Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) is a Mediterranean tree whose leaves are most famously used as a flavour boost to soups and stews. I bought econo-sized bags of scentless bay leaves for years before I was converted by my first experience with the real thing. Bay has a sweet and heady perfume with a spicy nutmeg note. Dried leaves are actually stronger than fresh; however, dried leaves that have been sitting in a bag on a store shelf for eons are not.
The tree is not hardy in my zone so I will not be starting my own fresh bay leaf business anytime soon. However, it is easy to grow in a pot — much, much more forgiving than citrus trees.
This is a photo my bay tree (Laurus nobilis). It wasn’t much more than a seedling when I bought it, but over the last few years it has grown its way through multiple pots. If you don’t need a lot of leaves for cooking, I suggest saving your money and going with a cheap and cheerful seedling rather than indulging in a larger tree. It will grow into a large tree in no time.
p.s. If you like bay, you might be interested in trying a cinnamon tree. The leaves are used much in the same way.
Tips for Growing Bay Laurel in a Pot
- Always use a pot with a drainage hole and well-draining container soil.
- Bay doesn’t mind it a little cramped in a pot so take your time upgrading it to a bigger home. I wait until roots are poking out through the drainage hole. Restricting its roots like this will also prevent it from growing into a monster, which is a good idea if you must shift it from indoors to out as I do.
- Seedlings grow quickly; however, seeds are painfully slow to germinate. Save yourself the hassle and buy a transplant.
- Watering: Water deeply, allowing the soil to dry out slightly in between.
- In cold climates: Bring indoors before the hard frost and put it outside after the frost free period. I find mine does best in my cold kitchen next to a window. The cooler temperature keeps it in a dormant state through the winter months, with active growth resuming in the springtime.
- Prune the plant in the springtime once it has come out of winter dormancy. As you can see, my tree is in desperate need of pruning.
- Plants grown in pots do best in slightly shaded spots where there is some protection from extreme sun and heat.
- Fertilize in the springtime when the plant is actively growing. I give mine sea kelp/kelp meal to help with life in a pot. Worm castings are a good supplement as is fish emulsion for added nitrogen.
- In the years that you do not repot, replenish the top inch of soil with fresh potting soil.
- I mulch with pebbles to prevent squirrels from digging up the roots.