Bay Leaf ( laurus nobilis)

consentidaFebruary 10, 2009


I collected some bay leaf seeds from a tree last fall and I wonder if anybody has a good method of getting these seeds to grow into a plant. I understand that growing bay leaf from seed is not the easiest thing; however I would like to try and I rely on your experience, my fellow gardeners, to successfully grow my little plant. Can you help? Thanks!

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francescod(6b/7a VA)

How in the world did you get bay to flower and set seed so far north (Canada)? How old is your plant? You must have a huge greenhouse.

Bay seed requires stratification. Put seeds in a plastic bag with some moist growing medium/peat moss or moist vermiculite to keep them from drying out. Stick in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. Take them out for a week or two-checking the seeds for germination. Seeds that have germinated should be planted carefully so as not to break the root. Seeds that are soft are rotten and should be thrown away. Ungerminated seed should be returned to the refrigerator to start the process all over again. It may take several months before the seeds either germinate or rot.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2009 at 12:03AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

I, too, wondered about these bay 'seeds'. Round here bay trees self sow and you can pull up babies from the local park. At the moment they are covered in flower buds which will open later in the year. They then produce black berries which contain the seed. Is this what you picked consentida? They would get naturally stratified here so francescod's advice sounds good. I've never grown them from seed myself because they are quite easy to come by.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   February 11, 2009 at 6:08AM
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Thank you both francescod and flora uk for answering so quickly and for the picture. Actually, francescod, I have no greenhouse and yes it is difficult to see a bay leaf plant here in Montreal unless you manage to buy it at the local nursery. I collected my seeds while I was in southern Europe last fall and thought that it would be interesting to try to grow a beautiful plant from the berries I gathered. I will follow your advice and see what happens. It is a good start and even if I don't have good results, at least I learnt something new today!!
I'll keep yu posted!

    Bookmark   February 11, 2009 at 9:21AM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

Well, instead of collecting seeds, why not just collect leaves, dry them, and you have bay leaves for free!

    Bookmark   February 12, 2009 at 2:07PM
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Ah! the beauty and challenge is to grow something from scratch. Your idea is very practical, though. I actually took some leaves too and dried them. Now, I use them in my stews.
Thanks desertdance!

    Bookmark   February 12, 2009 at 9:55PM
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I'm in Montreal as well, and I'd love to hear how your experiment goes. I haven't run into any at the nurseries I frequent, so thought they just wouldn't handle the climate - even as indoor container plants.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2009 at 10:24AM
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For starters I followed francescod advice. My seeds are already in a rooting medium in the fridge, waiting for them to germinate, in the meantime, and since I don't want to risk being disappointed with the results, I orderer one specimen from Richter's, which I saw purely by coincidence when I was looking for something else. The plants are supposed to be delivered in spring (whatever this means in eastern Canada). Nevertheless, I will check at the Jean Talon Market or at Pepiniere Jasmin, later on this year.
I'll keep you posted on the results queuetue.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2009 at 10:42AM
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Around here ,believe it or not, these trees are almost, but not quite a weed! although it may take years to get a huge tree and they can get quite large given enough time, just put the seed in a quart pot and left outside by early summer you should have your plant!

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 12:41AM
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Yes! I thought about this alternative as well and kept some of the seeds. The thing, though, is that the berries dried already and it may be more difficult to get them to germinate. I won't spare any efforts and will follow your advice too. We'll see what happens!
Thanks mudflapper!

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 11:13AM
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CA Kate

mudflapper: around here they make tall hedges out of a row them -- kept pruned.

consentida: have you tried cooking with the fresh leaves? A new flavor, better than dried, I think.

I once asked if the buds or seeds could be pickled, like capers. Several thought they might be poisonous, but nothing definitive. I haven't tried to grow them.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2009 at 9:33PM
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Cooking with fresh Bay is much stronger , I had only been use to dried Bay, WHOOOO!!! what change of taste, so start out with about 1/3, then adjust as needed.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2009 at 1:40AM
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donnaroyston(z7a VA)

I have a potted bay tree that's about 15 years old. I bring it indoors every winter. It's the easiest plant in the world indoors -- endures heat, lack of humidity, poor light without any trouble. It's an amazing plant. It stays green and seems to wait patiently for winter to be over.

In the spring I take it back outside and it starts some new growth. The only problem is that it's getting too big for the house.


    Bookmark   February 26, 2009 at 10:07AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Donna - how cold are your winters? Do you think your bay would survive outdoors? They don't mind freezing temps for short periods.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2009 at 5:32PM
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Donna, have you ever repotted your bay? If yes, about how often? Thanks!

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 5:53PM
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donnaroyston(z7a VA)

It would definitely survive *some* winters here in Virginia, but one out of every three would likely kill it. It takes December outdoors very well. I used to bring it in before first frost, but I've learned that it's not necessary. As long as the winter weather is mild, I leave it out. Upper 20s doesn't seem to harm it. But I don't think it would take teens and below ... the temp. went down into single digits this winter. I just go ahead and bring it in when January arrives.

I have repotted it a number of times. Actually, it does fine for a while in tight quarters. But at a certain point I start to feel ashamed at how crowded it looks and then I move it up to a larger pot. I think I've repotted about every other year. Since it's now reached the height of my ceiling, I guess I need to cut it back this spring!

    Bookmark   March 4, 2009 at 2:04PM
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Hopefully by now your seeds have sprouted, and are well on their way. But if not, here's my two cents -- advice worth every penny!

It's my understanding that Bay Laurel seeds have a long germination period, like 60 days or longer, and that has been my experience. Fresh seeds have around a 40% germination rate, but for dried seeds the success rate is much lower. For me, it's zero: My seeds always rotted or dried up (due to my inattention) before ANY ever germinated.

But if you soak the seeds for 24 hours in around 250ppm of "gibberellic acid" (GA3), you can break the dormancy and get much better germination.

I won't duplicate the plethora of information on GA3 that you can get via a search engine. I will say that it's not some nasty synthetic stuff, it's just a concentrated natural plant hormone. And while there are dozens of "Dr Plant Guy's Miracle Plant Juice" formulations that contain GA3; you should just look for 90%+ GA3 in powdered form, as it's far cheaper. Like $10 for more than you can ever use.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2009 at 12:44AM
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Can potted Bays be kept smaller by pruning?

I tried to prune one I had and instead of branching out it just started another leader. It became very tall and spindly, and when I finally repotted it in two separate pots, half of it died.

That one had rounded leaves. My new one has pointed leaves. Are there different varieties, and do they have different growth habits?

    Bookmark   May 5, 2009 at 2:00AM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

I would think that regular trimming can keep the bay smaller.

Bay is a tree so I would suggest consulting gardening books for information on pruning woody plants, trees, and shrubs. Your cooperative extension or other sources for horticulture classes in your area may even offer pruning classes. Good pruning techniques is more than I can share in a single post so I suggest a book or a class for that info. A good book or class will prove very valuable to you in your landscaping endeavors as well as clipping your woody herbs for best harvest and visual appeal.


    Bookmark   May 5, 2009 at 8:39AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

eibren - bay is very amenable to pruning and can be kept very compact. It is frequently used for topiary and can be clipped into pyramids, spirals and lollipops. If you have multiple stems you can braid them and the tree will still grow. Use the prunings in the kitchen. It needs no special techniques. Just clip off anything you don't want. I have grown several different shapes from seedlings.(They self-sow round here.) They tend to send up a straight shoot first and then you take off the side shoots or pinch out the top depending on what shape you want.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2009 at 4:30PM
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Maybe mine just didn't get enough sun during the winter.

I think I'll try just pinching off the leader of my new one.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2009 at 3:52AM
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I'm in the Pacific Nothweest as well, mudflapper, and someone in Port Orchard trimmed their tree, and they're going to keep an eye out for self-sown babies for me! I know people here understand when I say I'm very excited! I lost my bay to freezes a couple winters ago. I know of one other true bay in Aberdeen, and I was horrified when they cut it so far back I didn't know if it would survive! It did. I've gotten two more, staying in pots until they're bigger and I can decide where to put them. As big as the trees get, it's astounding that to buy the dried leaves in the store are SO EXPENSIVE! I feel the same about walnuts in the shell, too. I can go to my Auntie's in Idaho, and ask the neighbours, they'll let me just rake up their walnuts and take them...TONS of them!
But, back to the bay, when I got the branches from the P.O. people, I found some seeds, which is what brought me here today in the first place. I know they typically have a low germination, so I was looking for a good way to try to get them to sprout.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 8:49PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

cherokee34 - I'm a bit concerned about your term 'seeds'. Are you sure you found bay fruit? They are black berries, not seeds as such. Is it possible that what you have found is the flower buds? Both flowers and berries are on the trees round here at this time of year.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2011 at 3:52PM
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I've had my current Bay Laurel only 4 or 5 years, but I had one before that about 8 or 9 years. I grow them in pots so I can bring them in during the winter - I'm here in central Virginia now. My dad managed to kill the first one I had during a time when I was doing crazy work/travel around the country. I grow mine in a large but manageable pot, and I keep it cut back to about two feet tall, a real nice bush. I get vigorous growth during the summer, as much as a foot or two. When I cut it back, I bundle the stem ends together and hang it to dry. I break off leaves as I like for cooking. Eventually I take all the leaves off and pack them for storage, but it is not urgent. I use it year round and always have more than I can use.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2011 at 10:22AM
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I have had 2 Bay Leaf trees over the last 10 years. Neither grew. They both developed new leaves, but the plants were never bushy and never grew over 12 or so inches - They also developed scale, and spraying my first Bay Leaf seemed to have killed the tree. I have repotted them and taken them outside in summers.I have washed them and now remove the scale by hand. Obviously I am doing something wrong. Please suggest a soil, fertilizer or something.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 4:12PM
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