Bay Tree Qa


Article by David Marks
Our main Bay Tree article can be found here. But sometimes our readers ask specific questions which are not covered in the main article. This page lists their comments, questions and answers. At the end of this page there is also a form for you to submit any new question or comment you have.


Date: 18 September 2018 From: Samantha
QUESTION: I have a very large bay bush in my garden and I would like to move parts of it for screening purposes. It is a very healthy oval 3 metre high bush comprised of lots of leggy small trees I suppose, which are crammed up together. Am I able to split it? And if so how?

ANSWER: Yes you can split off some of those leggy small stems.

To do this gently burrow into the compost around the base of a shoot and trace it down as far as you can. At that point break it from the main root with as much of the stem roots in tact as possible. Now just pot it up in multi-purpose compost to the same depth and water well. The bay stem will grow away with almost no check whatsoever.

I would however consider how large is the amount of root compared to the shoot. Without seeing how much root you manage to extract and the size of the stem it’s hard to be precise. But in almost all cases I would cut the stem by at least 50% so that the existing root is able to support it. Possibly prune a lot more.


Date: 25 July 2018 From: Barry C
QUESTION: I recently bought a Bay Tree Laurus Nobilis from my Tesco Store. On the care instructions there is a Warning: For decoration purposes only. As I would like to use the leaves in cooking I enquired on the Tesco Website as to what this actually meant and were the leaves safe to use in cooking. The reply I received was ” Unfortunately our Bay Trees are not grown to an edible standard or on a food safe site, so it’s not recommended to use the leaves for cooking.” Can anyone understand what they are saying please.

ANSWER: I have never heard of that before, it’s absurd, but I would also take the warning seriously.

Two possibilities spring to mind. The first is that Tesco are unable to guarantee that the plant they have sold you is in fact Laurus Nobilis. They therefore cover themselves with the disclaimer you mention.

The second possibility is that Tesco are unable to ensure that the plant has not been sprayed with some toxic pesticide which may still persist in the leaves.

Both of those possibilities, or any other for that matter, show an appalling lack of care on the part of Tesco. And how can they guarantee that the label is still attached and has not fallen off, they can’t? And neither can they guarantee that all customers will read the care instructions – it’s not mandatory.

I would take the plant back and ask for a full refund.


Date: 20 March 2017 From: Natalie
QUESTION: I hope you can help with some advice I’m looking for with regards re potting a bay tree. I’ve attached a photo of the tree and the pot I’m planning to plant it in. I’m just wondering if this pot is big enough for this tree as it is fairly big and has a large trunk – appears to be bigger than the examples I’ve seen on your web page. I would really appreciate your knowledge on this as I’ve never had a bay tree.

Bay tree ready for re-potting

ANSWER: That looks to be about the size of my largest potted bay tree and it is in a pot about the size you show on the right so you will be OK. Good luck.


Date: 19 February 2016 From: Joan
QUESTION: Hi, I wonder if you can help me with my problem regarding a bay tree.

I had a huge tree cut down in the garden, but when this was done one of the huge branches fell and damaged the Bay tree which has been my pride and joy for a number of years. It still looks healthy, however I’m wondering if I can cut the rest of it to retain the lollipop effect it had before the damage was done. It is at least 10 years old and now looks quite ‘leggy’ as I’ve been nervous of cutting into it.

Can you give any advice please ?

ANSWER: I wouldn’t be nervous about trimming a lollipop bay tree, they are very resilient and it’s hard to damage them by pruning. If pruned hard they do take longer to recover compared to other shrubs but they will recover. As far as reshaping your damaged tree, I would just prune back to the lollipop shape and wait for it to bush out and bulk up. One key point with a lollipop bay tree is to prune back to an inward facing bud. This will help keep the shape tight. See this section above for a more detailed explanation.


Date: 14 January 2016 From: Frances
QUESTION: My two lollipop bay trees are in pots protected from most of the elements by our front porch. They are completely dry and I am wondering whether to water them at all bearing in mind that the weather is about to change to very cold conditions. I last watered them about a month ago. I have had them for 3 years and don’t want to kill them by watering them and then it freezing! I would appreciate your advice please.

ANSWER: I always keep my bay trees on the dry side in winter. It’s not so much freezing water in the compost, more because they simply need very little water in winter. But I wouldn’t keep the compost bone dry. If it really is dry I would water sparingly (half a pint) once and leave it for a week or two. Then check again and maybe water once more if still dry.


