Bay

Bay

Bay is one of the most versatile herbs used in cooking. The leaves are commonly used in the French 'bouquet garni' which can be added to flavour stews and soups.

Bay is an evergreen tree with aromatic leaves and shiny grey bark. In spring it develops small, yellowish flowers and in autumn the tree bears dark, purple berries. It is a tall tree that is often kept small by growing it in a container. It is hardy to –7C but if temperatures fall below that the tree should be covered with horticultural fleece or taken indoors until the weather changes.

Varieties of Bay

There are several varieties to choose from, including:

  • Aurea – young foliage is yellow
  • Angustifolia, or willow-leaf bay – leaves are narrower
  • Undulata – leaves have wavy edges

Uses:

Bay is used in stews, soups, tomato sauces, on fish and pretty much anywhere you want a subtle, earthy flavor. Break or crumble a leaf or two, while cooking. Bay doesn't seem pungent, but it can be overbearing if you use more than a couple of leaves in any dish. It is a traditional component of the French 'bouquet garni'.

Where to Grow Your Bay Tree

Your bay tree should be sited in a sheltered area in full, or part sun. It can tolerate most soils, as long as it is well drained. Dig a deep hole 1m wide and deep and half-fill back with soil and organic matter such as well-rotted animal manure or compost. Place the tree in the soil so it stands straight. Check the original soil mark on the trunk and ensure the tree is sitting to the same depth. Fill the hole back with soil and firm the soil around the trunk with your feet. Water well.

Growing Tips:

Seed or Seedling?: Bay is very hard and slow to start from seed, so most are purchased as seedling. You can start them from seed, but be prepared to wait up to 6 months for the seeds to germinate.

Soil: Bay is not too particular about soil and can tolerate soil pH from 4.5 to 8.3. However, a well-drained soil is important.

Planting: Plant at the same depth as it was planted in its original pot. Bay roots are very shallow and frequent watering may be necessary during dry spells. Also, use caution when weeding or cultivating around at the base of the tree.

Container Grown Bay: Bay makes a popular container plant. I’ve had my bay for about 15 years now. It was a 6" seedling when I first got it and is now almost 6 feet. I keep mine in a 24" pot and bring it indoors, under lights, for the winter. It could handle being in a smaller pot, but it got so top heavy, it kept getting blown over outdoors, so I needed a wider base. Bay seems to grow best when a little cramped in its pot, even to the point of roots starting to poke out the bottom. You shouldn’t need to repot more than once every 5 years.

The only trouble I’ve ever had with my bay is keeping it from drying out in the low humidity of my home. However, when it signals trouble by dropping a few leaves, I use the leaves in cooking and begin misting my tree.

Maintenance:

Pruning: Pruning is the biggest part of maintenance. Bay is often kept pruned, either to keep the size in check or to create a more ornamental tree. Pruning is usually done in the spring, as new growth is just beginning. You can prune as much or as little as you like, to keep the tree small or to create a topiary artwork.

Feeding: Since bay is very slow growing, it doesn’t require a great deal of food. However plants in containers need some supplemental feeding. Feed container grown bay in the spring and maybe again mid-summer, with a balanced organic fertilizer like fish emulsion and kelp. It also helps to refresh the top couple of inches of soil each spring, being careful not to hurt the shallow roots.

In ground bay trees won’t need frequent feedings, if the soil has organic matter. A feeding once in the spring should suffice.

Watering: Bay is drought tolerant, but appreciates regular deep watering. Always allow the soil to dry out between waterings, so the roots don’t rot. But don’t let it sit for long periods without water.

Problems: For the most part, bay is pest free. In fact, it is often used to deter pests from other plants and in the pantry. However, scale can sometimes become a problem and there are moths that will lay their eggs between two leaves and sort of fuse them together with a cottony fluff. If you see two leaves that appear to be stuck together, gently peel them apart and remove the eggs or larva.

Freezing Temps: If your bay is hit by a light frost, the leaves will probably turn brown and dry. Often the tree will recover on its own, the following spring. However if your tree does show signs of die-back, prune the stem down to below the damage and new growth should fill in. In extreme cases, pruned to about 6" and allow new shoots to form from the base.

The only trouble I’ve ever had with my bay is keeping it from drying out in the low humidity of my home. However, when it signals trouble by dropping a few leaves, I use the leaves in cooking and begin misting my tree.

Propagating Bay Leaf Laurel

Take stem cuttings (four or five inches), or air layer. The end of summer is the best time to start new plants. The cuttings will have to be carefully nurtured; a conservatory where you can keep them in uniformly humid conditions would be ideal. Transplant the following spring.

Light: Sun,Part Sun

Zones: 8-11

Plant Type: Perennial,Tree,Shrub

Plant Height: 20-30 feet as a perennial; 2-3 feet tall as an annual

Plant Width: 15-20 feet wide as a perennial; 1-2 feet wide as an annual

Landscape Uses: Containers,Beds & Borders

Special Features: Attractive Foliage,Winter Interest,Deer Resistant


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