How to Prune a Bay Tree


The Bay tree, Laurus nobilis, is a very large tree than can grow to an ultimate height between 8-12 metres, but thankfully for the home gardener bay is also a slow-growing tree. It can take longer than the average human-lifespan to reach such a size.

Bay is very amenable to pruning and is often used as topiary. Most notably the classic Bay Standard or Lollipop tree; a round ball of foliage upon a straight trunk. With regular pruning you can keep a Bay tree in the same pot for years. It is easy to prune a bay tree when you use topiary shears.

Growing a Bay Bush

Laurus nobilis / Bay Bush : 9cm Pot : 10cm High (exc pot) on Amazon.co.uk

Remove the top growth.

Removing top growth will encourage a shorter bushier plant. This is the strategy you should follow if you want a nice thick bush.

By removing side growth you will encourage a taller thinner plant.

Growing a Bay Tree Standard

Laurus nobilis / Bay Standard : 3L Pot : 55-60cm High (exc pot) on Amazon.co.uk

A lollipop tree can be crafted from a young seedling by removing the suckers and any leaves or side branches along the stem until the leader reaches the height you would like the Bay tree to be. At that point cut the stem. Several new branches will grow which in turn can be cut to produce more branches. A strong bushy head is formed by pinching out the growing tips on all side shoots regularly until the desired shape is formed.

Give the bay plenty of nutrients, sunlight, heat, and water, as it is important to get the plant to reach the desired height as fast as possible. Use a cane to keep the stem straight. A nicely proportioned and healthy standard will have a trunk twice as high as the head.

Top Tip: Pull the suckers off carefully and they should come with a bit of root. These can work well as cuttings!

Bay Leaves for Culinary Purposes

The leaves of the Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) are used extensively for culinary purposes, particularly in Mediterranean cuisine. They are also used in many French dishes and even in Thai and Arab-influenced cooking. Bay leaves can be used to flavour soups, stews, pasta dishes, meats, sea food and vegetable dishes.

Bay leaves are also an essential part of the classic bouquet garni, along with parsley and thyme. They are used both fresh and dried, for their distinctive flavor and fragrance.

Bay Leaves

Bay Leaves


Dried or Fresh Bay Leaves?

There is a difference in flavour between a fresh bay leaf and a dry bay leaf. The fresh bay leaf is best used for a short cooking dish with slightly delicate flavours like sea food. The dried bay leaf has a flavour that readily infuses into the dish. The dried bay leaf has a stronger flavour but loses a little bit of the bitterness of a fresh bay leaf. Dried bay leaves can be used and stored for up to a year.

How to Dry a Bay Leaf

  1. Pick the undamaged healhty leaves gently from the plant once the morning dew has evaporated, ideally during the middle of summer, and separate them. The largest leaves are the most aromatic and will have the strongest flavour to them.
  2. Leave on a paper towel in a well ventilated are that is warm and dry until all the moisture from the leaves have evaporated. Flip them over after a week or so to ensure each side dries evenly.
  3. Check for dark green spots or softness. This is a sign of moisture still in the leaves and they may need longer to dry out.
  4. Store dried bay leaves in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Are Bay Leaves Edible?

Whilst Cherry Laurel and some members of the laurel family are poisonous to both humans and livestock, the bay leaf is not. Bay leaves can be eaten without risk of toxicity, however dried bay leaves are very sharp, stiff, and abrasive, even after cooking, and can cause choking and internal organ damage. Because of this they are typically removed from dishes before serving, or simply used as a garnish. Ground bay leaves can be ingested safely.

Bay Leaves Explained

Herbie from Herbie’s Spices has an excellent video about the leaves of Laurus nobilis, the Bay Laurel: