Bay Tree growing tips

It is very difficult to root cuttings of bay (Laurus nobilis) even in weeks. There have been cases when even after 12 months roots have not formed -and this slow rooting is the main reason why the plants are so expensive. So patience is the key. If you follow this procedure to the letter you should have some success.

sweet-bay-tree

Propagating Bay tree from cutting

During late summer or early autumn take tip cuttings from wood of the current season’s growth – what the professionals call a semi-ripe or semi-hardwood cutting. Take the cut­tings with a heel – that is, with a small strip of the main stem still attached.

Each cutting should be 4-6in long. Strip off the lower leaves and dip the bottom of the cutting in a rooting powder.

Set the cuttings in a half-and-half mixture of peat and sand, inserting about a quarter of their length into the compost. A shaded cold frame or propagator is the best place to keep the cuttings, but make sure they don’t get frosted during the winter. Keep the cut­tings moist, but not wet. and mist-spray them occasionally.

Now sit back and wait. Roots and shoots should, with a little luck, form during the spring and summer of the following year. In the autumn, set out the young plants in a sunny spot.

Size

If left to its own devices, a bay tree could reach 20ft or more. But a standard or mophead bay is certainly a lovely, eye-catch­ing feature. And it need not be confined to a tub on a patio: it can be planted in a bed or border. Remember, though, that the bay, Laurus nobilis, originally came from Mediter­ranean countries. So, although it is hardy in zone 7, large garden specimens can suffer in harsh winters.

Your young container-grown tree will take some years to reach the desired 4ft standard, but there’s no harm in beginning training even at its present early stage.

As long as your plant has a central leading shoot you will be able to achieve the mophead. When the plant reaches 2-3ft in height, cut the lowest branches cleanly at their point of origin on the main stem. This will encourage growth in the topmost branches.

When the leading branch has reached the height you want the centre of the mophead to be, snip it off. From then on. each spring and again in summer, carefully cut back the new growths to create and later maintain the rounded head.

Drying the leaves

On a dry day snip off some sprigs, tie them in bunches, and hang them by the stems in a warm room. Leave them for a few days. Then strip the dry leaves from the stems and store them in an airtight container so that they cannot reabsorb any moisture.

Ideally, use screw-top, non-transparent jars, or store the leaves in a cupboard. As with all herbs, the flavour deteriorates if the leaves are exposed to light.

A crushed leaf added to casseroles, chow­ders, prepared meats, stuffings and even milk puddings is traditional. Bay is also an essen­tial ingredient of bouquets garnis. And a small leaf added to cabbage or brussels sprouts while cooking will banish the boiled greens odour from the kitchen