A generous dose of Lauris nobilis can help banish the winter blues. You may know this splendid perennial with the dark green leathery leaves as Bay Laurel and you have probably been using its fragrant leaves in your soups and stews for years. Planting and tending a small specimen of this treasure indoors, on a sunny window sill, will surely boost your spirits until those first blessed spring days when it can be moved to a warm, sheltered, partly sunny spot on your patio or in your garden. The ultimate size of your Lauris nobilis – outdoors, in ideal conditions and left unpruned, it can reach a height of 18 metres – will be determined by the size of the container you choose for it. In a 12-inch pot and carefully pruned the growth will generally be limited to 1.5 metres. Small yellow flowers appear on female specimens in early spring and develop into purple berries in autumn.
Starting your plant from seed will only make you more depressed – it will take 6 months for germination – so I strongly recommend the fast and cheerful version. Purchase a 15 cm or slightly larger potted specimen from a reputable nursery such as Richter’s. Caution: insist on Laurus nobilis, since this plant, often sold under other names, may not be edible. Attractive hybrids such as Laurus nobilis ‘Augustifolia’, Laurus nobilis ‘Auria’, and Laurus nobilis ‘Undulata’ present interesting variations.
Transfer the young Bay Laurel, carefully, to a decorative flower pot; standard garden soil mix is adequate. Take care to ensure that good drainage is available since overwatering is to be avoided. This Mediterranean native requires as warm and sunny a spot as you can provide but will tolerate some shadiness. Like most houseplants Bay Laurel will benefit from a light misting during winter months to maintain a good level of humidity. Slow growth during this period is beneficial since it helps to limit size. Occasionally pinch back some leaves to encourage branching. Indoors, feed an organic fertilizer spring and midsummer. When used as a patio feature it must be brought indoors before temperatures fall below 0 degrees centigrade or whenever frost or freezing rains are imminent.
Bay Laurel offers us a cheerful, rich green presence during these dark snowbound days while providing just the right aromatic seasoning for a heart-and-soul warming winter stew. With patience, both you and your new Laurus nobilis will soon be back in that garden where you both belong!
Come to think of it, wouldn’t a Bay Laurel in a hand-crafted pottery container make just about the best Christmas present a gardener friend could ever wish for?
Go for it!
— Dana Rodgers, Guelph-Wellington Master Gardener
A version of this post first appeared in the November 2017 issue of the Puslinch Pioneer.