You may think growing bay laurel is intimidating, especially in containers. A popular evergreen in both cooking and decorating, it’s understandable people may think growing laurel requires significant care. The good news? It isn’t finicky! But can you grow them in pots?
Generally, laurel can grow successfully in pots of at least 5-gallons filled with well-draining soil. Laurel must be watered only when dry, fertilized when actively growing, and receive at least 5–6 hours of direct sunlight per day.
Typically found in the spice aisle of your usual grocery store, if you love cooking, you’ll surely be familiar with this herb. So avoid that extra trip to the grocery, and just continue reading to learn how to grow bay trees at home. Enjoy!
Is It Possible to Grow Laurel in a Pot?
The laurel plant is low-maintenance and is best grown potted. Hence, it is not only possible to grow laurel inside pots, but also a common practice for gardeners around the world.
Laurel tends to flourish when planted inside a container. While it’s a surprise to some, it is highly common for gardeners everywhere to keep and grow potted laurels.
It’s actually a relatively easy plant to grow and one of the best plants to start with. You can start by following our guide in the next section.
How to Successfully Grow Potted Laurel (7 Factors)
The vibrant bay laurel isn’t a high-maintenance plant, but unfortunately, it can fall victim to some common mistakes even veteran gardeners make at times. To help you avoid this, let’s go over these 7 factors to properly grow potted laurels!
Planters for laurels should be at least 5-gallons to provide enough room for optimal growth. This plant is also highly sensitive to moisture and ideally should be planted in clay or unglazed terracotta. These materials are porous, hence preventing root rot.
To get started, you would need to decide what planter would be best for your new laurel. This would be the plant’s home for quite a long period, after all.
A planter minimum of five gallons is recommended. This will be perfect for a smaller laurel plant. But the larger and older your laurel tree is, the larger the planter must be to match to avoid it from being root bound. Repot it every 2–3 years.
What Planter Material is Best for Potted Laurel?
The material recommended for growing laurels is clay or unglazed terracotta, which allows for soil aeration. Non-porous materials such as plastic are not suitable for this plant.
Charming wood planters can definitely be used. But if you plan to grow your bay tree to eat, any wood treated with arsenic should be avoided for your health.
Plastic planters are convenient but are also non-porous, meaning it retains a lot of moisture. This can possibly harm your laurel. Metal pots also become a danger once it inevitably grows hot in the summer.
So what material would work best? Unglazed terracotta or clay would be ideal, as these are porous. Soils in these pots will dry at a faster rate, which is exactly what this plant needs.
Do Potted Laurels Need Drainage?
It is required that laurels be grown in containers with drainage holes. To ensure the best results, the planter may also be raised off the ground to prevent the laurel roots from being overflowed.
This plant absolutely hates excess moisture, so make sure your pot has adequate drainage holes. However, we encourage you not to put any gravel at the bottom of the planter, as it has actually been shown not to improve drainage.
If you tend to overwater, you may wonder if a saucer is useful. You can use this, but a laurel that consistently sits in water can easily lead to root rot. Instead, you can have the pot raised safely off the ground to prevent excess water from collecting at the bottom.
Varying growing mediums can be used to grow laurel, but it is vital that it is kept well-drained. A suitable mix includes a 1-1 ratio of sand to soil with a pH level of 4.5 to 8.3 to ensure proper drainage.
Laurel can tolerate many different soil types, except if it has poor drainage. More specifically, bay laurel grows best in rich and healthy soil that holds some moisture for growth, but is overall well-drained. Loosening the soil regularly can help with draining excess water.
You may obtain soil from your local farmers, composting facilities, and nurseries. An ideal soil mix for laurel would contain 50–60% sand or cactus mix and 10% peat moss blended with rich soil with a pH level of 4.5 to 8.3.
>>> Learn more about this in our article on potting soil.
The roots of laurel are highly sensitive to moisture and would benefit from less frequent watering. Water only once the soil is relatively dry. However, adjustments to watering are essential to suit the temperatures. Regular watering is required during the heat, but it must be reduced in winter.
