How do I grow a bay tree?
The bay tree (Laurus nobilis) is also known as sweet bay and has a long history in cultivation stretching back to ancient Greece and Rome where it was known as the laurel tree and provided decorative headpieces for the celebrities of the day. The aromatic oils in the leaf are extremely useful for adding extra flavour to stews, casseroles and various meat dishes. Usually whole leaves are used and although dried foliage is the most common method of use, the fresh leaves provide a much better result as a significant amount of the oils are lost when the leaves are dried. Bay trees are adaptable and easy to grow and make perfect pot plants as the leaves have a shiny surface and wavy margin that gives them an ornamental quality. In order to increase the amount of leaves for harvesting it is a good idea to pinch out the growing tips during the warmer months of the year when the plant is producing new growth. This will make the plant bushier so that picking off the older leaves for the kitchen will not be as noticeable.
The bay tree can be enjoyed in many different situations, particularly as it is well suited to growing in containers and can be kept at a small size. When grown in the garden it forms a large dense shrub or small tree, up to 10 metres in height and width, if left to its own devices. They can be pruned often to keep their shape, used as screens in the garden, and are also made into topiaries. Plants grown in containers should be repotted in spring every few years, and the root ball trimmed lightly. They are hardy down to about -5°C, and trees in pots can be brought in as indoor plants if winters are cold in your area.
Bay trees are best propagated by semi-hardwood cuttings, taken in late summer or early autumn.