Bay laurel, Laurus nobilis, is one of those garden wonders that serves more than one purpose.
In addition to adding evergreen ornamental interest to indoor and outdoor spaces with its glossy, dark green foliage, the leaves can also bring an aromatic flavor to your cooking.
Even if you don’t like the taste of bay leaves, the camphor-like scent is worth noticing when you brush near this plant.
If you are growing bay laurel, there may come a time when your tree is not thriving in its current location. Or maybe it has outgrown its current container, and could benefit from repotting.
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If you need to transplant your bay tree, you’ve come to the right place.
Here’s what I’ll cover in this article:
Get your spade ready, and get ready to dig.
Why transplant bay laurel?
If your bay laurel is perfectly happy with the growing conditions in its current home, why transplant it? There are several reasons for this, starting with the possibility that it may have moved from its current location.
Whether you’re growing it in a container or in the ground, you may reach a point where the plant needs more room to spread.
How can you tell if your L. nobilis needs a transplant?
It is easier to determine the right time to transplant a container grown plant than it is for one growing in the ground. For example, you may see roots growing out of drainage holes in the bottom of a pot, or growing out of the surface of the soil.
It’s normal to notice some yellow leaves during the growing season, but if your tree is stressed, more leaves than usual may turn yellow or brown and drop from the plant.
If it’s growing in the ground, your L. nobilis is generally fine to leave in place, as long as it doesn’t start encroaching on other plants with its spread, or as tall as you’d like.
You may have an existing plant that you’d love to move to a new location—if you’re moving to a new home, or starting a landscaping project in your yard.
Or perhaps you have a plant that you started from a cutting or grew from seed.
In either of these cases, you don’t need to be afraid to dig it up and give it a new home, unless it’s already particularly large.
A giant bay tree is not a good candidate for transplanting. If the mature tree is more than five feet tall, you’ll probably struggle to dig up the entirety of the extensive root system, and the plant may suffer transplant shock or die.
In this case, you can dramatically trim your plant instead of replanting it. Bay trees are robust plants and can handle a severe pruning. You can remove half the plant in fall or early spring without any adverse effects.
Learn more about how and when to prune bay laurel in this guide. (coming soon!)
When is the right time?
If you have a plant emergency — construction, moving to a new home, and so on — it’s technically possible to transplant a bay laurel any time of year.
But if you want the greatest chance of success, fall or winter is the best time to move your plant, as long as you can work the soil.
During the colder months, the plants are in a dormant state. This means that your bay laurel is not putting any of its energy into new growth, flowering, or setting seed, which gives it the opportunity to focus on recovery and root development.
Cooler weather will give your L. nobilis a better chance of surviving transplant shock, and since the weather is usually wetter at this time of year, the roots are usually not as threatened by drought and heat stress as they are in summer. Can
Of course, this depends on where you live, and the local climate and weather.
You can also opt to transplant in early spring if you have to, but you run the risk of stunting the plant’s growth in the coming season.
If you want to transplant in the spring, be sure you do it early enough—before new growth begins to appear—so that the plant has enough time to settle in and recover from the shock of being moved.
how to transplant
The number one goal when you transplant should be to dig out as much of the root ball as possible. Bay roots are shallow, but they are widespread.
You’ll need to dig at least as wide as the leaves of the plant, or more if you notice you’re hitting too many thick roots.
Dig down until you can see the pencil-sized roots. For reference, a three-foot tree should have a root ball at least 14 inches wide and 12 inches deep.
It helps if your spade is freshly sharpened so that it cuts cleanly through the roots. This allows them to heal more quickly.
Work the plant out of the soil by using your spade to slowly dig the plant out of the soil, digging and tilting it slightly.
Fine feeder roots can be left behind if necessary, but it helps to gently lift them up with the rest of the root ball if you can.
If you’re trying to get the root ball out and it’s stuck in the ground, you can use a pair of scissors to cut away any remaining stubborn roots if you’re unable to dig them out.
