Growing Bay Trees
Bay trees thrive in containers, making them ideal for the patio. They will require
an annual trim in the autumn to shape them and a liquid feed throughout the summer.
The size of the pot will control the size of the Bay tree - a 30cm (12in) diameter
pot will produce a reasonable size tree of about 1.5m (5ft). If a hard frost
threatens, move the tree inside to a cool room.
Bay trees are very suited to being indoor
plants in the winter. Keep them in a cool position that is open to
Bay laurel likes to be pot bound and can stay in its
final 30cm (12 in) container for six years or more. After this, repot
into a container which is about 5cm (2 in) wider. Ensure that the base
of the pot has good drainage (use broken clay pot on the base of the
pot) and fill in with a loam based potting compost such as John Innes. This will
provide a neutral soil (i.e. not ericaceous) which has more body to it than a peat based
Feed container grown bay in mid-spring and then more
regularly (every fortnight) during the summer growing period. In early
spring, remove the top 2.5cm (1 in) of compost and replace it with new
Create a Bay Standard
Standard bays look very attractive in containers especially
half-barrels. To form a bay standard, buy a young plant with as straight
a stem as possible. As the plant grows, remove all lower side shoots,
but keep the top side-shoots.
When the bay laurel tree is about 20cm (8in) higher than the final
height, cut out the topmost growing tip. Clip back the remaining side
shoots to about 3 leaves.
This will encourage the head of the bay laurel plant to
grow and it will soon begin to form the traditional 'ball' shape. As more side shoots appear, trim them back to about 3 leaves. When
the bay is fully-shaped, prune in late spring and late summer to
maintain its shape.
Using Bay Laurel as a Herb
Bay leaves are used extensively in French, Italian, Spanish and Creole
cooking. They are used to flavour soups, stews, shellfish, pickling
brines, sauces, marinades, poultry and fish dishes. Always remove the
bay leaves from the food before serving, because they are sharp and can
cut the mouth and throat. French chefs place bay leaves, parsley and
thyme in a little bundle called a bouquet garni that is removed
after cooking. Pick bay leaves early in the day and dry quickly, out of
sunlight, under weight so they won't curl. Store in an air-tight jar and
they will keep their flavour for up to a year.
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