How to grow a bay leaf tree

The very first tree I decided to grow inside my house was a bay laurel tree (Laurus nobilis). Unlike most other herbs, the bay leaf is actually an evergreen shrub. I looked for this little plant for several years before finally finding one at a local plant nursery. Since then I have been obsessed with it! 

It is now just under 2 feet tall, it lives in a medium sized pot, it spends its summers outside and its winters indoors.

Bay laurel plant growing in a pot indoors

The bay laurel tree is an aromatic evergreen tree with smooth leaves in the flowering plant family Lauraceae. It is a flowering tree, with pairs of yellow-green flowers blooming bedside each leaf. It blooms in spring.

Unfortunately the bay laurel is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers form on separate plants. So sadly, my single plant will never produce viable seed. Since the bay Laurel is native to the Mediterranean region it cannot tolerate our winters outside and therefore must be protected from the cold in winter. 

I call it a 'small' tree but it can actually reach a height of up to 59 feet tall! Obviously it can't be allowed to get that big inside my house! With proper pruning I shouldn't have to worry about it bursting through my ceilings anytime soon though. When grown in a pot, it is a fairly slow growing tree.

I would guess that my tree is growing at a rate of about 6" a year. Here are pictures taken from when I bought it and 1 year later. In prime conditions it can grow up to 2 feet a year outdoors!

Bay leaf tree 1 year of growth in pictures

How to grow the bay leaf tree

The bay laurel likes bright sun though it can tolerate partial shade. I keep mine by a sunny window during winter and in the summer I move it outside into direct sun. From late May till early October is warm enough for the bay laurel to be outside in my zone. As a native to the Mediterranean it likes hot, humid, sunny days the best.
I make sure to bring it back inside if there's any danger of frost. It is only hardy in zones 8 through 10.

I use a well-draining potting soil. I amend it with compost and add a little bit of perlite. When adding compost side dress it, don't dig it in. The roots are fairly shallow and digging compost into the soil can damage the roots.

You'll only need to repot the bay laurel every few years. Only go up one size pot at a time as the plant out grows it's current pot. Unfortunately I only had a the big pot in the picture when I was repotting it the first time and it's definitely too large! I should have held off till I had the right size pot as it would probably do better in a smaller pot. 

Frequent watering is essential during the hot summers. Allow the soil to dry out completely in between watering though, to prevent root rot.

In winter the indoor air can be rather dry and your tree will benefit from being misted with water or having a humidity tray nearby. Be careful not to overwater in winter! I cut back to about once every 10 days.

Bay leaf herb plant growing in pot

I don't add any fertilizers to my bay Laurel tree, just a little bit of compost a few times during the growing season.

I haven't had any problems with pests and the bay laurel is fairly resistant to diseases.

Harvesting bay leaves

You can begin to harvest small amounts of leaves when the tree is about 3-4 feet tall. You can cook with fresh bay leaves or dry them first. I personally don't notice a difference but some people claim the bay leaf is more flavorful if they're dried first.

Prune your tree in spring to keep it small enough to live in your house. Prune at the top and it will start to branch out more. This is a great time to collect and dry the leaves for cooking. With proper care your bay laurel should live for years, providing bay leaf for all your favorite recipes!


Related reading: Want more information on growing plants indoors in winter? Check out this collection of articles on indoor gardening.

~L

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3 comments:

  1. Can you grow a bay leaf plant from a cutting? Where I live I have huge hedges but would like to take a cutting from one of my trees,to Canada, to try and grow inside. Would this be possible?

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    Replies
    1. A quick Google search says yes, you can. However it's best to take a cutting in midsummer.

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    2. Lisaring, You can grow a cutting from a bay leaf, it is difficult though. As Lizz mentioned it's best to take your cutting in midsummer or from a newish piece of growth. You'll need to cut at angle, dip it in rooting hormone and place in moist soil. Place in a full sun location and keep moist. It should root in about 6 weeks.

      Good luck!
      Lisa

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