Balcony plant for 2019: Bay laurel

Qualities such as fabulous green foliage and a stately appearance combined with a compact shape make bay laurel (scientific name: Laurus nobilis) a great addition to any balcony.  Bay laurel blooms with white flowers which appear as umbels in the leaf axils and later become oval berries. The plant remains green all through the year with oval leaves that feature a light vein, that looks like a feather. Bay laurel is available in space-saving shapes (pillar, standard) which work well with the limited space available on a balcony. It can even be used to create a green hedge to hide a balustrade. And the leaves? They have a pleasant fragrance, and can also be used in cooking.

Bay laurel grows in Asia Minor and the eastern part of the Mediterranean. The Romans then brought it to Western Europe. In the wild the plant grows to be a fairly tall shrub or small tree that can reach a height of 10 meters. 

The bay laurel range is limited; usually the ‘ordinary’ green-leaved variety is offered. However, there are a few cultivars with a different leaf colour and shape. Sometimes the leaves are more wavy, elongated, rounder or smaller. And sometimes the leaves are variegated in white or gold and have a light outer edge. There is a lot of choice in terms of shape, because the plant is very suitable for topiary. Hence there are pyramid, cylinder, cube, cone and ball shapes, and the trunks can be both straight and twisted.

Tips for buying bay laurel
• The pot size, height and shape of the bay laurel must be balanced and the plant must be firmly rooted. 
• Bay laurel grows slowly. Telling customers that they are acquiring a strong plant that is a few years old already, will explain the often slightly higher price. 
• Smaller pot sizes are sometimes offered in a mix with other kitchen herbs such as thyme, rosemary and lavender
• The plant must be free of pests and diseases. Watch out for scale insects which can also cause sooty mould, which badly marks the leaves. 
• When buying check that the obligatory plant passport is included as a sign that the plant is healthy.

Display tips for bay laurel 
Bay laurel’s ability to brighten a balcony can be shown in an appealing way by creating a half-open balcony using a bistro set with a bay laurel hedge and a number of different shaped bay laurels in pots. Keep the decor muted – the plants’ best feature is its attractive green foliage. Including a rack with flowering herbs helps emphasise the culinary role of the leaves.

Care tips for customers 
• You can place bay laurel in full sunlight, but it is also content in partial shade.
• Select a sturdy pot and clay soil to stop it from blowing over.
• Drooping young leaves indicate a lack of water. The bay laurel will quickly revive after some extra watering. If the plant is in a pot avoid leaving it in standing water.
• Add some plant food every month
• If bay laurel gets too much water it will show this with yellow leaves. Leave the soil to dry thoroughly before watering again.
• Feed from May to July to help the bay laurel recover from its spring growth spurt. Don’t feed after this otherwise the plant will go into the winter with too much vigour and can collapse as a result.
• Prune in June and clip into shape with sharp, clean secateurs. Always cut the branches, not the leaves. Only prune the bay laurel again in December.
• If the temperature drops five or more degrees celsius below freezing, it’s best to move a bay laurel in a container to a cool dark place such as a shed. You can also wrap up the plant to protect it. Leave to rest with very little water, and then let it gradually acclimatise to light and water again in spring.
•  Bay laurel does not like being repotted: once every 3 to 5 years is more than enough.