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By: Kristi Waterworth
Whether it’s trained to be a topiary, a lollipop or left to grow into a wild and hairy bush, bay laurel is one of the most impressive looking among the culinary herbs. Although it’s pretty sturdy, once in a while you may run into trouble with dropping leaves. Read on to learn about bay trees dropping leaves.
When it comes to culinary herbs, there are none so noble or tidy as the bay laurel. This stately Mediterranean native doesn’t need a lot to keep it happy. It’ll do well planted in a large pot or in the ground, so long as it’s protected from frost. In fact, many growers have no problems with their bay trees for years, then suddenly they discover their bay tree leaves falling off! There are a few common causes for a bay tree dropping leaves, so don’t worry just yet.
Bay laurel is, by its nature, an evergreen, so dropping bay leaves may seem like a big deal when it occurs, especially if those leaves turn yellow or brown before they drop. Often, there’s a simple fix for a bay tree dropping leaves, here are some common reasons why this occurs:
Normal leaf shedding. If your tree is otherwise healthy and thriving but drops yellow leaves sometimes, it’s nothing to worry about. Leaves aren’t meant to last forever. In fact, they’re disposable food factories, even for evergreens. As long as new leaves replace the old ones, your plant is probably just experiencing normal signs of aging.
Overwatering. Many plants from the Mediterranean have adapted to soils that don’t hold moisture well. This means you’ll need to adjust your watering accordingly. Instead of leaving the soil waterlogged or even on the wetter side of moist, you’ll want to let the top inch or two (2.5-5 cm.) of the soil dry out completely before you water your bay. Overwatering can lead to root rot, especially if you leave your potted plant in a saucer between waterings.
Underfeeding. Bay trees in pots are often underfed, but you can remedy this right now by picking up a general purpose 5-5-5 fertilizer and working it into the soil around your plant. If you prefer to feed with compost, feed your plant more frequently and see if that helps turn the leaf drop around.
Cold damage. Cold snaps are surprisingly damaging to plants, even long after winter has passed. As your bay is producing new leaves in the spring, you may notice sudden yellowing or browning of leaves before they drop. Bay is very sensitive to low temperatures and can experience damage when the temperature drops below freezing (-5 C. or 32 F.). Next year, do more to protect it from the cold or bring it inside if possible. Take good care of it and it will recover.
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Read more about Bay Trees
This article is primarily about growing bay trees in containers however they can also be grown in the open ground when given the correct conditions. The particular requirements for growing open ground bay trees are:
the soil must be free-draining, heavy clay soil is not suitable. If your soil is clay then digging out a large area and mixing the soil with lots of compost and sharp sand can make the conditions OK.
If you can provide these conditions then you also need to remember that bay trees which are not regularly pruned can reach a height and width of 12m (38ft) so allow enough space when planting.
See full answer. Also asked, how do you take care of a bay tree?
Bay Tree Care Guide
what is wrong with my bay tree? Yellow leaves - older leaves will shed naturally in low numbers. Nutrient deficiency can be the problem in container-grown plants but is more commonly caused by waterlogged compost or cold weather damage. Other problems - brown leaves and insect infestations from bay sucker, soft and horse chestnut scale.
Likewise, why are the leaves on my bay tree going brown?
The most commonly heard complaint is why bay tree leaves are turning yellow or brown and dyeing off. If not, the cause of the brown leaves is almost certainly environmental - too much or too little water possibly, damage from cold and wind or occasionally too much heat.
What should I feed my bay tree?
Bay trees are not greedy but they do like something to live on. In spring and summer a light feed of a liquid feed like MiracleGro is beneficial. Make it up at half strength or less. Swapping over occasionally to a tomato feed, again at half strength, will avoid an excess of nitrogen.
Mature leaves can be picked at any time for use in recipes. Plants should be at least two years old before the leaves are harvested. Cure the leaves by laying them on parchment paper and allowing them to dry for two weeks in a warm, dry place.
Leaves of the bay tree have many culinary uses. Bay is also a traditional component of the French bouquet garni herbs. The dark green leaves are very fragrant, especially when dried. As a seasoning, dried leaves are broken or crumbled into cooking foods and allowed to permeate the dish. The leaves don’t soften much in cooking and are removed before eating. The leaves are also used to make fragrant wreaths and garlands.
Bay has also been a traditional medicinal plant, with uses as varied as earaches, rheumatism, and insect repellent. But be advised that some people find the leaf oils to be a skin irritant.