-sucking insects called Bay suckers which result in discolouration and distortion on your leaves. These tend to attack in the summertime and if you don’t treat them they will cause a lot of distortion and discolouration throughout the whole of your tree.
Again, biological measures are best by spraying with a pesticide but it can be difficult to treat with a pesticide designed for edible plants as they often hide within the curled leaves. We recommend spraying with Scots Bug Clear Ultra which can be effective even for scale insects.
Sprays for bay trees
Harvesting bay leaves
When you are ready to add your bay leaves to a dish or leave them in your home for fragrance, you can harvest them at any time. They work best if they are fresh but you can easily dry branches or individual leaves in a cupboard and then store them in an airtight container so that you can use them throughout the year or give them away as gifts.
It’s best to use dried leaves within one year after which point their flavour starts to diminish which is why if you have an overabundance especially after pruning it always works well to give them away as gifts.
Last update on 2021-03-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API