Date: 07 January 2016 From: Verona C
QUESTION: I do not have green fingers, but I’ve always wanted a Bay Tree. On the advice of the label with my lollipop Bay Tree, I took it indoors. The label said to take it indoors if the temperature was to drop below 5 degrees. I may have read that wrong. It may have been -5. In any case, I took it indoors in or around early November. I didn’t water it for quite a while as directed. I then gave it a cup of water in a dish beneath the tree and a little directly at the base of the main stem.
In the last week or two, the leaves have started to curl over and although not yellow are definately yellowy green. The leaves are very dry. There is also some brown spotting on some of the leaves. One of the trees is in my son’s bedroom which is quite warm and the other one is in my downstairs bathroom which has no heat in it but no window either. Neither tree are doing well. Should I put them back outside. The temperatures are currently around 0 – 2 degrees. Also, the weather was way too wet this year to leave them outside. I could put them in a shed but it has no windows either.
Any advice? My house is South facing and gets all the South Westerly winds both winter and summer. The back of the house is north facing. Those are the only two sides I can put the trees. I would appreciate any advise you can give me please.ANSWER: I would give the same advice as in the question immediately below. Certainly the advice to move it indoors at 5 degrees is simply wrong. Minus 5 is about right but get it back outside as soon as possible. In winter I would try and avoid too much water so position it where that is avoided. If the tree is outside in winter for the majority of the time low light levels won’t be a problem. Simply move the plants to the sunny side when the rainfall reduces.


Date: 28 December 2015 From: Saundra W
QUESTION: My potted laurel tree is in the house for the winter, as I live in KS. The leaves look greasy/wet, is that normal?

ANSWER: Keeping any type of tree indoors will almost always cause them problems, the atmosphere in a house is not natural for them.

The leaves should not be greasy / wet, that could possibly be the start of a fungal or insect attack. My advice would be to get the tree outside and only bring it inside in very low temperatures. For example, if the outside temperature is 25 at night the bay tree will be fine especially if placed near a house wall and out of the wind. If the temperature drops to 22 or below it will probably be best in the coolest part of the house overnight \ and then placed outside during the day.


Date: 7 September 2015 From: Not Given
QUESTION: I purchased a lollipop shaped bay tree earlier this year and it is growing well, however in order for me to keep the lovely round shape do I trim back with hedge clippers or pinch out with my fingers. I would hate to spoil the shape but do not want it to grow too large.

ANSWER: I have added a new section above entitled ‘Keeping The Lollipop Shape’ to answer this question


Date: 19 August 2015 From: Tombochan
QUESTION: Thank you for such a thorough article on bay trees. I have a 3 year old bay tree in a container, sadly last winter the leaves turned brown and all of them fell of, despite a lot of effort to correct the watering. Some of the branches dried off too, and were easy to snap off. However, the tree still seems to be alive, as the remaining branches and the trunk is still supple, but no leaves remain. It did not bring any new leaves or shoots at all this summer. Is there a chance of nursing this tree back to health, or should I give up on it altogether? Thank you. Thanks again!

ANSWER: You don’t say if your bay tree is growing in a container or in open ground. I’m assuming it’s in a container. If the tree hasn’t produced any shoots at all this year then I think the chances of it recovering are very small. But its still worth waiting until next April. Don’t water the tree unless it’s very dry and don’t feed. Good luck.


Date: 21 July 2015 From: Vincent B
QUESTION: We contacted you earlier this year asking about transplanting our bay trees. You were most helpful and as you can see from the result your advice regarding moving them proved to be brilliant. They are now in their new position, have grown considerably and we are very happy. Thanks again!

Replanted Bay trees


Date: 14 July 2015 From: Robert S
QUESTION: Bay tree in pot, leaves gone brown and new shoots coming up through soil. Is it possible to save existing plant or use new shoots to grow a new bay tree. Many thanks.

ANSWER: I would take a “failsafe” approach to this problem. First, I wouldn’t give up on your existing bay tree. Cut the main tree down to soil level and let the new healthy shoots take over. They may well grow into a healthy new plant. At the same time I would take one or two new plants from the new shoots. see the link above for how to do this.


Date: 13 July 2015 From: Not Given
QUESTION: My bay tree has holes in the leaves otherwise OK… is something eating the leaves…could it be leaf cutter bees? I have not found any advice on line

ANSWER: We have added a new section above about holes in bay tree leaves leaves which can be found here.


