Bay tree care advice
Beautiful, hardy, and aromatic, bay trees offer so much for gardeners, not least because you can train them as standards, balls, pyramids, and more. How you prune and care for your bay depends on whether you choose to opt for potted plants and the shape you’d like to create. Here, we look at some of your commonly asked questions about caring for and maintaining bay trees.
When to prune a bay tree
Prune your bay trees in the spring when shooting begins and then as required during the summer. Start by removing dead, damaged, diseased, and frost-burnt material. For standards, balls, and pyramids, always clip with secateurs rather than shears or a mechanical saw, as these can create a ragged appearance. Trim lightly, shortening the growing stems to just above a bud, encouraging the tree to produce shoots in the direction(s) required. Take your time, stepping back often to assess progress. Unless you buy a ready-trained bay tree, using a wire topiary frame greatly assists in the process of shaping. When forming the classic standard, ball or pyramid shapes from scratch, the process is likely to take some years.
How to look after bay trees in pots
When you grow bay trees in pots, take care to maintain adequate moisture levels through regular watering, especially during the summer months. During wet weather, you should also check frequently and move if necessary to avoid waterlogging. Pot-grown bays benefit from feeding with a general-purpose liquid plant feed fortnightly during the spring and summer. To maintain the vitality of the tree, you should repot with fresh compost every 2-3 years. For those growing standards, these plants often produce suckers – new shoots from the roots. Pull these up and trim them off.
How to revive a bay tree
If your bay tree looks sickly, revive it with a good hard prune in the spring, followed by a re-pot into fresh compost. Apply liquid feed every two weeks and check the soil for moisture levels often, watering or sheltering the tree as necessary to maintain good hydration without waterlogging. If possible, you should also move the tree to a sheltered location in full sun or partial shade. Bay trees are tough and usually respond well to a bit of TLC.
Are bay trees hardy?
Yes, bay trees are hardy, but even so, they do appreciate a little extra care if the weather is particularly wet and/or cold. You should always avoid waterlogging, especially for pot-grown trees, and in frosty weather, do think about covering your trees with horticultural fleece or other plant protection. If it looks like we’re in for a protracted cold spell, leave it in place until the weather warms. Bay trees will survive most bad weather, but that little bit of extra care helps to keep your plants in good condition. For more information on growing and maintaining bay trees, please read our how to grow bay trees guide.