You want to be sure to replant it as soon as possible after removing it from the ground. The biggest risk you run when you transplant your tree is that the roots may dry out before replanting, which can lead to disaster.
If you can’t plant immediately, wrap the root ball in burlap and keep it moist in a shaded spot.
It’s a good idea to prepare the planting area before you start digging up your bay laurel, so that you can first loosen the soil and dig a hole so the new location is ready to go. But since you may not be able to predict how big the root ball will be when you dig it out, a little extra digging may be needed before you can settle the undamaged roots.
Whether you’re moving your plant to a new container or a new spot in the ground, you’ll need to make sure the roots have enough room to spread.
If you’re planting in the ground, this means digging a hole that’s twice as deep and twice as wide as the root ball of your existing plant.
Before you place the plant in the hole, gently loosen the roots and spread them slightly. None of the roots should be twisted or tightly packed together when they are replanted.
Backfill halfway with soil, and water. Stand back and make sure the tree is level. Fill the rest of the way and soak the plant once again with water. You want to give the plant about a half gallon of water for every square foot of soil surface that you have displaced.
Make sure the plant doesn’t sit deeper than it originally grew, or you risk suffocating the roots.
If you planted in fall or winter, don’t fertilize until mid-spring. If you transplanted at another time, wait a month or two until you fertilize your plant.
reporting container bay
If you’ve been growing your bay in a container, it’s time to transplant when you can see roots poking out from the base, or if you remove the plant from its container and you can see the roots coming in. moving in a circle towards from the wall of the container.
If you’re growing it in a clay or terracotta container, it tends to dry out the soil more quickly, and you’ll need to water more often.
Don’t transplant to a container that is too large unless you want your plant to grow quickly. If you want to keep it at a more manageable size, use a container that’s a few inches larger than the one it’s already growing in.
To remove the plant from its original container, tilt the pot and grasp the plant as firmly around the stem as you can. Roll the container back and forth as you gently pull. It may help to do this when the soil is slightly dry, as soil expands when it is wet.
When you remove your plant from its pot, gently loosen the root ball with your hands, and remove any dead roots.
Fill the new pot with enough soil so that the bay laurel is about the same height as its previous container. Place the plant in its new container, and backfill around the edges with potting soil. Now is the time to soak it well.
Don’t fertilize for the first two to three months, after which you can resume your regular fertilization program.
How to deal with transplant shock
Transplant shock is when your newly transplanted bay isn’t happy with the big move, and fails to thrive. This can result from disturbing the roots, or if the plant has been heavily pruned prior to digging.
You should not do heavy pruning for three months before and after transplanting your bay tree.
Plants are more prone to shock if the weather is excessively dry or hot, which is why transplanting is recommended during the cooler months. Large plants suffer more than small ones.
If your plant begins to wither or fall shortly after repotting, don’t panic. Your plant will need a little babying for a while, but it will probably be fine.
To start, give it a little more water than usual. When a plant has lost some of its root system, it can’t take up as much water as it used to, so you’ll need to help it along. Make sure the soil is well-draining so it isn’t sitting in standing water, either.
You can also apply two inches of organic mulch such as leaf mold, wood chips, or straw. It helps insulate the roots from the heat and helps retain moisture in the soil. Don’t pack the mulch at the base of the tree against the trunk—leave a one- to two-inch gap around the trunk.
Give your plant a few months to recover. If you repotted or transplanted it in the fall, it may not look its best until the following spring. And as mentioned, don’t be tempted to apply fertilizer while the plant is recovering.
it’s time to make a big move
It’s not that complicated, is it? Luckily, bay trees are quite forgiving. Even if you don’t do everything perfectly, it may be able to survive this step if you give it a little extra care and attention, and a little patience.
The most important thing to remember is to keep the root ball intact as much as possible and keep the roots moist.
After your bay is transplanted, let me know how it went in the comments below! I always love to hear about your experiences.
And for more information on growing herbs in your garden, check out these guides ahead:
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