Subject: Transplanting Bay Laurel in Florida
Answered by: Inge Poot
Question from: Millicent Heym
Posted on: February 21, 2008

I live in Tampa, Florida, and was happy to find your advice online! The Q & A section has already given me much information.

About ten years ago, I planted a bay laurel in the ground near the south corner of my house, inside what was then a small herb garden. Over the years (and life circumstances giving me no time to rework the garden), this area was taken over by various wildflowers -- not all bad, because the area attracts a lot of butterflies.

Florida is usually damp and humid, and the bay tree -- which has now grown to a spindly 14 feet as it tries to overtake the roof -- has been beset by scale and sooty mold for several years, in its muggy mosquito- infested wildflower bed.

I need to schedule a fumigation for drywood termites (a blight in coastal Florida!) sometime this spring, which involves "tenting" the house. Everything planted within two feet of the house perimeter must move or die.

I really don’t want to lose the bay laurel, and would like to cut it back to manageable size and transplant it, perhaps to a large container? If I kept it to no taller than six feet, I could treat the scale and mold more easily, and getting it out into an area with more circulating air would surely help?

My question, of course, is: can I do this? What is the best way to go about it? What can I do to give it a healthy future?

The general rule is to never cut back a tree more than one third of its height at any one time. The best would be if you could do it in two sessions and get it down to the desired 6 feet(2m). Similarly, it needs to be root pruned before moving. Try to find a large tub for the tree. With a spade cut roots at a distance a little less than the proposed circumference of the tub. Do it for one foot(30cm) and leave the next foot(30cm) uncut. Continue around the tree with the one foot cutting and the one foot leaving it uncut. Cut one third off the top of the tree at the same time.

Leave the tree alone for a time until lots of new shoots have started and it looks as if new roots are forming at the cut portions. Then cut the left alone portions and shorten the tree to the six feet you want it to be. Leave alone again until new growth is evident and then dig around the tree and cut under the tree to cut the remaining roots and haul it with lots of help into the tub. Keep it well watered and in the shade for about two months.

To get rid of the scale insects, scrub the tree with insecticidal soap and then give it weekly sprayings of neem oil at the rate of 2 teaspoons neem per quart/litre of water plus one teaspoon of insecticidal soap concentrate/or dishwash detergent -- until no more infestation is evident.

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