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Pruning Bay Trees 101: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Pruning Bay Trees 101: A Step-by-Step Guide

Welcome to the ultimate guide on pruning bay trees! These delightful additions to your garden bring both beauty and fragrance, but mastering the art of pruning is essential for their health and appearance.

In this step-by-step guide, we’ll navigate through the ins and outs of shaping and maintaining bay trees. We’ll discuss why, when, and how to prune these versatile plants for optimal growth and aesthetics. From the essential tools required to the best times for pruning, we’ve got you covered. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener seeking refinement or a beginner eager to learn, this comprehensive guide will cover everything you need to know. Let’s dive in!

About Bay Tree Pruning

Bay trees possess remarkable resilience, reaching heights of 30 feet (9 m.) while maintaining their lushness. However, even healthy specimens can face challenges like winter damage or disease. Removing damaged and sick branches are very important if you want your bay tree to stay healthy. Shaping is also a crucial aspect for many of us because a bay tree neglected for years can look pretty wild. You need to watch out for suckers too sprouting from the roots and promptly trim them to prevent clustering, ensuring your bay tree flourishes with vigor and grace.

When to Prune a Bay Tree

In late spring, shape your bay tree into your preferred style, whether a single-trunked tree or a multi-trunk shrub. This season is ideal for pruning to control excessive growth and explore topiary design.

Transitioning to summer, a lighter trim refines its appearance by cutting back new shoots and inward-facing buds. Summer pruning focuses on controlling height by trimming long stems, encouraging fruitful growth due to bay trees’ rapid growth rate. These summer adjustments foster a well-balanced and thriving tree in your garden.

The Tools You’ll Need

Let’s keep it simple: invest in good-quality pruning shears, loppers, and maybe a pruning saw for thicker branches. A sturdy pair of gloves to protect your hands is a must!

Pruning Bay Trees 101: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Prune Bay Trees Step-by-Step

Pruning Bay Trees in containers

You need to aim for a maximum height of 135cm / 4ft 6in for manageable, untrained bush-shaped bay trees in containers. The best time to prune Bay Trees in containers is from late spring to mid-summer.

Bay Trees in Containers
Bay Trees in Containers
  1. Pruning Timing and Tolerance: Bay trees tolerate minor pruning well, but significant pruning may take a year for full recovery.
  2. Techniques for Pruning: Remove dead or damaged leaves, ensuring cuts face a healthy bud in the desired growth direction.
  3. Managing Suckers or New Shoots:
    • For bush-shaped bay trees, suckers that sprout around or just above the soil level help expand the base.
    • However, for standard bay trees with a bare stem, these suckers aren’t desired. Trim them off if above soil level.
    • For suckers below soil level, remove soil around the base, prune the sucker as low as possible, and repeat if needed.
    • Pruning suckers encourages fewer regrowths, improving the tree’s appearance over time.

Pruning larger Bay Trees

The optimal pruning time is late spring during dry spells for large bay trees.

Pruning Larger Bay Trees
Pruning Larger Bay Trees
  1. Yearly Plan for Reduction:
    • Year One: Trim about a quarter of the tree to begin reducing its size.
    • Year Two: Gradually prune slightly less than the previous year.
    • Year Three: Tidy up the tree to achieve the desired size without disfiguration.
  2. Regular Maintenance:
    • Perform annual early spring pruning to maintain the desired size.
  3. Utilize Bay Tree Resources:
    • Dry and share leaves for culinary purposes or craft bay laurel wreaths.
    • Engage kids in creating wreaths or use young wood for carving projects.
  4. Making Use of Large Branches:
    • Trim and season large branches to create durable walking sticks.

Pruning Topiary Bay Trees

  1. To craft a topiary bay tree, spring marks the initial shaping phase. Prune the tree into a rough representation of your chosen form.
  2. Come summer, it’s time for a second trim for precision and to manage new growth. Complete all pruning by summer’s end to avoid dormancy without fresh foliage. When shaping, cut above a leaf node or bud directing growth.

Pro tip: For the classic rounded lollipop shape, trim lower branches and adjust top growth for the iconic look. Regular pruning is key to maintaining the desired form, ensuring a stunning bay tree topiary in your garden.


Congratulations, you’ve pruned your bay tree! Now, it’s time for some post-pruning TLC:

  1. Hydration and Nutrition: Keep your tree well-watered, especially in warmer months, and feed it with a balanced fertilizer to aid recovery.
  2. Watch and Wait: Monitor your bay tree for any signs of stress or disease post-pruning.
  3. Patience Pays Off: Allow time for your bay tree to rejuvenate before planning the next trim.
Pruning Bay Trees 101: A Step-by-Step Guide

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I prune bay trees?

For shaping, give your bay tree a good prune in late spring, then tidy it up with a lighter trim in summer. Keep it healthy by cutting back new shoots and buds facing inward. In summer, snip back long stems to control height and encourage more fruit growth, especially since bay trees grow fast.

Should I remove brown leaves from bay tree?

Removing dead, damaged, or sick branches and leaves helps your Bay tree to focus more on its healthy growth. Prune these in late spring or in the summer.

How often should I prune my bay tree?

The best way to keep your Bay tree in shape is to prune it annually, from late spring until mid-summer. Just do not remove too many leaves that are essential for the tree.

How much of the bay tree can I safely prune at one time?

Don’t prune away more than a quarter of the tree in one year. Bay trees are pretty resilient and bounce back fast after pruning. However, you want to make sure you do not remove too many leaves and branches in one go because these also help the tree to grow.