This plant doesn’t need strict watering, but make sure to allow the soil to dry in between when you do. It’s safer to underwater this plant, as overwatering it can lead to root rot and cause irrecoverable damage to your laurel, as many people have experienced.
In rising temperatures, however, it’s helpful to increase watering to twice a week or more, since the moisture in potted soil tends to dry out quicker during heat. Just make sure to inspect the top 1–2 inches of its soil and be certain it’s dry before watering.
When winter comes and growth slows down, the tree should become dormant and will not require as much water. It’s recommended to cut back the watering sessions and only water when absolutely needed. Your bay laurel will thank you for it.
4. Light and Temperature
Laurel requires a minimum of 5–6 hours daily all year round and grows best in temperatures of 60 and 75 °F (15 °C and 23 °C). Temperatures over 100 °F (37 °C) can be harmful and damage foliage. Conversely, your laurel may die if left under 28 °F (-5 °C) outdoors, so they must be brought indoors.
At the very least, this plant requires 5–6 hours of direct sun per day all year round. Place this plant where it can receive all the sunlight it can, but also has light shade.
I’ve heard the laurels’ ideal temperatures range between 60 and 75 °F (15 °C and 23 °C). During the summer, however, incessant sweltering heat over 100 °F (37 °C) can damage the leaves and will dry out soils at a faster rate.
Keep in mind, that your bay tree is frost-sensitive. Anything below 28 °F (-5 °C) may damage and kill your plant. Established laurels are quite hardy and can probably withstand it, but the younger the plant, the more vulnerable they are, and it’s best to err on the side of caution and bring it inside.
In the weeks leading to this cold season, you can help your plant acclimate to its cozy vacation inside your much warmer home.
Bay laurel grows best in humidity levels of 40% as it originates from the Mediterranean. When indoors, this plant can be kept in rooms with higher levels to help it develop.
Native to the warm Mediterranean climate, the bay laurel tree usually enjoys moderate to high humidity, and thrives when the average is around 40%.
If grown indoors, you can choose to mist your tree regularly, or you can alternatively place the tree inside a room with higher humidity levels. Because the inside of a majority of homes is much lower in humidity, this will help keep your plant content.
It is highly encouraged to apply fertilizer when laurel is actively growing in spring. Fertilizers high in nitrogen are frequently recommended, but are not required during dormancy in the winter.
When it comes to fertilizer, this plant isn’t too choosy either. You can use liquid fertilizers or fish emulsion—if you can handle the smell.
If not, it’s typically recommended by gardeners familiar with laurel to use a fertilizer high in nitrogen. This should boost the bay tree’s foliage, which you may want for harvesting purposes.
Apply the fertilizer once every 2 weeks for best growth in the spring during active growing seasons. During the frost, however, fertilizer will no longer be needed as growth rates will slow significantly, and the plant will slip into a state of dormancy.
Laurel is best pruned during late spring to early summer and grows back easily. For a lush development, remove any dead leaves and dry branches, and do not prune more than 25–30% of the plant.
Many laurel owners note their plant handles pruning very well and even requires it, so prune as much as you see fit! But take care not to madly hack away at it and risk its health, prune only a maximum of 25–30%.
If it is a smaller laurel kept only to liven up a room, you might prefer to maintain it under a foot tall. However, if you’re growing a more mature tree to supply yourself with bay leaves, keeping the plant at just 2 or even 5 feet (1.52 m) tall might be more than enough.
The best seasons to prune would be between late spring to early summer. Simply prune away any dead branches and leaves to keep your bay tree in prime shape. Its roots should also be trimmed when repotted, and you can then inspect the laurel more closely for any of the issues below.
6 Potential Problems and Pests
Although hardy, the laurel is frequently more prone to root rot and other potential problems. Once frail, the plant becomes a fitting target for pests like scales, baysuckers and aphids to possibly kill.
Laurel plants are pretty resistant to pests and diseases, but just like any other plant, it can still face potential issues. It is highly susceptible to over-watering, root rot and other difficulties.
Potted laurels that are badly maintained can lead to poor growth and development. When the plant is frail, it has a higher chance of attracting attention from the pests mentioned below.
