The Bay Leaf Plant is a lovely evergreen small tree or shrub for your containers or garden and should not be missing from your herb collection. Grow a Bay Laurel Tree if you like cooking with its aromatic leaves!
The Bay Leaf tree (Laurus nobilis) has long been used for cooking and was a holy tree for the Greeks and Romans. Bay laurels grow into a small evergreen tree or bush up to 10 m (30 ft) high and up to 6 m (18 ft) wide.
They are traditionally used for topiary shaped into pyramids, ball shapes and standard trees and look very elegant and classy in a terracotta pot!
Their creamy white scented flowers appear in May. The flowers are followed by black berries which are not used for cooking.
The aromatic flavour of Bay leaves is used to round off soups and gravies, fish and meat dishes or to marinate venison. It is also an ingredient that can't be missed when pickling the likes of cucumbers or onions.
Add the whole leaf while cooking and remove it before serving. You can use dried or fresh leaves.
Being of Mediterranean origin the Bay Laurel tree likes well drained soils. Avoid places that are exposed to cold, drying winds.
The Bay laurel is hardy to -10 C/14 F for short periods so they might not be suitable for areas with very harsh winters. Sun or part shade is ideal for a Bay Leaf plant.
Bay Leaf plants can successfully be grown in containers for years and years. Mature plants of course need a large container which can be a problem if you have to shift the containers into a sheltered place for the winter.
They can be shaped easily into either pyramids or ball shapes. Trim them in late summer and of course use the clippings for drying.
Allow young trees to grow and build up strength before you start using the leaves or shaping it. Otherwise the plant will be stunted and grows very slowly.
If you live in a very cold climate (below -10 C/14 F for a long period) you have to overwinter your bay tree somewhere inside. The place for this should not be too warm, maximum up to 15 C/60 F.
Choose a bright place with lots of light. An unheated stairwell, cool conservatory or glasshouse is ideal. Reduce the watering to once a month.
You can harvest the leaves any time you need them. There is no need to dry them before using them although some people claim that the flavor is better if you do so. I use them both ways. If I run out of dried ones I just use the fresh ones.
Best time to collect loads of the leaves is of course when you trim your bay tree.
Dry the leaves individually on a tray in a shaded but warm place. Once they are dry store them in an airtight container. You can also tie some branches into little bunches and hang them upside down until they are dry.
Scale Insects can be a real problem particularly if you keep your Bay Leaf plant inside. This pest is difficult to treat successfully because you always miss a few of the little buggers and it starts all over again.
They sit on the underside of the leaves, on top and on the branches. Look out for brown little scales that sit near the center rib of the leaves and on the stems.
The best way to get rid of them is to spray the whole plant thoroughly from top to bottom with an organic pest spray that contains fatty acids. Then follow up with beneficial insects. They will kill the ones that you have missed.
The problem with a scale insect infestation is that you will get a black fungus growing on the sugar that the scales excrete.
This is a sure sign that you are dealing with scale insects. Leaves that are covered with a sticky layer of fungus are not very appetizing.