Grow Your Own Bay Laurel Leaves
Bay laurel is a perennial herb that grows much like a bush or a tree. In warmer climates, this evergreen can be grown in the landscape. I actually planted a couple bay laurel bushes in my front yard in Houston that grew at least a foot taller each year. Not only are the leaves edible, the plant itself is beautiful year round (my neighbors probably had no idea those "ornamental bushes" in my flower beds were giving me delicious leaves to toss into soups and stews).
If cared for properly, this herb can give you years of enjoyment and flavorful leaves.
Bay Laurel Plant Family
Most of the herbs I recommend growing in your herb garden come from the mint family (sage, rosemary, basil, oregano, thyme, marjoram, and summer and winter savory) or the carrot family (dill, parsley, and cilantro). Bay laurel actually comes from the same family as cinnamon, avocado, and camphor. That's the laurel family.
Although this plant family is fairly small, it provides some of the most beautiful and fragrant herbs. If you cook often, I'm sure you'll find that at least one out of every ten recipes or so for soups, stews, and baked dishes calls for a bay leaf. Bay leaves provide a deep flavor in dishes that can't be found in other herbs. It's one of a kind.
Where to Grow Bay Laurel
If you’re interested in growing your own bay leaves, know that bay is a tropical plant that’s happiest in warm weather (temps above 70 degrees Farenheit). Plant bay laurel in the spring or fall and give it plenty of room to grow.
Growing Bay Laurel in Warmer Climates
In mild climates where there’s little to no threat of frost, bay laurel can be grown as trees or bushes in the permanent landscape. We love to add bay laurels alongside native plants and flowers for our Rooted Garden clients in Houston (zone 9).
If you prefer to grow bay laurel in a raised bed, plant it near the center of the bed for a season and see how it grows. You just want to make sure that the root system isn’t competing with the other herbs around it. Prune the plant regularly so it doesn't outgrow the garden.
Growing Bay Laurel in Colder Climates
If you’re not in the kind of climate where avocados grow, keep in mind that you can’t really plant bay laurel outdoors directly in your landscape. That doesn't mean those of you in colder areas with periods of frost and snow (zones 1 through 7), need to be deprived of homegrown bay leaves. You'll just have to pot your plant up (if it's growing in a raised bed) and move it indoors during the coldest part of the year.
Indoors, bay laurel won’t necessarily produce lots of new leaves but will continue moderate growth if placed in the sunniest spot you have in your home. Don't worry if your bay laurel plant drops some leaves while it's adjusting to being moved indoors.
Growing Bay Laurel in a Container
Bay laurel can be grown in its own pot year round if kept well pruned. This option makes it a little easier on you when the cooler season arrives and it’s time to move your plant indoors.
Look for a container that's at least 5 gallons to give the roots plenty of space.
Container-grown plants won't grow as large as those in your landscape, but if you’ve ever bought a little jar of bay laurel leaves from the grocery store, you already know that starting even with a small bush is totally worth it.
Bay laurel needs at least 6 hours of sun a day to thrive. Plant it on the southern side of your home or in an open area where it can receive a good amount of unobstructed sunlight each day.
How to Plant Bay Laurel
Bay laurel is best started as a plant—either as a bush or tree. I don't recommend starting this herb by seed unless you're very, very patient because it's going to take... a while.
Bay laurel prefers soil that drains well. It thrives in most native soils amended with some sand and compost. If planting bay laurel in the ground, allow at least 5 feet around the tree for growth, unless growing in a topiary form.
When transplanting a bay laurel plant to your garden space, be sure to dig a hole as deep as the plant's roots and twice as wide.
Bay Laurel Tree Care
Beyond moving this plant indoors as the seasons demand, there's not too much to do as far as tending your bay laurel plant.
How to water bay laurel
Bay laurel is one of the least demanding herbs in terms of water. Water the base of the plant, not the leaves, when the soil feels dry 1 to 2 inches down. You'll obviously need to water more frequently if your herb is in a container than in the ground or a raised bed.
You'll know you're not watering enough if the leaves turn brown, get crunchy, or simply drop to the ground. You'll know you're watering too much if the leaves turn yellow.
When your leaves are a vibrant green, standing tall and holding their structure, this is a sign that your watering is just right.
How to fertilize bay laurel
Bay laurel is so slow-growing that it won't need many additional nutrients if it's growing in the ground or in great soil in a raised bed. Potted bay laurels can benefit from occasional doses of nitrogen to encourage more leafy growth. You can do this simply by pouring in a little extra nitrogen liquid when watering or spritzing the leaves with this liquid.
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How to Harvest Bay Leaves
Even as a bush or tree, bay laurel is very slow growing. So, it will not only need plenty of space to grow but also plenty of time. You can still harvest from the plant regularly. In the beginning, just harvest a leaf or two at a time to avoid overwhelming the plant.
Eventually, your plant will be large enough to handle a lot more harvesting. In warm climates, you’ll eventually be able to cut large branches off at a time and then hang them to dry.
Use a clean pair of pruners to harvest your bay laurel leaves.
Drying Bay Laurel Leaves
To dry bay laurel leaves, strip the stem of the bottom few leaves, tie a bunch of stems together, and hang them upside down in a cool, dry, and somewhat dark place (bright sunlight can bleach the greens and remove some of the strong herb flavor you’re hoping to keep) for two to three weeks. Then, remove dried herbs from their stems and seal in a jar until you’re ready to add incredible flavor to a savory dish.
Enjoy Your Bay Laurel Plant for Years to Come
That's really all there is to having delicious bay leaves to use all throughout the seasons. Thanks for bringing back the kitchen garden with me, one bay leaf at a time!
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