You’ve planted your laurel and, like a good gardener, you’re giving it a quick inspection. If you’ve been following this, all should be well! But sometimes issues come up regardless. The next few items below are the most common problems for bay laurel.
1. Root Rot
Root rot is one of the main challenges for this plant. When the plant is wilting or has stunted growth despite regular watering, this may be because it has been overwatered, and root rot is underway.
2. Leaf Spots
A spotty discoloration can be seen on foliage. Oftentimes this is due to the roots being in unusually damp environments.
3. Yellow Leaves
This is another common problem in bay trees, typically caused when there is too much excess water or drainage is quite poor. Leaf drop can also be observed.
Folks often comment on how persistent laurel plants are. But those pests can quite literally be persistent little buggers too, and your laurel isn’t invulnerable to them.
Scales are difficult to spot as they usually blend in. They come in different species, but the soft, bumpy-like pests can be seen easier when inspecting all parts of the plant closely.
A type of psyllid that—you guessed it—sucks the sap from the bay laurel. If infested, plant leaves turn yellow, and small whitish insects may be seen underneath said leaves.
These small bugs favor softer shoots, where it is easier for their mouthparts to pierce. They’re messy eaters, however, and they make their presence easily known when plant leaves and stems are coated in sticky honeydew.
Is Laurel Easier to Grow in a Pot or in the Ground?
It’s easier to grow laurel in a container. Due to its vast root system, the bay can become invasive in the ground. This makes it difficult to control and requires more space. Hence, it would be beneficial to cultivate laurel in a pot instead.
Laurel can grow well regardless if it’s in a planter or directly in the ground. But if it’s planted into the ground, some gardeners say it’s difficult to maintain, and they are sometimes forced to remove the tree entirely due to it growing so wildly.
The roots can become invasive as well, and people are frequently warned to keep them away from power lines and other crucial systems.
Plus, it might prove tricky to grow in the ground if your gardening space is limited. So it would be easier to keep your laurel inside a pot, where it can easily be pruned and is better controlled.
Do Laurels Grow in Pots for Long, or Just at the Beginning?
Laurel flourishes when grown inside containers, which is why it is frequently grown potted. It can stay in a pot temporarily, or it can be grown in its container permanently.
You can raise the laurel in whatever way fits your needs and personal circumstances. If properly cared for, your plant can grow in its container for years.
Some find it suitable to grow it inside a pot just for the first few years before planting outside. But since most people find it so easy to maintain, it’s extremely common for it to be kept potted.
Potted Laurels — Indoors or Outdoors? Why?
It is best to keep potted laurels indoors during extreme temperatures such as winter and summer. This plant grows best in full sun but is likely to be harmed in high heat, and additionally, is frost-sensitive. To keep laurels outdoors all year round is not recommended.
Where you choose to keep your bay is up to you. However, it wouldn’t be ideal if it’s left outside entirely. It’s safer that this plant, at the very least, be brought indoors during the winter and during high heat.
If you live in a colder climate with frequent frosts or rainfall, it’s best to keep laurels near a bright window indoors to keep it safe. This does not apply if you live in a very warm or Mediterranean area with unlikely frost.
It would be better to place potted laurels outdoors when you are in a warmer climate—for full sun absorption. Many people keep it outdoors for this reason. Due to this plant’s sensitivity to extreme temperatures, consider your environment.
Summary of Growing Potted Laurel
Laurel thrives in pots and is low maintenance—it does not have many strict requirements. To achieve a good potted laurel, its pot and soils must be well-drained, water only when dry, and must be placed in direct sun for at least 6 hours a day throughout the year.
The roots of bay laurel are vulnerable to excess moisture in the soil. Hence, over-watering must be avoided. Lastly, the laurel is frost-sensitive and must be brought indoors during any frost, as temperatures under 28 °F (-5 °C) may kill it.
- “Grecian laurel, Sweetbay—Laurus nobilis” by n/a in University of California Integrated Pest Management
- “Bay Laurel” by n/a in University of Illinois Extension
- “Stem and Root Rot” by n/a in Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
- “Scale Insects” by Susan Mahr in University of Wisconsin-Madison Horticulture
- “Bay sucker” by n/a in The Royal Horticultural Society