Escambia County Master Gardener Volunteer Carol Perryman shares information for you to consider growing your own Bay laurel tree.
Laurus nobilis, commonly known as bay laurel, is an aromatic tree native to the western Mediterranean and it yields the bay leaves used in cooking. Mature leaves are leathery and dark green. Most are 3 to 4 inches in length with minute margin serrations. Small, inconspicuous yellowish-white blooms may appear in summer followed by a tiny fruit which turns black as it dries. Bay laurel is salt tolerant and can be grown on barrier islands.
Dark green bay leaves. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
The bay laurel tree is called daphne in Greece. Greek mythology says that Apollo, the sun god, fell in love with the nymph Daphne. Her father took action and turned her into a laurel tree. To remember Daphne, Apollo wore a laurel wreath and the tree came to represent honor and glory. Greek and Roman heroes and scholars were crowned with laurel wreaths. The earliest Olympic champions in 776 BC wore garlands of fragrant bay leaves. The tree was considered good luck, but the death of a bay tree was considered an omen of things to come.
Bay laurels are slow-growing and show variation in growth habits. Most have a dense and shrubby appearance with multiple shoots from the base while some have a single trunk. Under ideal conditions, planted in the ground, the bay tree can reach 25 feet or higher, but most commonly grow to about 6 feet. In our zone, 8B, bay laurels can grow in the ground if planted in a sunny southern or eastern exposure location near a wall or building for cold protection.
Bay laurel plants like well-drained, rich soil. If the bed is properly prepared, additional fertilizer is rarely needed. Bay laurels will survive light frosts and the infrequent hard freeze if it is not for a prolonged period. More mature trees can also freeze to the ground and come back from the rootstock. Young trees should be protected from cold stress for several years until they are at least a foot tall before planting in the ground.
A bay laurel trained as a tree. Photo Credit: Karen Russ, Clemson University Extension
Bay laurels can also be grown indoors in containers in areas with strong natural lighting. Clay or wooden containers with many drainage holes are preferred. Plants should be fertilized regularly with complete fertilizer. In the summer, time-release fertilizer works best due to frequent watering. However, fertilizers too high in nitrogen will produce lush foliage with little flavor.
Bay laurel is a favored container-grown street plant in Europe. It has historically been found in gardens as a tree, a hedge, a topiary, or a focal point in an herb garden. Bay trees are only now gaining popularity in the United States. It was awarded the herb of the year in 2009.
Bay laurel has a reputation of being frustrating and difficult to propagate which results in very high prices for starter plants. To propagate use semi-hard wood cuttings and snap from branches rather than clipping. Strip the lower leaves and dip cutting in a rooting hormone. Stick in small pots filled with a fine-textured medium. If a knob forms at the end in a few weeks, then roots may form within a few weeks to several months. In recent years, plants have been more readily available in nurseries and even at large box stores.
Bay laurel is one of the primary culinary herbs in the garden. The culinary history has been documented for thousands of years. The leaves are treasured and used in many cuisines. Fresh leaves are tough but dried leaves are hard and brittle. Leaves are added at the beginning of cooking. Both fresh or dried are usually removed after cooking before food is served to prevent the risk of choking. Much is said about fresh versus dried bay leaves. I usually use fresh leaves because I have them available. I think they have a wonderful flavor. I use equal amounts of fresh or dried. Soft fresh leaves (petioles and midribs removed) are great chopped in salad dressings. Chopped leaves are also good in butters and cheeses with other herbs. Cajun cuisines use bay leaves to flavor rice and seafood. Bay is a primary element of bouquet garni, a bouquet of herbs, used in French cuisine. Bay goes in meats, soups, stews, vegetables, pasta, potatoes, and sometimes in custards and dessert sauces. Like parsley and marjoram, bay laurel is called a “liaison” herb which helps contrasting herb flavors blend rather than fight each other.
There are many plants that look like and smell like the bay laurel. Red bay, Persea borbonia, is native throughout our region and a substitute for bay laurel. Red bay is best used fresh. Its fragrance and flavor dissipate quickly if dried. This is one of the only substitutes. Others are poisonous or have little to no flavor. Madalene Hill and Gwen Barclay, authors of Southern Herb Growing, wrote, “A word to the wise: Be wary of collecting and using any wild plant as flavoring or food unless you’re absolutely sure of its safety. Just because a plant is called some type of bay or laurel does not mean it is edible.” Some are highly poisonous.
If you enjoy good food, you have enjoyed bay laurel, Laurus nobilis, whether you knew it or not. It’s time to grow your own beautiful and fragrant bay laurel tree. This will be a wonderful addition to your garden and to your kitchen.
