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A branch of a bay tree with green leaves and seeds
Whether it’s in the ground or in a pot, a bay tree is a hardy and handsome feature plant that’s useful in the kitchen too.

 

What you need to know about a bay tree

Name: bay tree, bay laurel, sweet bay, bay leaf (Laurus nobilis).

Plant type: evergreen tree, but generally maintained as a shrub.

Height: 6m, but can be much larger in an ideal climate when very old.

Foliage: 10cm x 3cm oval-shaped leaves with a definite pointed tip. Deep green. Aromatic when crushed.

Climate: warm temperate, sheltered areas of cool temperate; will grow in sub-tropics but suffers with humidity. 

Soil: will grow in most soil types, including clay.

Position: full-sun to light shade.

Flowering: small yellow flowers from October to November.

Feeding: none needed, but give controlled-release fertiliser annually in very poor soil.

Watering: drought-tolerant once established.

Appearance and characteristics of a bay tree

The sweet bay is a tree with a long history. The Greeks used the flexible young leaf-covered shoots to make laurel wreaths, which were presented at the earliest versions of the Olympic games. The Romans awarded the title of “poet laureate” and a wreath of bay leaves to the finest poets. Bay trees were wildly popular in English gardens in the Victorian era, and of course bay leaves have been thrown in with the cooking since time immemorial.

Most often seen as a small tree with a very stout trunk, the bay tree is incredibly easy to grow in the garden or in pots, and even makes an excellent topiary specimen. 

The bay tree is generally very bushy, with the foliage totally concealing the branching pattern. This tree takes very well to pruning, which helps it maintain a dense cover of foliage.

A bunch of bay leaves tied with string on a table 

Uses for a bay tree

A bay tree can have a number of uses:

  • Position in or near the herb garden so bay leaves are within easy reach for use in the kitchen. 
  • Train into topiary shapes such as ball-on-stick standards, cones, cubes, etc. 
  • Can be trained very easily as a hedge. 
  • Excellent in pots.
  • Great problem solver for difficult spots with poor soil.

How to plant and grow a bay tree

A bay tree will be very forgiving across a wide range of conditions. It will grow in virtually any typical garden soil, including poor-quality soil, and will be drought-tolerant once established. The bay tree will also tolerate wet and waterlogged soil for short periods. It prefers sun to part-shade, and is not a nutrient-hungry plant. 

Planting tips

Larger trees and standards will require staking when planted. Although this is not essential, adding some compost or manure and a controlled-release fertiliser at planting time will speed up establishment. Once the plant is established, spread a controlled-release fertiliser every spring.

How and when to prune a bay tree

Use hedging shears to keep larger plants to your desired shape and size. Regular pruning encourages bushiness and keeps foliage looking lush. To prevent your plant getting too tall, prune out any main leaders that shoot out through the top of the plant.

Diseases and pests

Scale insects are the most common pest affecting a bay tree. These can appear on the leaves and stems. They are easily treated with an oil-based pest spray that is suitable for food plants. 

Sooty mould may accompany scale insects, as this black, powdery mould grows on the excrement of the scale insects. Once the scale insects have been treated, the sooty mould will fall away.

How to propagate a bay tree

Take semi-hardwood cuttings from mid-summer to early autumn. These should be about 10cm long and leafy. Try to get cuttings with a heel of older bark at the base. Remove the lower leaves, then dip the end in a striking gel and gently place in a pot of propagating mix. Keep the cuttings warm and moist until they are established.

If you like this then try

Rosemary: another easy-care and hardy herb that’s a perfect flavour partner. 

Fig: perfect for gardens and pots, figs are easy and rewarding. 

Mango: a larger fruit tree, perfect for warmer zones.

Start planting today

Check out our huge range of plants now and get your garden growing.

 

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Health & Safety

Asbestos, lead-based paints and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber are health hazards you need to look out for when renovating older homes. These substances can easily be disturbed when renovating and exposure to them can cause a range of life-threatening diseases and conditions including cancer. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page.

When following our advice in our D.I.Y. videos, make sure you use all equipment, including PPE, safely by following the manufacturer’s instructions. Check that the equipment is suitable for the task and that PPE fits properly. If you are unsure, hire an expert to do the job or talk to a Bunnings Team Member.