How to Grow Bay
The sweet bay, or bay laurel, is grown for its aromatic leaves, which are used to flavour fish dishes, soups and sauces. Although native to countries around the Mediterranean, the bay survives as a hardy shrub in all but the harshest of British winters. If protected from cold north and east winds, it will flourish even in coastal areas.
The bay can be allowed to grow to its natural height of 20 ft (6 m) or more, or grown in a tub and its growth restricted by pruning.
A single shrub, even when dwarfed by pruning, should provide more than enough leaves for a family throughout the year.
How to grow a bay
The bay grows well in any ordinary garden soil in a sunny, sheltered position. No pruning is needed for unrestricted trees grown in the open garden.
In a tub, use John Innes No. 3 compost. Plant in March or April.
When growing in a tub, you can plant either a shrub already trained by a nurseryman or buy a young plant and train it yourself. Nursery-trained shrubs are comparatively expensive, and there is also satisfaction to be had from training your own bay.
If you decide to do so, you have the choice of maintaining the shrub’s natural shape, or of growing it with a bare stem beneath a ball-shaped head of leaves.
When young, the natural growth form of a bay tree is roughly pyramidal. To maintain this shape in a compact form, trim all actively growing shoots in late summer to maintain the desired outline. This usually means cutting them back by half.
Raising new plants
In August or September take 4 in. (100 mm) cuttings of lateral shoots, with a heel, and insert them in equal parts of peat and sand in a cold frame. In April, set the rooted cuttings in 3-½ in. (90 mm) pots of potting compost, and in the following October set the plants out in a nursery bed with other young plants or in their final positions.
If you plant them in a nursery bed, allow them to grow for a further 18 months before planting out the strongest in their permanent positions or in a tub, in March or April.
Pests and diseases
The stems and undersides of leaves may be at- tacked by scale insects.
Bay is generally disease-free.
When the shrub is established, pick the leaves as required at any time of the year.
Cooking with bay
Bay leaves are invaluable in cooking. The highly aromatic leaves are used freshly dried, to flavour marinades, pickles, stocks and sauces, casseroles, pates and terrines. Milk custards and puddings are greatly improved by the addition of a partly dried bay but the foremost use is in the Classic bouquet garni.