How to prune a bay tree – the 3 biggest problems to watch out for

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Bay trees are large and yet attractive trees which have dense, shiny foliage. These trees can live for 20 to 50 years if they are well cared for. Bay trees can reach up to nine metres tall, but if you do not want them to reach these impressive heights you should take care to prune them.

How to prune a bay tree

Pruning practices relating to bay trees depend on the plant you have and where you are growing it.

Bay trees are very tolerant of minor pruning but can react badly to harder pruning.

The best time to prune your bay tree is usually from late spring through to mid-summer.

In summer, you should try to pinch back any stems which have grown too long, to limit vertical growth and encourage fruiting side shoots.

To prune topiary-trained bay trees use secateurs throughout the summer months to encourage a dense habit.

This technique of regular pruning will also help you to maintain a balanced shape.

When it comes to the actual pruning, you should take care to snip new shoots to the bud facing in the direction of the desired growth.

Try to complete all bay tree pruning by the end of the summer period, as any pruning done later than this could cause the tree to go into dormancy without putting out new foliage.

Bay tree shrubs can be trimmed back into shape by simply cutting them back to a lower leaf or bud in the spring or summer period.

With lighter pruning of shrubs, simply remove all diseased, damaged, congested or crossing shoots.

Shoots growing in unwanted directions should also be removed.

After pruning you should make sure to mulch the plant and add feed.

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Mature bay trees are more accepting of hard pruning.

However, it is important to remember these plants may be slower to recover and regrow.

To prune mature bay trees effectively, you should carry out the work over two or three growing seasons in the late spring.

In the summer bay trees grow much more vigorously, which can push out new growth.

This means additional light pruning is required to keep it in check at this time.

The problems to watch out with your bay tree

  • Overwatering – Bay trees do not like to be overwatered so you should try to keep good soil drainage by adding organic matter or grit to the soil.
  • Cold and frost – A cold snap can be hugely damaging to many plants, but they tend to be fairly hardy if grown in UK gardens.
  • Nitrogen deficiency – Trees can begin to show yellowing leaves which can be an indication of nitrogen deficiency. This can be fixed by adding a layer of mulch to the surrounding soil.

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