Date: 12 July 2015 From: Kaye Bath
QUESTION: We have just moved to a new house. I have {2} 2year 0ld bay trees in pots but where we have moved is very windy even on a sunny day and my bay trees seem to be suffering the leaves are going yellow and brown. How can I do to help get my bay trees back to health. They are NOT happy trees and more advice on feeding.

ANSWER: Bay trees do not like windy conditions. You need to position them in a sheltered position until they recover. Keep the soil on the dry side and don’t feed for the next three months (assuming they have previously been fed). Nitrogen feeds encourage lush green growth which is more prone to wind damage.


Date: 10 July 2015 From: Tracey
QUESTION: Novice Bay tree owner. Not sure how to prune. Lovely ball shaped when I received it but now looking a bit haywire. Do it snip from close or from the tips would like to get shape back if possible.

ANSWER: Lollipop bay trees naturally spread out slightly as they grow over the years. I suspect the professional growers keep them to shape before selling by either netting the tops or keeping them together with wire string. However an annual prune will do a very similar job.

Cut the wayward stems to about half / two thirds of their length and make sure you cut just above an inward facing bud. This will cause new growth to grow inward and maintain the ball shape. Prune gradually over a season rather all at one go. Don’t give them a severe haircut – they will in all probability survive it but will take a couple of years to recover properly.


Date: 10 July 2015 From: Bev
QUESTION: I have 2 lollipop bay trees in containers but the bark is peeling, what causes this and what can I do?

ANSWER: I have added a section above about this problem and dealt with it in some detail. Click here to go there.


Date: 5 July 2015 From: Jill W
QUESTION: Is it possible to topiarise a laurel bush and, if so, what shapes would best suit it?

ANSWER: Bay trees have comparatively large leaves which are open. This makes it a difficult plant for topiary. I would suggest you search the internet with a search engine for images of bay trees and topiary. There are some variations on the basic shapes but not many.


Date: 4 July 2015 From: Sue S
QUESTION: We have been clearing our unkempt garden back and have found that our bay tree in the front of the house has seeded itself in amongst our Yew tree at the end of the back garden, it is approximately 8 foot tall but with a very thin trunk so not sure how it would withstand being moved, when and how would you advise us on moving it. We where hoping that we could put it into a pot but again not sure on what size would be appropriate.

ANSWER: Bay trees are a lot tougher than most people think, but, and it’s a big but, if grown in containers they need the correct treatment. Here’s what i would do. First cut the tree down to 1m / 3ft. Harsh treatment but it won’t harm the tree over the long term. It’s probbaly tall and thin because it is searching out light. Cut it down now. Then wait until autumn. Do not water the tree even in very dry conditions.

In autumn dig it up with as much rootball as you can. If you are transferring to a pot the rootball will need to fit in but only with a couple inches of extra space. I would suggest a pot no bigger than 45cm / 18in. A 30cm / 12in pot might look small but it also will be fine. If you will be re-planting in open ground, the larger the rootball the better.

For replanting in open ground make sure the position is protected from harsh winds. Semi shade or full sun are both fine. Personally, from years of experience, I would go for semi-shade if that means it is better protected from winds. If re-planting in a container use normal multi-purpose compost. Water in well and place the tree in semi-shade or dappled shade and well protected position. Do not water again unless the compost becomes absolutely dry. Do not feed until next spring. Treat the plant harshly as far as water and feed is concerned.


Date: 22 June 2015 From: Kris Levy
QUESTION: not sure what to do, so I hope you could help. My bay leaf sprig that I got from the plant store is slowly dying. I’m not sure why, because I know I don’t ever water it and the soil is loose. The leaves of the plant are turning brown, not a yellow brown but a deep dark brown, and when the leaf if completely brown it starts to turn white and die. I get new growth, though of those buds had died, but when I have tried to place this plant outside the new growth just dies. The plant store just says it’s too much water, even though it doesn’t look the same as a over watered images I have looked up, and the pot I have it in is too big, but that doesn’t make much sense and it doesn’t look like the over watering images I looked up. If you need a picture I am more than happy to send you one.

ANSWER: The plant store is correctly identifying two key problems with newly bought and small bay tree plants, overwatering and potting up into too big a pot. We can rule out overwatering because you say it has not been watered at all. That then indicates that the new pot is too big and this could well be the case. Bay trees do not like being grown in pots which are large for their size.

You say that placing the plant outside results in some parts of the plant suffering. Bay trees should never be kept indoors, that most definitely will harm them, they need to be kept outside in all but the coldest weather. If the plant store will not give you a replacement I suggest you move the plant outside even if it does not appear to recover. Keep the compost slightly drier than normal, place the plant in light shade, cross your fingers and hope! Do not feed it for the next three months.


