Bay Tree Pruning

mightytsarJanuary 21, 2011

A few things. I want my bay to grow about 4 to 5 feet and then start filling out (it is about 3' now). Recently I've had shoots coming out of the bottom of the tree. I wonder if it is ok to just cut those off and if I can propagate another bay from this cutting. Also when it gets to the desired height how should I prune the top to encourage side growth? My wife is from Argentina and her mother has a bay that is at least 30' tall in the back yard. These things can get huge.

Thanks for the help in advance.

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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Depends what shape you want your bay. If you want a bush leave it alone and just cut the branches for use. If you want a lollipop shape remove the suckers and any leaves or side branches until the leader reaches where you want the crown to start. Cut the stem at that point. Several new branches will grow and they in turn can be cut to produce more branches.

If you can pull the suckers off, not cut, they should come with a bit of root. In which case they could well work as cuttings.Bay from twig cuttings can be tricky.

Although bays attain a good size (my neighbour's is also easily 30 ft tall) they are very amenable to pot culture and hard pruning.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2011 at 12:19PM
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CA Kate

I have one is a very large pot - 3'x3'x3'. Early on I cut it back so it would become a bush. It is 5 years old and is about twice as big as it's planter and needs to be cut back while it's still winter.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2011 at 6:20PM
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i'm trying to shape mine into a standard but i do hate to prune those lovely new shoots. i'm still quite a long way off from getting a perfect lollipop.

if it gets too painful, i may just let it grow into a bush.

Here is a link that might be useful: My blog - Typicalgardener

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 7:56AM
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leira(6 MA)

flora_uk, that's great news about suckers often coming off with a bit of root attached. Can you achieve something similar with a careful vertical cut? I'm now feeling hopeful that I'll be able to achieve this at some point. Plant propagation has become a recent obsession.

I'm really glad to see this thread. I have a very small bay laurel (maybe 6 inches tall?) which quite possibly hasn't grown at all since I bought it about a year ago. I've been debating how to prune it once it does grow (which it has to do eventually, right?). I'm still not decided, but it's good to hear the two main choices, and how to achieve them.

I've been wondering if I should fertilize my bay more regularly, but of course it's the middle of Winter, so then I wonder if I should wait until Spring to do so. Opinions on this are welcome.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 11:07AM
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A Bay tree is a very large tree - 30ft is a small one - they can get to more than double that height. Fortunately for the home gardener, bay is also a slow-growing tree so it can take longer than an average human life-span to reach such a size.

Also fortunately, bay is very amenable to pruning, and is frequently used as a topiary plant (eg 'lollipop on a stick'). This means you can usually keep a plant in the same pot for years and years and trim it to suit yourself.

Mightytsar, my advice to you is to chop off the head of your plant. For myself, I'd remove about one-third of its height, perhaps even half. If you can't bring yourself to do this, less will do! You can take several cuttings from the chopped-off bit. Chopping off a plant's head will encourage side growth, thus creating a bushier plant. Your plant, with its straight single trunk would be ideal for training as a 'lollipop on a stick'. Simply remove all the side shoots and encourage top growth.

ie. remove top growth to encourage a shorter, fatter plant. Remove side growth to encourage a taller, thinner plant.

Leira, you should never feed a plant while it's dormant - usually in winter. Dormancy means 'sleep' and while in that state, the plant won't eat - just as you don't eat while you're asleep. Also remember that too much fertiliser is very bad for a plant that doesn't need it - you could 'kill it with kindness'. With Bay, don't try to rush it - it will grow in its own good time. In a year or two it will start to take off - it can be very slow to get going when very young. Be patient!!

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 5:09PM
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flora_uk - thanks for the response. Suckers are the ones that would come up from the soil right? The one in the picture seems to be from the trunk. Am I wrong or are we talking about different things?

daisyduckworth - Last year and again this year I left my bay outside until it was consistently below freezing until I was afraid it would get to close to 20 degrees F and I brought it in. It seems to be growing again now, which I don't think it did last year. Should I prune it now? I am tempted to try the lollipop shape for fun. Will those few big branches on the side look bad when I cut them off?

leira - I would make sure that your bay get full sun. I got about a foot of new growth last year. I repotted and then added stones to help keep the moisture in the soil. I also used some slow release fertilizer and it seems to have really liked it so far. The roots smell amazing.

Thanks everyone for the response!

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 9:01PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Mightystar - the suckers are the ones which come from below the soil - there appears to be one on your plant or possibly two. I can't quite see from the angle.

