Growing Concerns 607: Mediterranean bay laurel, pot

Late Winer!

Mediterranean bay tree is right at home in a pot

Dear Janet,

I have a Mediterranean bay laurel, now about ten years old and five feet tall. Each summer I put the plant outside. I water it when it seems dry but never fertilize it because I cannot find information about the type of fertilizer to use. I would appreciate any information about how to better tend this lovely and useful plant.


Dear L.,

Bay (Laurus nobilis) needs plenty of light and water while it's growing. In winter it's fine in a cool place shy of freezing with just enough watering to keep it from drying out. Its nutrient requirements are basic and can be provided by any balanced, water-soluble powder with micronutrients such as Miracid.

Sixteen beautiful bay trees in huge pots grace Cranbrook House and Garden terraces, from April through October. I called Lou Borsheim, recently retired from tending the Cranbrook landscape, for a report on the care he gave those bays.

"I gave them liquid fertilizer when I brought them out each spring, and maybe once more during the growing season. At the end of the season, I was careful not to push them. Then I'd put slow release fertilizer in the pots as I put them on hold in the garage over winter. Milorganite, for instance."

Those bays flourished in their same pots for all of Borsheim's 35 year career. They were lifted out and root pruned only once. Borsheim occasionally used a thin metal rod to loosen and aerate around their roots. Other than that, they prospered on water and light.

Short reports

Mountain Laurel report.

"Sunshinebob" read here about growing Kalmia and other acid-loving plants. Then he made this report:

"We have grown 'Elf' mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia 'Elf') for almost four years. Expect a couple of years to pass before blooms (are produced) on smaller plants. They will need decent sun and some protection in the winter from desiccation if winds can reach them. Ours are against a wall facing south in front of some Princess hollies. Our soil is not particularly acidic, with a lot of clay. We enhance (the soil) occasionally but these plants have been subject to some benign neglect. Even so, they do pretty well. However, be aware they are highly prized by rabbits -- the buds especially.

Thanks Bob! You exemplify what I love about gardeners, a willingness to share specific, practical experience with others. We can learn so much from the details of others' efforts, both successes and failures.


Some problems have no solution. I can't provide much help to those who pose a "stumper" such as:

I keep a tag from everything we plant, to record species and variety in case we ever have questions or need additional plants. So why is it that when someone asks which variety of witchhazel it is that's in full bloom in our yard on February 16, that particular tag is missing from the tag collection?


Green thumbs up

to working to promote better planting and more native species in both private and public spaces.


Green thumbs down

to damning all landscape companies after one bad experience.


Originally published 2/26/05