Bay Tree Laurel, Laurus Nobilis or Sweet Bay is a beautiful Mediterranean addition to any garden. It can be grown as a specimen shrub in the ground, but is most often trained into eye-catching topiary shapes in containers to create a patio or decking ‘wow’ factor or an elegant entrance either side of a door or in a porch way.
The dark fragrant leaves can be used fresh or dried in soups, stews and curries, making a well-tended bay tree laurel by a kitchen door a useful culinary addition.
Laurus nobilis topiary specimens are traditionally trained into lollipop standards (tree stem with a crown), pyramids and balls. Bay is less hardy than Cherry Laurel but will still withstand temperatures down to minus 5°c.
The Bay Laurel is a dioecious evergreen (individual male and female plants) small yellow male or female flowers form in spring, with the female plants then developing small black berries.
As a container Laurus nobilis is best positioned in a sheltered spot in sun or partial shade and moderately watered. As with all container plants, the compost will become depleted of nutrients overtime so it is advisable to repot every couple of years. Use a loam-based general potting compost with slow release fertiliser granules and some extra grit to provide stability for the Bay Tree as it grows. During late spring and summer add a liquid feed every few weeks to your watering regime.
Bay Tree Laurel is less hardy than Cherry Laurel but will still withstand temperatures down to minus 5°c. During cold winters Bay Laurel can be protected with fleece or alternatively moved indoors to a cool room or garage for over-wintering.
When planted in the ground Bay Tree Laurel is more hardy. However where there is a high probability of extreme low temperatures, consider varieties such as Portuguese Laurel (Prunus lusitanica ‘Angustifolia’) which has a similar style but much a higher tolerance for cold, down to minus 23°c.
Prune topiary bay trees with secateurs during the summer growing season to maintain the topiary shape. To encourage dense and balanced growth look for buds that are growing in the direction you want and trim off the shoot just above.
Laurus nobilis shrubs are also best trimmed with secateurs in spring or summer. Cut back to lower leaves to develop the required height and spread. Any leaf tips that have been damaged by winter cold should also by lightly pruned out.
Once established Bay Laurel shrubs can withstand hard pruning, however due to the slower growth rate recovery can take two or three growing seasons.
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