How and when to prune bay tree (Laurus nobilis)

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The bay tree (Laurus nobilis), known by other names such as bay laurel, sweet bay, laurel tree, true laurel, is a shrub native to the Mediterranean, used by man for thousands of years. Under the right conditions, this shrub can reach 15 m in height, and its deep green oval leaves have many uses. They can be grown in various ways, such as hedges, pots or in isolation. Given the popularity of this plant, a post on how and when to prune a bay tree could not be missing on our website, I hope you find here all the information you are looking for.

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In general, in each and every one of our articles we begin by giving some tips and advice on the cultivation of the plant in question. But the case of the bay tree is particular, since its cultivation is very simple (given its rusticity) and at the same time it is a shrub with so much history that there are dozens of curious facts. For that reason is that we decided that the first section are curious facts about bay laurel.

Pruning bay tree

1. Fun facts about Laurel tree

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As we indicated in the first lines of the post, the scientific name is laurus nobilis, which is a name that the Romans gave it thousands of years ago. There is a theory that the name would be a derivation made by the Romans themselves to the Celtic word lawr, whose meaning is green.

In ancient cultures such as Greece and Rome, the laurel represented a symbol of honor, glory, victory, power. Laurel wreaths were always present at celebrations of victories, coronation of the new emperor, sporting events, etc. But we don’t have to go back so many years to see an important personage crowned with laurel branches, Napoleon Bonaparte took up that Roman custom, so when the occasion warranted it, he used it.

Today we still use this symbolism of the laurel, being several sports that when crowning a champion use laurel wreaths or necklaces.

But do not think that in ancient times they only used laurel as a decorative plant. They knew perfectly well many of the medicinal uses that we continue to give it to this day. The most common is to use the leaves as a condiment, in dishes such as meat, fish, seafood, legumes, etc. It also has many medicinal uses, with digestive, relaxing, antidepressant properties, improving sleep, relieving coughs, etc.

Undoubtedly the bay tree is a more than curious bush, with so many years of history that we can hardly imagine. But we would need a whole article to talk about all this, so let’s move on to the main topic of the article, the bay laurel pruning.

2. Pruning bay tree – Required tools

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Many tools can be used to prune a laurel. Choosing the right one will come from the hand of some factors such as the age and size of the bush, the type of pruning. Let’s see below what are the most common tools that you can use.

  • Manual pruning shears: regardless of the size of the bay tree, manual shears will always be useful.
  • Long-handled pruning shears: when the bush is already a couple of years old, its branches begin to have a thickness that is difficult to cut with simple hand scissors. That is when you will need long-handled scissors, these will also facilitate work at height.
  • Saw: for even larger branches (more than 5 cm), it can be difficult to cut with long-handled scissors. In that case, a saw can be of great help.
  • Chainsaw: if you want to speed up the process to cut very thick branches, you can do it with a chainsaw. Please note that this is a dangerous tool if you do not have certain knowledge about its use.
  • In the case of a fairly tall laurel, you may need ladders or scaffolding.
  • Safety implements such as glasses and gloves: we do not want you to suffer any injury during work, protect yourself properly.

2.1 How to disinfect pruning tools

You already know which are the most common tools, let’s now see some methods by which you can carry out the disinfection of these tools. More than recommended practice, since it reduces the chances of contagion of a disease or plague from one plant to another.

You will see that it is not a complex task at all, and it will not take you long. So you have no reason not to always carry it out before you start pruning.

One of the methods by which you can disinfect the cutting blades of your tools is with alcohol (ethanol). Soak a cloth in the alcohol, then gently rub the cutting blades. Then let it rest for a few minutes for more effective disinfection and then start pruning your bay tree.

Since you are interested in knowing how to prune a laurel, I have no doubt that it will be useful to know about the pruning of any of these shrubs:

A second method is using bleach. Start by making a 1/9 mixture of chlorine and water, pour it into a container and let your tools rest in it for approximately 30 minutes. After that period of time you can use the tools without problems.

As a third method, although it is one that I personally never use, is to perform disinfection using fire. The process is super easy, it consists of exposing the cutting blades of your tools to a flame of fire. After a few seconds of exposure, they will be disinfected.

Well, you know which are the appropriate tools and you also have three ways to disinfect them. It is time to start talking about the main topic of the post, how and when to prune a bay tree.

3. When to prune bay laurel

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To determine the right time when you can prune a laurel, you need to consider its growth cycle. Being the most suitable to carry out pruning tasks in the months in which the growth rate is lower, that is, in autumn-winter. But as we will see below, there are certain situations in which we can prune at other times such as summer or spring.

A clear example is when the winters in the place where you live are very strong, in which case it is better to wait for the winter to finish completely. And carry out the pruning when the last frosts have passed, this can be during the first weeks of spring. By doing so, we do not run the risk that an early pruning, which activates the plant, will freeze new shoots. Also, do not expose the pruning cuts to the cold, and the healing will be faster.

