Re­viv­ing Sweet Bay rav­aged by win­ter

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

We have had ev­ery weather pos­si­ble this year in Suffolk. Snow in Fe­bru­ary, tor­ren­tial rain in March and the high­est tem­per­a­tures for nearly 70 years in April. One plant that has suf­fered from the shock of it all is sweet bay. A lot of cus­tomers at the nurs­ery have been ask­ing how they can save plants which have lots of dead, brown leaves.

Lau­rus No­bilis, or the No­ble Lau­rel, is a rel­a­tive of the glossy green leaved plant we see as a hedge but it has a won­der­ful her­itage of its own. It is the sweet bay that we see on Ro­man and Greek crowns and gar­lands for vic­to­ri­ous ath­letes, and it is as­so­ci­ated with the in­tel­lec­tual side of life. The word lau­rel within ‘Bac­calau­re­ate’ was used to de­scribe out­stand­ing po­ets, hence ‘poet lau­re­ate’. It was said that if some­one slept with lau­rel un­der their pil­low they would be­come a marvel­lous philoso­pher or or­a­tor, and lau­rels were awarded to schol­ars. Let­ters an­nounc­ing vic­tory would be wrapped in bay leaves.

This his­tory gives away the plant’s Mediter­ranean ori­gins. So, we need to con­sider what type of habi­tat it would have sprung from when we care for it in our gar­dens and in con­tain­ers. The soil where it nat­u­rally grows would have been dry and stony. The cli­mate would be hot in sum­mer and rarely be­low freez­ing in win­ter, a far cry from our cold, wet weather this year.

Never fear! With a lit­tle ten­der, lov­ing care your lau­rel can be re­vived. Late spring/early sum­mer is the best time to prune, so snip off any brown leaves, tak­ing the stems back to a bud. If it was in a pot dur­ing tor­ren­tial rain the plant may have strug­gled, so I rec­om­mend re­pot­ting. Take as much of the old com­post off the roots as pos­si­ble and re-pot us­ing a mul­ti­pur­pose com­post, prefer­ably not peat which holds mois­ture and is not en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly. The soil needs to be free drain­ing so add plenty of grit. I sug­gest a slow re­lease fer­tiliser sprin­kled on the top. When­ever I prune a bay I keep the leaves, a cou­ple in my pocket and oth­ers in a bowl in the house. I love the fresh, sweet aroma. And if you en­joy cook­ing you can put the leaves to good use in the kitchen too.

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