We have a lovely Bay Tree, but the leaves have started to turned yellow, I have done some research into how often to water and now it is in recovery.
When a Bay tree comes into Spring/Summer it will need regular watering if it is in a pot. If you have planted directly to the ground then you should be a little more sparse with your watering as the roots will find a source.
There is as ever more to consider when looking at watering, positioning, weather conditions, drainage of the soil etc.
You need to consider the size of the pot for the size of the plant as well as positioning of the bay tree itself. Too windy or too sunny and the plant will also be losing too much moisture through it’s leaves. Around twice a month you will need to add a liquid feed to the water and we can explore ways to achieve an organic solution.
Outdoor planting for a bay tree
Apart from in very dry conditions you will not need to water any plant that is directly in the ground. You will find that the Bay tree is quite forgiving in normal Summer time and as long as you have planted it somewhere with shelter from high winds you will be rewarded. We tend to enjoy the architectural beauty of a well pruned pyramid bay tree and this is not easily achieved when they have taken root. At some point you may want to take cuttings from a larger tree and create new potted trees.
Does the size of the pot affect when to water?
Not so much. Chose a pot that is 2-3 inches larger than the previous pot. But only pot on outside of growing season, so the start of Spring is ideal. You will need to water the plant once you have repotted it and ensure that the roots have space to grow into the new larger pot. Choosing terracotta pots means that they hold the moisture for longer, although this is not a substitute for regular watering.
When we pot on a plant we must be careful not to upset the root ball. You will find that no plants thrive with soggy roots, so ample drainage will need to be built in. Buying a soil with grit in can help with this and we find that pebbles or broken pots in the bottom help further.
Put all of the rubble in the bottom and then get a good mix of soil and grit to then add to the top of the broken terracotta. You will be able to then gently place the bay tree into the pot and fill with soil. When you do this take a 360 degree approach to make sure that the tree is fully upright and not going off on a jaunty angle. Then you can water freely to ensure that the root are happy and relaxed.
You will help the plant by raising the pots slightly with terracotta feet, then when you do accidentally over water it can drain away.
When to water
You will need to water the bay tree when the top soil becomes dry. This is a year round situation. So please remember that the roots do not want to sit in cold water over night. This is key to any garden in the Summer as the temptation is to come home form work and then water as the sun is setting.
A little bit of planning and you should be able to water your bay tree in the morning. This will mean that the roots have warm water int eh day time and not be too shocked. Hopefully reducing the amount of root rot that occurs.
A word of warning is that your position for your bay tree will need to be sheltered from winds and harsh direct sunlight all day. This is paramount when leaving water in leaves. Not so much f an issues with the taller ball type laurel, but when it comes to the pyramid type you will struggle not to wet leaves.
The wind is your real enemy with you bay tree!
What if I don’t want the Bay tree to grow?
You will still maintain that watering and feeding routine. Simply do not allow for the bay tree to grow out of it’s shape by pruning. The tree will still need to be repotted as it will take a lot of the nutritional content from the soil.
To repot without encouraging growth you can use the same pot. Simply remove the tree. Wash the pot thoroughly as to remove any potential bug homes. Then take the tree and remove soil from around the root ball. We like to do this when it is dry so avoid watering for a few days beforehand.
Then you can more clearly see any rotten roots or new growth, you can and should cut this away. It is almost a Bonsai technique and will save you from a 40 foot bay tree. Trust me you cannot use all of those leaves no matter how much you enjoy ragu!
How much is too much water?
Your bay tree is basically going to tell you very quickly. She is not the type to have issues without letting it be known! Yellow leaves or brown leaves are not exclusive to over watering but can be a real indicator.
Our main tips are to keep on top of those rotten roots each year with a trim back of around a third of the root ball. Do not keep the soil moist, wait for it to dry a little before watering. Then finally do not sit the tree in a saucer, allow free drainage at all times!
There are lots of reasons why your bay tree may be turning yellow and gardening know how have some excellent solutions!
Why over watering a Mediterranean plant is bad!
We love our Bay tree and use the leaves in so many dishes, mainly Mediterranean and seeing as this is where the tree originates from this seems to make sense. When you start to think about your plants as non-native it helps you to think about their natural climate. In Rome these plants were revered and they grew prolifically. So why not keep them in a similar condition in your area?
This may all sound a little daunting and not at your confidence level. So we also have a fab top ten list for you to check out some easier herbs! You may even just want to grow fresh herbs on the windowsill.
Winter and rain water – a warning
You will be able to keep your bay tree growing for life as it is a hardy perennial. However you will need to protect it from harsh British winters. Not just the cold. We like to use straw to pack out the bottom of our pots. But with a pyramid bay tree we find that the lower leaves will then sit in water and rot.
If you can move your pots into a more sheltered area. Not so much from the cold, but more from the constant rain. We even moved ours out and then back in again due to all of the storms this season!
To best sum it up, they need protection from standing in water especially if that water is cold. Then they need protection from their trunk getting water logged from the water that will sit around the straw or other natural fibres that you are using to take the edge off of the frost.
We sometimes use fleece on more tender plants to protect them during winter, but the amount of water they get from the rain can be detrimental.
If you have a conservatory or green house now is the time to make a plan for a winter rescue mission. Save that perennial and keep it fresh for all year round herbs!
Best of luck and we hope you get many more years of enjoyment from your bay tree! If you want to harvest the leaves and dry them we have put together a full how to guide for herbs, available for free here.