Question: I bought a bay tree more than 10 years ago. It was about 6 inches tall, and it grew well in a pot. I’ve repotted it several times, set it outdoors after frost and brought it indoors in winter. Last winter, I forgot to bring it in until after a freeze. The leaves got crispy, so I picked them off and cut back to almost about 3 – 5 inches. Some of the branches are brittle, but some are not. The roots and the base of the plant are still alive. I’ve kept it watered but haven’t seen any growth – not a bud. I don’t want to throw it away. Will it live? – Shirley R.
It’s hard to say whether a bay that suffered through a freeze will come back. Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), the source of bay leaves used in cooking, is native to the Mediterranean area, where it generally doesn’t get cold enough to freeze. It is not at all hardy here, so of course you’re doing the right thing when you bring it indoors before it gets cold. In this climate, it’s best treated as a houseplant in winter.
This one little slip-up last year may have cost you your tree – but maybe not. Information at the Herb Society of America’s Web site suggests that in some circumstances, given the perfect spot, some varieties of bay laurel may survive the winter outdoors in the ground. The plant will die back above the ground, but may send up shoots from the roots in the spring.
So try this: Now that it’s warm, set the plant outdoors, don’t let it dry out, watch to see if new shoots begin to form at the base, and hope for the best. As it grows (if it grows!), an occasional light dose of balanced fertilizer might not be a bad idea. Be sure to bring it in before it gets cold again, and give it a sunny window and a moderate amount of moisture. Good luck!
Turning Toward the Sun is the online journal of my own gardening endeavors. Today I talk about Garden No. 3, a new flower bed I’m planning in Mom’s back yard.