The Bay tree is a group of evergreen trees that provide the bay leaves used in cooking. When dried, bay leaves have a mild, pleasant flavor similar to thyme. Bay trees are grown commercially for their oils, and they can be grown in the garden if desired if you’re a fan of bay leaves.
Varieties of Bay Trees
There are a number of varieties of bay tree, but the standard Bay (Laurus Nobilis) is the one relevant to cooks. It is a large tree, growing up to 8 meters tall. Other varieties of bay tree can be grown in the garden but are not suitable for consumption.
Bay seed comes from its black berries. It needs a warm temperature of 21°C (70°F) to set. Sow seed just below the surface of the soil in a tray or in pots. Germination of Bay is notoriously difficult. It likes consistently warm temperatures, but despite your best efforts or the best weather you could hope for, it may take days, weeks or months to germinate. If you can avoid the pain and buy a seedling, do it.
Choose a position that receives plenty of sunlight. A little shade is okay. Soil should be well-draining and rich. The most important part about positioning a Bay is protecting it from winds. Its leaves are damaged by anything more than a hearty breeze. Keep soil moist but be careful not to over-water – use a mulch to preserve moisture.
At risk of stating the obvious, as it is a tree it will eventually need a lot of room. Give it 3 feet of grace initially, but it will need more as it grows. Cut it back as it grows to maintain shape. Bay trees do not tolerate frosts. You will need to protect your young trees using a straw covering or fleece.
Growing Bay In Containers
Bay is good to grow in containers, especially if growing for culinary purposes. Bay will take to the warmth and consistency of indoors well. Be sure to provide plenty of sunlight still. It benefits from a light water every 1-2 days as opposed to one big soak at the end of the week. Being an evergreen, a Bay will be with you for a number of years. It may be necessary to pot it out to progressively larger containers.
Leaves can be removed from the tree at any time.
Threats To Bay
Scale insect is the biggest problem.