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Beautiful Bay Laurel

December 9, 2016 Back to Picks >

Very few trees are considered a proper part of an herb garden. Most herbs are annuals and small shrubby perennials. But there�s one tree that stands tall in an herb garden of useful plants – bay laurel.

The bay laurel tree (Laurus nobilis) is native to India, North Africa, and the Mediterranean. It is a multi-trunked tree growing to 40 feet in its native region, although in the US you�re not likely to see one growing that large. It sports glossy 3-4 inch deep green leaves that grow densely along the smooth barked branches.

Bay laurel is definitely a tropical tree. It will grow reliably only as far north as Zone 8. When temperatures dip below 32 degrees for any length of time the leaves will turn a pale brown and drop off. If freezing weather is predicted, a cloth covering and mulch at the base can make all the difference between life and death. If you live in colder regions, plant bay laurel in a large pot so you can bring it indoors for winter protection.

Bay laurel tends to grow more slowly in a pot. I had a bay laurel in a container for about three years with very little growth each year. Then I decided to take a chance and plant it in my Zone 7-8 garden beds. It more than doubled in volume the first year in the ground and is now a sturdy eight foot tall tree I have to clip down 2-3 feet each year to keep it in shape.

Bay leaves are harvested and used fresh or dried in a variety of foods. Add some leaves to the body cavity of whole poultry to flavor the bird and the gravy. Bay leaves are commonly added to soups and stews. Just remember to remove the tough inedible leaves before serving.