Pruning a Bay Laurel plant - getting TALL

rainypnw(7b)May 23, 2010

I have a nice Bay Laurel that is starting to get tall... it's just growing up. We trip a couple leaves often for cooking, but I'm not sure what to do at this point.

It's about 3' tall, and only maybe 10" wide. Should I lop it off in the middle to try to force it to bush out? Or just keep the top trimmed off?

You can see it in the "overview of yard" photo (currently the top one, but that will change) in my blog below. Click on the photo to make it bigger - the bay is the 4th from the right, in a black container pot.

Suggestions on how to prune it? And WHEN? Should I be doing it now, or wait until fall?

thanks for any advice,



Here is a link that might be useful: My 2010 Garden Blog - bay plant in

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Well, you're up against it! Take a look at the pic at the link below to see a full-grown bay tree - and not a particularly big one, either. They can grow to 20 metres tall and more.

Yours won't do that in such a small pot. That will slow down and stunt its growth somewhat, but before long, it will tower over all those trees at the rear of your photo.

However, having given you a fright, I'll temper it by saying that bay trees are very amenable to pruning - can even be topiarised. The most popular method is to create a ball on a stick (lollypop) by removing all the lower branches and shaping the top ones. Luckily, too, it's a fairly slow-growing tree, like most large, long-living trees.

As for when - I tend to prune plants whenever the urge hits me!

Here's young sapling in a garden setting:

Here's a double-ball topiarised bay tree:

Another way to topiarise it:

Another full-grown bay tree:

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 4:20AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Daisyd beat me to it. That baytree is tiny! They are wonderful in that they will be any size you like really. You can plait the stems, turn them into balls, cones or whatever, or you can just let it behave as it wishes. You could prune yours or ignore it. I don't know what your winter temps are but if bay will live through your winters Daisy is right. It could outstrip the other trees in the photo. The link shows my neighbour's baytree which has been cut hard back several times in its life. I don't know how old it is but it's definitley over 30.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 11:07AM
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Wow! Thanks Daisyd and Flora_uk for the responses... I got mine as a very small plant (6" tall) just so I'd have fresh bay leaves for corned beef and other recipes - I never imagined having a tree of bay leaves!! I'll try the "lollypop/ball" pruning over the summer.

Thanks so much for the replies


Here is a link that might be useful: My 2010 Garden Blog - please have a look!

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 1:11PM
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Well, you've had one shock. Brace yourself for another. Almost all the plants you have in those small pots will get much bigger than you imagine! I suggest you do some research on each herb you have and check for their mature size!

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 7:20PM
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Hi Daisy - actually, the pictures are deceiving. The SMALLEST pot is 2-Gallons - the bigger ones are 4 - 6 gallons, and the tubs are 15 gallons. I've been growing all of the above in the the same pots with great success for several years. But I do know what you're saying... I always try to keep 2 gals minimum at the smallest.

Last year, my most SUCCESSFUL zucchini was in a 12" x 12" x 12" wooden box pot - it was prolific beyond belief - we got around 20 12" zukes off that one, whereas the one in the regular garden was all leaf and only produced a few fruit.

Thank you for your comments.


Here is a link that might be useful: My 2010 Garden Blog - please check it out!

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 11:25PM
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I another look at your pix. I can't visualise 'gallons', but I can take a guess at top diameter. If I'm right, most of your pots are around 30cm across - that's 12" in the old language. Correct?

If so - they're small pots!! But adequate in the short-term.

Zucchini is a prolific producer pretty much wherever you put it. Don't expect similar results from other potted herbs.

BTW, I envy you the size of your garden. Mine is about as big as a small living-room!! Just a little courtyard garden.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 4:54AM
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CA Kate

I have a Bay Laurel that lives in a huge pot -- 16" cube. I keep the tree at about 40" tall and wide. I prune it hard to keep it this size. It not only provides leaves for cooking but is also is a large "patio feature".

    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 5:53PM
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Thanks for all the advice. I had no idea Bay got that big.
I couldn't care less about having a tree however - I fully
plan to leave it in a 2 gallon container at about 2' tall,
and train it to bush out if I can. To me it's just an
herb for seasoning corned beef & stew :-) Should I bring
it inside in the winter? We get down to 30F fairly often,
15F on rarer occasions... gut sense says "YES - bring it
inside in the winter"

Thank you again,


Here is a link that might be useful: My 2010 Garden Blog

    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 10:43PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Dave - I use bay leaves all the time. I tend not to cook by recipe and I just put in whatever I think of at the time. In the winter I put bay leaves in any casserole or stew. It's kind of automatic like always starting with garlic and onions. Also in pasta sauces - meat, tomato matriciana - everything practically. They go well with sweet dishes too - anything with egg or milk such as custards and rice pudding. Also with stewed fruit or in an apple pie. I stick them inside chicken, duck etc when roasting and in the stock pot when I boil up bones. Suffused in the milk for bread sauce. Likewise for white sauces like bechamel or cheese sauce. Place a couple on chops under the grill (broiler??)Chuck branches on the barbecue. There's no end to their uses. I think my family's taste buds are so shot to pieces by my cavalier attitude to recipes we can barely taste any thing which doesn't have at least 6 cloves of garlic and 4 or 5 bayleaves in it. Often with a branch of rosemary in there too. As for winter hardiness - bay in the ground can survive temps below freezing for a while - it gets them where I live. In a pot it might need a bit more protection. (I'm like Daisy - I can't work out what 15 degrees might feel like.) Last winter my potted bay took minus 5 C a few times with a bit of leaf browning but the ones in the ground didn't bat an eyelid. I would suggets leaving it outside but keeping an eye on the forecast and putting it under cover if a big freeze is coming.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 5:37AM
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