Date: 17 June 2015 From: Denise
QUESTION: My bay tree has white spots with a brown centre growing all up the trunk of the tree it actually looks like bird poo to look at. When you touch it, it’s very sticky. What should I do.? It’s about 4 years old.

ANSWER: It’s difficult to be 100% sure without a picture but it sounds very much like scale insects and given your description, it’s probably Woolly scale insects. See the picture below which is Woolly Scale insect on a blackcurrant bush.

Woolly Scale insect on a blackcurrant bush

For more details on this pest and how to treat it see this page here.


Date: 14 June 2015 From: Susan Griffin
QUESTION: What kind of feed do I use

ANSWER: A small handful of long-lasting fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone once a month (April to September) will do just fine. Sprinkle it over the surface of the soil and gently work it in to stop it blowing away.


Date: 13 June 2015 From: Steven
QUESTION: I have white foam coming from the joints of my bay leaf bush can anyone tell me what this is please

ANSWER: Can you send a picture to help identify what is going on? Send it to the email in our Contact Us section and I’ll do my best to help.


Date: 9 June 2015 From: Lynne Everett
QUESTION: I have a small bay tree in a container kept indoors and all the leaves have a sticky residue, can you tell me what this is and what to do.

ANSWER: Sounds very much like aphids, you might not be able to see them at the moment but they are there. It could also be whitefly which are more common on plants indoors. The only real solution is to spray with an insecticide. One problem which makes bay trees very susceptible to these attacks is that you are keeping the tree indoors. They are far better kept in the open.


Date: 8 June 2015 From: Sue
QUESTION: Are all bay trees edible, I have one in the garden of a house I have just bought not sure what type it is?

ANSWER: If it is Laurus nobilis, to give it an exactly identifying name, it is edible. But be very cautious if you are not sure what it is. I’m no expert on poisonous plants but I do know that laurel trees (as opposed to bay laurel) are poisonous. The rule is, with all plants, if you are not sure what it is don’t eat it.


Date: 5 June 2015 From: Verda
QUESTION: I recently purchased a bay laurel tree. It came in a pot, and I think it would be best to leave it in the pot until fall. I did not want to uproot it at this time, am I doing the right thing, leaving in the pot that it was shipped in or should I put it in a different pot, perhaps a larger one?? I had a bay laurel for many years, and I did leave it in the original pot for about a year or more, it worked out fine.

ANSWER: Bay trees will survive fine in their original pot for many months. Remember to pot it up though in autumn because it will grow during this summer.


Date: 26 May 2015 From: Not Given
QUESTION: Hi my Bay tree has 5 or 6 branches but looks very willowery but has no bush shape about it. Would it be best to prune right back and hope it bushes out

ANSWER: In principle yes, but you don’t say if it’s a lollipop or bush form. I assume from the question that it’s a bush form. If you cut a bay tree stem to just above a leaf node the stem will start to bush out as it grows. This can be done repeatedly every two or three nodes to achieve a bushier plant.


Date: 28 April 2015 From: John Gale
QUESTION: I’ve just hard pruned my multi trunk 30 foot high bay tree which I have to do about every five years and want to know if, having put all but the thicker stems through a shredder I can use it either as a mulch or for compost.

ANSWER: Good question, I have added a section above (click here) to answer your question.


Date: 26 April 2015 From: Emma
QUESTION: Hi my bay tree leaves have turn brown, some leaves are half brown half green its in a pot against the garage. Should I cut brown leaves off? Can u give me some advice as I’ve read some advice and seems it could be a lot of things!!!???? Thank u

ANSWER: See the section above (click here) for the reasons for leaves turning brown.


Date: 7 April 2015 From: Tom
QUESTION: We have two bay trees in containers, last year a lot of the leaves were covered in a black coating, like a fine layer of soot. I don’t know if that was the cause, but the shrubs attracted an unusually high number of wasps. Have you come across these problems before?

ANSWER: I have added a new section above entitled BLACK COATING ON LEAVES (click here to go there) which explains what causes this and how to deal with it.


Date: 24 March 2015 From: Andy Clarke
QUESTION: I have two Bay plants in 30cm pots, kept in an enclosed sunny porch. They have thrived for two years and are around 80cm tall. Last autumn they began to show signs of sticky residue on the leafs. I sprayed them with the home-made potion of baking soda/veg oil/bio soap/water and they seemed to stabilise. During this winter they started to die back with dead-looking leafs on the lower portions of the plants. Eventually becoming unsightly.