How to prune bay laurel – Wikipedia

Another exception to the fall or winter pruning rule is clean pruning. When what you must cut are dry, broken, dead branches or attacked by a plague or disease, you can prune at any time of the year. It is more in cases like diseased branches or attacked by pests, it is better to cut as soon as possible, this will be able to avoid a possible spread of the problem. Keep in mind in these cases to get rid of the pruning debris correctly, do not leave them near other plants otherwise they will be a source of infection.

4. How to prune bay tree (laurel)

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To analyze how a bay tree should be pruned, we must separate the different types of pruning. Depending on the objective we have, we will have to perform a different pruning. It is not the same to have to cut branches to control the size of the bush than to have to cut diseased branches.

Let’s look at each type of pruning separately below.

4.1 Cleaning pruning

The cleaning pruning that should be done on this shrub is the same as any cleaning pruning that is done on a plant. As a first instance, you should take a moment to observe the bush, looking for all those branches that need to be cut. Then you can start deleting each and every one of them.

Among the branches that you must remove during a cleaning pruning in a laurel we can mention the following:

  • Branches diseased or attacked by a plague.
  • Those branches that are dry or in the process of drying up.
  • Branches that grow crooked, tangled or with a development not in accordance with the shape we are giving the bush.

Try to do the cleaning pruning with some regularity (at least once a year), this will help keep the plant healthier.

4.2 Training and maintenance pruning

Laurels have a medium growth rate, it cannot be said that they grow fast but not slow either. If you don’t control its size through regular pruning, this plant could end up taking up more space than it does in your garden. If you have unlimited space and do not mind that it grows uncontrollably, you can do without this pruning. At home I have three bay trees and for as long as I can remember we have never pruned them to reduce their size, but I have plenty of space for them.

When you have a limited place to grow, the first thing to define is what space you have. With that in mind, you can prune keeping in mind that the laurel does not take up more space than is available. If you haven’t pruned it for several years and need to prune it hard to reduce its size, keep in mind that it is not good to reduce the size by more than 1/3 during a pruning.

If you need to prune more than 1/3 of the size, it should be done in more than a year. Schedule two or more prunings so that after a couple of seasons you have fully controlled the size of the laurel. Pruning very hard has its risks, and you should only save it for limited occasions.

Due to its shrubby characteristics, laurel perfectly adopts pruning to form, for example it is very common to use it to form fences. In these prunings, the most important thing is that they start at a young age, since it is much easier to shape in the early stages of the bush. In the last section of the post we will analyze how a laurel pruning lollipop should be made, so we will complement the training pruning with that section.

4.3 Rejuvenation pruning

If you were attentive, in the previous paragraphs, we said that an excessively strong pruning should only be done on limited occasions. A rejuvenation pruning is coincidentally that, a very strong pruning that is done in limited moments. And those moments are when the plant, which is already many years old, has lost strength and grows at a very low rate. Within its foliage there are many dry branches, and the flowering is almost nil.

In general, laurels respond very well to rejuvenation pruning, so you shouldn’t have to worry. In case you need it, you can cut all the branches (as seen in the picture). Keep in mind that when cutting branches of such a significant thickness you must apply healing paste. This will prevent pests or diseases from entering the wounds.

Rejuvenation pruning bay tree
Rejuvenation pruning

Before proceeding to cut all the branches, see if there are no branches in good condition that can replace the older ones. If so, just cut off the old branches and let the young ones replace them. You should only cut everything when there are no branches in good condition. The time to do this pruning is in late winter or early spring (if the winters are very strong).

5. Extra information

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Laurels are widely cultivated plants, so there are specific questions about how to prune them. Which we haven’t covered in the previous sections, which have been pretty general. Here we will discuss two very popular queries like pruning bay tree in a pot and pruning a bay tree lollipop.

5.1 Pruning bay tree in pot

There are not many secrets to pruning this potted shrub. What you should know is that the regularity of pruning when growing in a pot should be much higher. If you are careless and stop pruning it, you may no longer be able to control its size, and you may even have to consider transplanting the laurel to the ground.

In general, those who grow this shrub in a pot like to give it some shape, such as lollipops, spirals or cones. To start shaping it, pruning should be done in summer, cutting the new shoots to thicken the foliage and find the desired shape. When the shape is already given and what you need is to maintain it, you can prune in winter, just look for the cuts from the previous year and prune the branches at that level. Thus returning to the original form.

5.2 Pruning bay tree lollipop (video)

Although it may seem complicated, getting this shape in a bay laurel is not. But it is important that as soon as you have transplanted the bush you already know what shape you will give it.

To achieve a lollipop shape, you must first grow a single stem. For it to grow quickly, you must eliminate the shoots that are coming out underneath, in order to concentrate all the energy on the main trunk.

When the main stem has reached the height from which we want to start the ball, we must cut it. From that moment on, what we will have to do is thicken the foliage at the top of the tree. This is achieved by blunting the new shoots, so that new ones emerge that densify the foliage.

Together with the densification of the foliage we can already find the desired shape (in this case lollipop). Once the shape is achieved, it will only be a matter of maintaining it with regular pruning.

To help you better learn this pruning, we have selected a video from the Independent Blogger channel. I hope it is useful for you. 😉

And with this we can finish this post. But here are some links that you might find interesting if you want to deepen your knowledge of bay laurel.

Cover Image Source – Wikipedia

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