Bay laurel, also known as Laurus nobilis, sweet bay, bay tree, true laurel, Grecian laurel, laurel tree or laurel is known for the flavorful leaves that can be used in many home recipes. However, this evergreen tree is a native to the Mediterranean area. The tree or large shrub is usually kept small by pruning or growing in a container. If not pruned, the Laurel can grow to heights of 60 feet.
The bark of the bay laurel is grey or black in color and has a smooth texture to it. Bay laurel leaves are about 5-12 cm long and are lance-shaped and narrow with wavy margins. The leaves have tiny oil glands which give of their aroma when the leaves are crushed. The bay laurel blossoms in the spring. These blooms appear in small clusters. The males are yellow in color and the females are greenish. The two different blossoms appear on different trees. Then the fruit appears soon after. The fruit are about 10-15 cm long and are oval-shaped. They start off green in color, but then ripen to a dull black.
This tree enjoys full sun to partial shade and should be planted from April to September. Generally, this tree is hardy to 23 degrees Fahrenheit, but if it is sheltered, it can endure lower temperatures. When planted in the ground, the bay laurel will be hardier than when in a container.
The bay laurel can be pruned and shaped into a topiary, which is a tree or shrub that is trained into a specific form. Some of the more common shapes they are trained into are pyramids or balls. The stems can also be trained into braids or spirals.
If growing in a container, they will thrive in a potting soil mixed with a compost. The compost will aid in the drainage of the soil. They do not like to be over watered, as this can lead to root damage.
To propagate a bay laurel seeds can be collected in the fall. The fleshy outer casing is removed and then the seeds can be planted immediately. If the seed is dried, soak it in warm water for 24 hours before planting. Seeds is only likely to be found on a female bay laurel. Semi-ripe cuttings or layering can also be done to propagate this tree.
Three of the most common cultivars of the laurel include: Laurus nobilis “aurea” AGM or the yellow-leaved bay tree, which has yellow leaves; Laurus nobilis AGM, the bay tree, which is most commonly grown for cooking; and Laurus nobilis f. angustiolia or the willow leaved laurel, which has thinner, edible leaves.
Leaf spot can appear on bay laurel if the roots become waterlogged or if there has been wet weather. If a potted plant has this condition, it should be repotted with fresh compost.
It is common for minimal older leaves to turn yellow and shed, but if many of the leaves begin to fall, the plant either has become waterlogged or it is experiencing cold weather damage.
Peeling or cracking bark can occur if the plant has been exposed to harsh winters. It is not usually fatal if the rest of the plant continues to grow normally by the middle of the summer. If the plant above the cracked area seems to be dead, remove the dead sections and cut to the green healthy wood under the bark or close to the soil level. If this is done, recovery usually follows.