I had read your advice re. not watering during the winter but as the leafs were becoming dry and withered, I gave them a good soaking, but did not let them stand in water. One of the plants picked up, the other looked worse and worse as the winter drew on. Come the Feb/March better weather, they both showed signs of new growth, and I took the worst one into the back sheltered yard as it was so ugly. It is now sprouting vigorously with lanky shoots and new large leafs which are forming at the end of the withered, shriveled stalks.

My instinct is to prune hard, both to try to keep some shape, and to force the new growth to replace to lower shriveled portions, but this will mean cutting off the only signs of life! Your advice would be gratefully received.

Bay tree with shrivelled leaves

ANSWER: I would be wary of cutting off all the new healthy growth, I suspect it would work but I I also wouldn’t take the chance with a bay tree that’s not in good condition. Why not try pruning away about half the healthy growth? That should force some buds to break but at the same time retain some healthy leaves to provide energy. Rather than prune half of the healthy top growth away I would prune half the stems reasonably severely. If all goes OK you could prune again next year.


Date: 14 January 2016 From: Elaine Blackshaw
QUESTION: When and how to move a Bay Tree?
We are moving house and for the past 8 yrs have cared for 2 lollipop bay trees. We appreciate it is not the ideal time for moving established trees which are grown in the ground but would appreciate your advice on whether it is practical and if so what measures we should take to ensure a happy transition into ground. Kind regards.
ANSWER: I’ve never moved a bay tree so I can’t pretend I’m an expert. My advice though would be the same for almost all evergreen small trees – move in October (not possible in your case) or March. The concern with moving evergreen trees in winter is that the cold and / or dry conditions can damage them much more easily soon after transplanting.Dig the trees up with as much of the rootball intact as possible. Replant to exactly the same depth as before. Bay trees have relatively shallow roots so when planning to move it go for a wide rootball rather than a deep rootball. That way you will do least damage to the parts of the roots which matter. Water well not only to provide moisture but to allow the soil to settle and come into contact with the root ball. Add 5cm or of mulch around the base of the trees but not touching the stem.Inevitably some root damage will occur but remember that it is the tiny fibrous roots which absorb the all important water. Damage to the larger should be avoided but even more important is to protect the fibrous roots from damage.On the practical side, minimise the time the tree is out of the ground to the absolute minimum. If you can dig the new holes (or most of it) before you dig up the trees that would be best. If the trees are out of the ground for any period of time wrap the rootball in a damp cloth of some sort to minimise evaporation.


Date: 07 December 2014 From: Susan Wotton
I need to protect bay tree containers that are in an open position and too heavy to move. Will wrapping them in horticulture fleece be sufficient?

ANSWER: We have written a very detailed article on how to protect bay trees in pots from frost. Click here to read it now. Horticultural fleece or frost jackets do protect from frost BUT they need to be fitted as described in our article and also they should be removed asap after the very cold weather has passed. Leaving them on too long will cause condensation which in turn can cause rotting.


Date: 29 July 14 From: Suzie
Not intending to, I’ve let my Bay tree grow to 16 feet or so. Can I safely cut the main trunk back by half and still have it survive and look decent with pruning?

ANSWER: I have included a section above to answer your question along with a few suggestions on how to use the prunings. Click here to read it now.


Date: 29 July 14 From: Ray Bishop
Geoff: I think the temperature has something to do with the scent of bay leaves. Have you moved your bay tree to a cooler and/or shadier place?


Date: 26 June 14 From: Geoff
Just read your Bay Tree article and found just about everything there is to know about it, except why my Bay has lost its smell. I originally purchased from BandQ in a small pot about seven or eight years ago and it has grown into a nice bush about seven feet tall and is still growing. Up until this year it has always had a very nice strong Bay Tree smell, so any idea why it has stopped would be appreciated. Thanks in advance, Geoff.

ANSWER: My understanding and personal experience is that Bay Tree leaves give off almost no scent unless they are heavily crushed or cooked. So I’m surprised that in previous years you were able to smell the tree. On that basis I wouldn’t be concerned that this year is different, maybe it’s returning to its normal state rather than the opposite. Anyone else with any other opinions?

Obviously scent is a subjective matter and it’s also possible that the environment around the tree previously protected it from wind and concentrated what little scent it gave off. Maybe now something has changed to allow more air circulation. Whatever the reason, the lack of scent is not unusual.