There is an old saying that rings true in pretty much any situation – “You get what you pay for.” Gardening tools, especially pruners, are no exception. We’ve all been there, fumbling around with a pair of rusty, dull, cheap garden pruners that just barely get the job done. Unfortunately, they can also do considerable harm to the plants you’re trying to improve, as anything short of a nice, sharp, clean cut introduces the potential for insect/disease infestation and will produce a wound that takes much longer to heal, if it ever heals properly at all. You wouldn’t want your doctor to start hacking away at you with a dirty, second-rate scalpel. Don’t subject your plants to the same treatment! While I’m not advocating blowing hundreds or thousands of dollars outfitting your garden tool shed with top of the line everything, investing in a pair of quality bypass hand pruners will pay dividends many years into the future and make your gardening experience much more enjoyable!
The classic Felco #4 bypass hand pruners. Photo courtesy of Walton County Master Gardener Andrea Schnapp.
Found in three designs, from old-fashioned anvil pruners that smush and smash their way to a cut, to ratcheting pruners that make short work of larger branches but tend to be cumbersome and complicated, to bypass pruners that produce clean cuts in a scissor-like manner, hand pruners accomplish many tasks in the landscape. From cutting small limbs, to harvesting vegetables, to deadheading annual flowers and everything in between, there isn’t a more frequently used, versatile tool. Therefore, it makes sense to buy a quality pair that will perform excellently, still be snipping long after your pruning days are over (if you take care of them), and that are comfortable enough you will enjoy using them. When shopping for your pair of “forever” pruners, there are a few things to look for.
- Only use bypass style pruners. Your plants will appreciate it.
- Look for heavy duty pruners with frames made from quality aluminum or stainless steel; they won’t rust and won’t easily bend or break.
- Buy pruners with replaceable parts. This is especially key because springs eventually rust and gum up and blades break and will eventually lose their ability to hold an edge over time (though you can and should resharpen them).
There are two commonly found brands that fit all three above criteria, albeit at different price points. For a high quality “budget” blade, various models from Corona do an excellent job for the money ($20-30) and won’t hurt your feelings too badly if you happen to lose a pair. Should you decide to splurge a little, Felco makes sharp, indestructible pruners, in multiple models around $50 to fit all size hands. Felco has become the horticulture industry standard and you’d be hard pressed to find a nursery owner or landscaper that didn’t own a pair (or two).
Corona ComfortGel bypass hand pruner. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
Regardless of which brand you buy (and there are many more than the two above listed) a pair of well-made pruners, if taken care of, should last a lifetime and make your gardening experience much more enjoyable for you and your plants! If you have any questions about gardening tools or equipment or any other horticulture or agronomic topic, feel free to contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office. Happy Gardening!
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Nice fall crop of satsuma fruit. Photo credit: Larry Williams
When asked what kind of citrus to grow here in North Florida, my default response is satsuma. I usually get a funny look, followed by an attempt by the person who’s asking to repeat the name satsuma. The individual may ask, “What is satsuma… is that a citrus?” I guess the person expected to hear orange, grapefruit, lemon or maybe tangerine.
Satsuma is a type of citrus, technically classified as a mandarin and is sometimes referred to as satsuma mandarin. The satsuma mandarin is a good candidate for the North Florida citrus enthusiast for a number of reasons.
- Historically, mature dormant trees have survived minimum temperatures of 14°F to 18°F when budded/grafted to a cold-hardy rootstock such as trifoliate orange or swingle, a trifoliate orange cross. Young trees are not as cold-hardy but, due to their smaller size, are more easily covered with a cloth such as a sheet or lightweight blanket for protection during freezes.
- Satsuma fruit are ready to harvest October through December, ripening before the coldest winter temperatures. This is not true with most sweet citrus types such as oranges, which are harvested during winter months. Harvesting during winter works well in Central and South Florida where winters are mild but does not work well here in extreme North Florida. The potentially colder winter temperatures of North Florida are likely to result in the fruit on sweet oranges freezing on the tree before they are ripe, potentially ruining the fruit.
- Our cooler fall temperatures result in higher sugar content and sweeter fruit.
- Fruit are easily peeled by hand, have few to no seed and are sweet and juicy.
- Trees are self-fruitful, which means that only one tree is needed for fruit production. This is important where space is limited in a home landscape.
- Trees are relatively small at maturity, reaching a mature height of 15 to 20 feet with an equal spread.
- Branches are nearly thornless. This may not be true with shoots originating at or below the graft union. Shoots coming from the rootstock may have long stiff thorns. These shoots should be removed (pruned out) as they originate.
Satsuma fruit are harvested in fall but trees are best planted during springtime when temperatures are mild and as soil is warming. Availability of trees is normally better in spring, as well. For additional cold protection, purchase a satsuma grafted on trifoliate orange rootstock and plant the tree on the south or west side of a building. There are a number of cultivars from which to choose.
For more info on selecting and growing satsuma mandarin, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County or visit the following website.