Struggling Bay Laurel Trees
Answered by: Richters Staff
Question from: Alyce Langford
Posted: Before April 1998

A couple of years ago I planted some bay laurel seeds I purchased from you. Most of them took and grew but for one reason or another I am now left with only 2 plants struggling along. I readily admit I don’t have a green thumb and most of my plants die sooner rather than later. However I would really like these two plants to grow into the nice large trees I saw in your greenhouse. I now need some advice because it looks as if these two are dying. They are planted in separate pots, the kind that self water. I fill the bottom portion of the pot with water when it has been dry for several days. The earth is good potting soil from White Rose. I poke around at the earth every so often to loosen it up so it doesn’t get hard packed. The plants are sitting in a window in the basement. They get the morning sun there. It is cool at night but not cold as it is near a heat vent that blows heat down but not directly on the plants. The plants have been in that spot for about 8 months. They are not dying but they aren’t growing either. One is 6 inches tall and the top four leaves are green but withered around the edges. New growth lower on the plant is green for about 1/4 inch, then turns brown and falls off. The other plant is 9 inches tall and does have occasional new growth at the top. One leaf at the top is just now showing the first signs of withering. They have been in this state for about 10 months. Putting them in the window did seem to help the withering of the leaves but I am concerned about the new growth turning brown and dying. Can you tell me what to do? Thanks very much.

Bay laurel will go semi-dormant during the winter months. It seems that as the temperatures drop and the days get shorter the plant goes into a no growth holding pattern. When the days get longer and warmer buds will break and new growth will develop. We usually get about two or three months of good growth and then the plants fall back into a slow growth phase before falling back into the semi-dormant phase with the onset of winter.

From the middle of winter till the end of summer it is important to give your plants as much light as possible. In the spring months consider moving your plants outdoors during the days, and during the summer leave your plants outdoors all the time. The more light you can supply the more growth you will get.

We do not like self-watering systems that depend on the flow of water up the soil column. The problem is that it doesn’t take long for the salts level of the soil to rise to levels injurious to roots. It is much better to water from the top and let the water and excess salts pass through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. The symptoms you are reporting – new growth turning brown – could be caused by excess salts in the soil. Low light exacerbates the problem.

Consider repotting your plants in fresh soil anytime between midwinter and the first sign of new growth in the spring. Be sure to use a good soil mix: many commercial mixes contain only peat and fertilizer. A good mix will contain gritty sand, compost, as well as peat moss.

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