Growing Bay Laurel in a Pot

Bay Laurel Grown in a Container

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.

Bay Laurel Grown in a Container

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.
Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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10 thoughts on “Growing Bay Laurel in a Pot

  1. Thanks you so much for this information.
    I have been wanting to grow a bay leaf tree, but I didn’t think you could buy one!!! I know that sounds silly!!
    Now I’ll be calling the Nursery’s

    I live in the mountains in California,which we do get some snow, but there is Huge bay leaf tree not far from me that everyone use to take the leafs from. (I never did ).
    From what I have heard it is so over grown with different trees there, now is it hard to get in there!

    There is nothing as good as cooking with Fresh dried Bay leaves..There Green and not lite-beige.
    Btw I notice to buy the good bay leaves, it can cost about $12.00 for a small jar…

    Now I’m on the hunt for the tree.

    Thanks again,

    • You’re right that the good quality leaves are not cheap. Growing even a small tree in a pot is more affordable.

      I have no trouble finding them for sale here in Toronto, so I imagine you’ll have an easy time of it in California.

  2. I’ll have to do some hunting in Hamilton. My sister once brought me back some fresh leaves from a friend’s tree in BC. Your instructions seem easy though. I think I could grow one. Thanks for the inspiration Gayla!

  3. My brother in western France has a 30 foot Bay laurel Tree next to his terrace. Astounding.

    I keep my Bay in a big pot in our attached garage for winter (cool, 55 degrees, no central heating) and for summer it gets unpotted and dug into the garden bed, 3/4 sun.

    I prune the Bay Tree to round out its shape each fall before it comes inside for winter, saving prunings in a small brown paper bag to dry them, hung on a clothesline. Dried leaves are stored airtight or jarred up as gifts.

    My tree is about 16 years old with a fat trunk and many branches. It began as a very pricey 8″ high rooted cutting. I love it dearly.

  4. I keep both a bay leaf tree and a rosemary plant in the kitchen all winter and then let them live on the front step in the sun all summer – so easy and so cheap since I am not buying fresh herbs in the winter. Unfortunately both have quite the pillbug infestation this year – any advice on how to get rid of them ?

  5. I am so glad you wrote this, now! I have been thinking of putting a bay in a container, but wasn’t sure how it would do. I live in zone 8a. My nurseryman says I won’t need to protect it in the winter, which I hope is true, as I don’t have windows that afford large potted plants light in the winter.
    I grew up in Northern CA with bay trees in my backyard, so I miss them! When we sold my mother’s house I took some leaves, but I ran out of them not long ago. I am in Southern Oregon now, where these trees are called Oregon Myrtle. Strangely enough I don’t see them in the forests nearby.

  6. Gayla, is there somewhere in Toronto where you know I could find a cinnamon tree seedling or seeds? I’m going to be heading up there in a few weeks time and the thought of having a cinnamon tree sounds incredible, but my google searches have turned up nil.

  7. great post. the freshly dried leaves are the best in soups. i usually stick a leaf in when cooking brown rice. my brother has a tree so i get my leaves from him. now after feading your posting i will get a cutting from him. i need a plant now. i have two cinnamon seedlings growing in pots, they are about 5 inches tall. i do use the leaves in cooking….rice, stews and soups. a cup of fresh cinnamon leaf tea is what i will have this morning.

  8. I called my local nursery today.
    She said there are two types of bay leaf trees (Bay laurel), I forget the other name!) and she is going to order me one of each type .
    There a one Gallon size.

    When do you think I would be getting any usable leaves?
    She also said they can be grown in the cold weather!!
    I’m going to plant them in larger pots . If the weather looks bad I can always bring them inside..

    Thanks again for your Info.

  9. I’ve been lugging my bay tree around for almost 20 years and sadly it just gave up the ghost this year. It’s like losing an old friend. It’s travelled from NJ to Mass to Miami and back to NJ. I never coddled it (maybe I should have) and it provided flavor for hundreds of recipes over the years. I’ve purchased an itty-bitty plant for new leaves, and I’m sure it will grow quickly. Think Ill be kinder to this one.

    Thanks for a great site!


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