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Gardening with Laurie: Try growing a bay tree

By By Laurie Garretson
Dec. 5, 2013 at 6:05 a.m.

Laurie Garretson

I love growing and gardening with all types of herbs. There's something about the history and mythological lore, along with the beauty and fragrance, that makes working with these plants so wonderful.

One herb that has a very rich mythological history has to be the bay laurel (Laurus nobilis). Bay, or often referred to as sweet bay, are evergreen trees or large shrubs. Bays originated from the Mediterranean area, where they could reach heights of up to 60 feet.

In our part of the world, they usually grow up to about 40 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide or can be cultivated to grow as very long-lived container plants. With glossy, 2- to 4-inch long, dark-green leaves, the bay makes nice house plants.

Bay trees are not very particular about their soil types as long as they don't stay wet for periods of time. They are happy growing in full sun to part shade. When planted in the ground, be sure to give this plant room to spread - unless you plan to keep it trimmed. Being an herb, many gardeners do not consider the space that bays can cover. Bay plants can last for decades, and in that time, will need the room to spread out.

Leaves of the bay can be harvested at any time of the year. The fragrance and flavor will be strongest when the plant begins to bloom its small, creamy, yellowish flowers. Bay leaves can be used fresh or dried.

Some cooks claim freshly picked leaves can be bitter and say it is best to wait two to three days for a freshly harvested leaf to get a deeper, richer flavor. Older leaves will be stronger tasting than younger leaves. Bay leaves are one of the main ingredients used in bouquet garni and in Old Bay Seasoning.

When harvesting bay leaves, grab the tip of a leaf and pull it down against the stem to snap it off. Do not cut the leaves off. A new stem will grow from the location where the leaf was joined to the trunk.

Bay leaves are also used to repel weevils and moths. Place a few leaves in your cabinet where you store flour and other grains to help prevent these pests.

Branches of bay are often used in floral arrangements and in making wreaths. Crushed bay leaves are used in potpourri blends.

In the landscape or as a container plant, you just can't go wrong with this herb. Bays are slow growers, which makes them a little pricier than many other plants but well worth it.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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