I would not prune it until it goes outside again. In the winter it is not living under optimal conditions so I wouldn't stress it. BTW, you are absolutely right to leave it outside as long as conditions allow. Bay will not die immediately at 32f and will be much happier in the fresh air. While it's small it might be possible to move it in and out throughout the winter if there are mild periods or a nice shower of refreshing rain.

If you want a lollipop, cut it off at the height you want the 'stick' to be. Once you cut it the main stem will not grow any taller.

Bays are really amenable to training. You can even plait them if there are multiple stems, or make a barley sugar twist. If you have plenty of seedling bays, as we do here, you can play about with them as the fancy takes you.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 4:06AM
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leira(6 MA)

"Plenty of seedling bays"...I can only imagine such a thing!

    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 9:13AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Never mind leira - I dream of successfully growing outdoor basil and tomatoes.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 12:15PM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

It is amusing what each of us longs to grow outdoors but can't. Pomegranates and citrus top my fantasy garden list. Mangoes, ginger, and figs (other than "brown turkey" which we are border line hardy for) come in next.


    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 4:24PM
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leira(6 MA)

Fatamorgana, folks in my area (Zone 6, Boston area) manage to grow figs with a fair bit of effort. My neighbor started a tree and dug it up and laid it in a ditch for the first year or two, and then when it got to a certain size, he started wrapping it in plastic for the Winters. I know of several people who do this in my area. I understand that it's a huge amount of work, but boy, those figs sure are tasty.

I may try ginger in a pot (moved outdoors in the Summer, just like my bay and rosemary). I would love to grow pomegranates and citrus!

    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 4:52PM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

I bought a fig this past year. A local nursery grows them along with many other plants and sells them as bareroot stock. I like to go to the end-of-the-season bareroot stock sales - the price is so RIGHT. Since it is already getting rather warm to plant bareroot, dormant plants, I pot them up and baby them through the summer and plant them in the fall. I have better successes that way. Rather than plant my fig I moved it to an unheated porch when the frosts came. I'll plant it come spring and cover for next winter. I included the link to the brown turkey fig the local nursery sells figs they grow here since they do mail order too. If it grows here in frozen western NY state, it should do well in much warmer areas.

I grow tumeric in a pot. It's a just because plant. The roots can't get to any good size in a pot plus at least a 6 month dormant period - it goes dormant the moment it gets chilly and doesn't wake for me until summer is in full-swing. I can't imagine ginger to fare much better in a pot.


Here is a link that might be useful: Miller Nursries - Brown Turkey Fig

    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 8:55PM
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flora_uk - Do you start your bays from seed? Any tips or tricks?

    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 9:32PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

No - I just dig up seedlings that appear around the place. One source is the leaf piles the City Council dumps at our allotment site. They gather the leaves from local parks where there are lots of huge bay (and other) trees. When I spread the leaves on my garden I get all sorts of interesting seedlings popping up.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2011 at 4:09AM
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I've had pretty bad luck with these trees. I think the winds in my area are drying them out. Looks like the top of Bay tree has completely dried out and died. If I top the tree, it's about 2ft. What can I expect it grow out like, if at all?

    Bookmark   February 3, 2011 at 2:24AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

You don't say where you live so it's hard to know whether the wind will be a problem. But I suspect that wind is not the trouble. They grow round the Med and in hot dry areas of the Middle East, Australia etc. In the UK they thrive near the sea where we get gales of salt laden wind. They might brown a little from the salt but they don't die. I would suspect insufficient moisture at the roots rather than drying out of the top. But without more information about where you are trying to grow bay that's just a guess. If you cut a bay off at two feet and it is alive and growing well it will produce branches from the point where you cut it. So you'd get a bush on a 2 foot stem.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2011 at 12:25PM
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I'm Arizona.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2011 at 3:16PM
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I have a bay "tree" that's only about 8" tall. I've had it for 2 seasons without it putting on any growth. It's in a 12" pot and I leave it outside after danger of frost passes and overwinter indoors. Just this week it added some new light green leaves at the top. I'd like the bay to be bushy. Should I pinch back this new growth in the hopes of bushing it out or let it get a little taller and then pinch?
Thanks for any advice,

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 10:59PM
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My bay tree is around 6' tall, is planted in ground and is about 10 years old. Can I cut off the top portion during these last weeks of March? I want a fuller more bushy look. So far it has weathered the Texas winters without too much stress. Thanks for any pruning advice.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 2:13PM
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