Flowering time (month)
Ornamental or utility value
moderately dry to moderately moist
The laurel or laurel tree (Laurus nobilis) belongs to the genus laurel (Laurus) of the laurel family (Lauraceae). The original homeland is probably the Near East. From there it has spread over the entire Mediterranean area and also occurs on the Pacific coast of North America. Together with other evergreen woody plants, it forms low, evergreen moist forests in mountain regions, which are almost exclusively supplied with water by frequent fog.
The laurel tree has a conical shape and can grow up to 12 metres high and 10 metres wide at its natural habitat. The bark of the young shoots is usually brown-red in colour. When cut regularly, they branch out strongly and form very dense crowns.
The dark green, slightly wavy leaves are narrow elliptic, tapered on both sides and alternately arranged. They exude an aromatic and spicy scent. The aromatic leaves of bay laurel are often used as a spice for red cabbage and meat dishes.
Bay laurel belongs to the dioecious plants, which means that there are plants with exclusively male and female flowers. From March to May, the bay laurel bears inconspicuous whitish flowers that appear in tufted umbels or grapey panicles.
After flowering, the female plants develop broadly ovoid, blue-black glossy stone fruits. The fruits contain a lot of essential oil and were used in the past for their anti-inflammatory and circulatory effects to cure and alleviate various diseases. Caution: Both the fruits and the leaves contain essential oils which can cause skin irritations or allergic reactions.
The real laurel is quite tolerant of the light conditions, but it feels particularly at home in a sunny location. Laurel is mainly used as a decorative cut plant for the greening of terraces, balconies and conservatories. Since laurel used to be a sign of victory and good luck, conically cut plants in pots are also very popular as “doorkeepers” to the left and right of the house entrance. In very mild regions the laurel tree can also be planted in the garden with good winter protection.
The substrate should be both nutrient-rich and humus-rich. In addition, laurel requires a potted plant soil that is as structurally stable as possible, with relatively high sand and clay contents.
The laurel tree does not need too much water due to its rough leaves, which are protected from drought, and tolerates drought quite well. Although you water so much that the soil is completely moistened and the water collects in the coaster, you wait until the surface of the root ball is dry before you water the plant again.
The nutrient requirement of the plants is also not particularly high. If you supply your laurel in spring with some slow-release fertilizer in granulate form, you can almost completely dispense with liquid fertilizer. It is only administered when the foliage loses its beautiful dark green colour. A moderate nutrient supply limits shoot growth – the plants remain more compact and do not need to be pruned as often.
If possible, the laurel is repotted in spring after it has been removed from its winter quarters. For larger plants, a rhythm of three to four years is completely sufficient. Place freshly potted plants in a slightly shaded spot for a few weeks.
The first shape cut usually takes place in May, when the first growth spurt has finished. Do not prune the shoots with hedge trimmers, but preferably individually with garden shears so as not to damage the leaves. Otherwise they will soon show brownish, dried-up interfaces. The second cut should be made in July or August. If necessary, the robust laurel tree can also be pruned more frequently, for example before it is stored in its winter quarters.
The real laurel tolerates frosty temperatures of up to minus eight degrees Celsius. Over winter it is as bright as possible at zero to five degrees Celsius. A cold house – i.e. an unheated greenhouse – is ideal for overwintering. If the temperatures do not exceed five degrees Celsius, a location with less light is also suitable, for example a cellar or a garage. After wintering out, the plants should slowly get used to the intense sunlight again. If you have planted the laurel in the garden, you must above all protect the evergreen leaves with a winter fleece from frost-drying by the winter sun. In addition, the root area should be mulched with a thick layer of leaves.
The variety ‘Auera’ is one of the few cultivars of the real laurel and is characterised by a very yellow colouring of the young leaves. In addition to ‘Aurea’, there is also the variety ‘Angustifolia’, which has somewhat narrower leaves and is therefore also known as ‘narrow-leaved bay leaf’.
In July and August the laurel can be propagated quite well by cuttings from strong annual shoots. For root formation you need a warm and permeable sandy humus substrate. However, to grow a stately green pyramid from a laurel that you have propagated yourself, you need a lot of patience: In about ten years, the plant will reach a height of around 70 centimetres with good care and regular pruning. For this reason, large laurel plants are also quite expensive.
Laurel as a medicinal plant
Already the ancient Greeks and Romans attributed great importance to the real laurel and used laurel leaves as a medicinal plant for problems with the stomach or bladder. Even today, laurel is still considered in naturopathy to be antiseptic, digestive, gall-stimulating and expectorant. Laurel is often used for digestive problems as it calms the stomach and promotes the formation of gastric juice. As a diluted essential oil, laurel also works wonders on aching muscles and joints. Alternatively, you can boil the leaves and add the brew to the bath water to relieve joint pain. A tea or steam bath made of bay leaves is recommended for colds.
Recipe: Simple Bay Leaf Tea
For a simple bay leaf tea, pour about 300 millilitres of boiling water over a teaspoon of chopped leaves and let the brew steep for about 10 to 15 minutes covered. Then strain off the plant remains. Drink a cup every morning and evening.
Diseases and pests
The essential oils in the leaves protect the laurel tree very effectively against most diseases and pests. The only pests that cannot be impressed by this are the scale insects. They can occur especially during warmer hibernation.
Whether potted plants such as oleanders or indoor plants such as orchids: The scale insect infests the most diverse plants. René Wadas, a herbalist, will give you his tips on pest prevention and control: Production: Folkert Siemens; Camera: Fabian Primsch; Editing: Dennis Fuhro; Photo: Flora Press/Thomas Lohrer
Recommendations from the our store-Shop
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.