Bay is an evergreen shrub or small tree with fragrant, aromatic dark green leaves that are often sold dry in shops for use in stews, roasts and vegetable dishes. Bay is a very easy plant to grow and can be clipped into an attractive shape if you have the time and inclination. Fresh, home- dried leaves undoubtedly have a better flavour than the shop-bought herb so its worth planting a bay tree if you have room. A bay tree will grow to a height and spread of around 7m to 8m if unclipped. If you clip it, you can keep a bay tree down to size and even plant one in a container. Its clippable nature also makes bay a good hedging plant for enclosing a vegetable garden or masking unattractive fences or retainers. Bay is often clipped into standard shapes – that make it look rather like a giant lollipop or ice block. You can even try pyramids, cones, spirals and cubes – pretty much whatever takes your fancy. A bay tree or hedge offers useful nesting and perching potential - as well as a place to hide – for small birds that will help out in the garden eating some of your pests. Bay is moderately frost hardy when planted in the ground but if grown in pots the containers themselves may need to be wrapped in bubble wrap in very cold areas during frosty spells to prevent roots from freezing.
Companions Rosemary, citrus, oregano, olive
Quantity 1 plant per household
Plant container grown seedlings countrywide any time of year as long as ground is not frozen.
Bay grows best in full sun as well as partial shade – where it will probably not grow as big and foliage may thin our a little. If you aim to grow it to full size then remember it will cast shade as well as draw upon soil nutrients so give it room.
Bay trees grow well in most soils as long as drainage is good and it doesn’t get too water-logged in winter. If planting in a container, use a soil-based compost and add extra drainage – fine scoria or pumice – as well as a slow-release granular feed.
Soak container grown plants in water before planting them. Gently ease out of the pot and if there are lots of roots visible on the outside of the root ball gently tease them out so they are loose and free to head off into new soil.
In the garden, dig a hole that is just larger than the pot your plant has come in. Add some well-rotted compost to the soil in the bottom and mix. Place your plant in the hole and, if necessary add soil beneath it so that container soil level is the same as garden soil level. Back fill with more soil and compost around the sides of the root ball ensuring there are no air pockets. Firm soil around the bas e to the plant before watering well.
If growing in a pot choose a large container – a half wine barrel for instance. Use soil-based compost and add to it some drainage material like fine scoria or pumice. A few handfuls of slow release fertilizer can also be mixed with your growing medium. Plant your bay tree so that the soil level in its original pot is the same as that of the growing medium. Water well.
You can pick a few leaves whenever you like but try not to denude young plants as you will stunt their growth. If doing any trimming of larger or mature trees then you’ll have heaps of leaves that can be dried before storing – or sharing with friends and neighbours.
Trim your plants to grow them into any desired shape. Usually foliage is clipped with a sharp pair of garden shears or hedge trimmers for large plants and hedges. Plants in smaller containers may need to be transplanted into larger containers every few years as they grow and get bigger. Feed container grown plants with a liquid feed every 2 to 4 weeks during spring and summer. If any garden grown trees are looking a bit lackluster and foliage is thin then or yellowing then try a feeding program with liquid feed- every 2 to 4 weeks. It may however be that drainage is not adequate and the roots are too wet. If so then you might be able to dig it up in late winter - if not too large - and improve soil drainage before re-planting.