Grow your own Bay leaves

Bay Tree Title

 

Plants are much like shoes.  A certain type will be in style for a couple of years and then … POOF … they’re done.  And you can’t find them anywhere again.  Even if they were comfortable, and you loved them and you didn’t care if they were in style or not and you just wanted another pair because you killed your current ones.

Sucks to be you, ’cause those shoes are gone forever.

And so is that Fibre Optic plant.

This year when I went looking for plants for my garden I wanted to get a plant that I’ve been able to get for the past few years.  A Fibre Optic plant that goes by the latin name, Isolepsis (Scirpus).  It’s gone.  Nowhere to be found.  Disappeared.  It was in style for a few years, the new thing, loved by all … and now the garden centres have cast it aside like a pair of Crocs.  Or at least Croc charms.

I have a black, black misery of a rain cloud over my head because I can’t find this plant.

What does this have to do with growing a Bay Tree?  I think you know.  Last year I saw a bay tree for sale in my local garden centre’s herb section for the first time so I bought one.  I saw them there again this year.

I am here to tell you that just because you can get Bay Trees this year does NOT mean you’ll be able to get them next year.  So if you see one, or any other plant you think you might like … buy it.  Because there is no Marshalls or Winners or Tiger Direct for plants.

As I said, I bought the Bay plant last year and it was about a foot high.  I planted it in a sunny spot in the garden and picked bay leaves from it all summer.  It grew and grew and grew to form a nice little plant.  Come the end of September I started to worry about my little Bay tree and its never ending supply of fresh bay leaves that weren’t ripped, blackened or covered in a weird greyish powder.

So I dug my bay plant up, put it in a big pot and brought it into the basement where I promptly ignored it all winter.  If I remember correctly I probably watered it around 5 times the entire winter.  So maybe once a month when it looked like it was threatening to die on me.

In May I hauled it out of the basement and hardened it off outside over the course of about a week.  Last week, I planted it and it was a great success.  Bay leaves for everyone!

 

Bay Tree

Bay Leaves

Bay Leaves New Growth

Bay Tree In Ground

 

There are a few things you can successfully overwinter inside, including fig trees, peppers plants and ballet flats.

 

52 Comments

  1. richard says:

    i live in Salinas Ecuador and wonder if we can get the trees here and if they are hard to grow in this climate on the coast here. which one would be the best for repelling cockroaches as we have them even where here

  2. Ryane says:

    Do I harvest it like Basil? Meaning if I cut the stem, will two branches appear?

    • Karen says:

      Yes, but it grows much more slowly than basil. More like a rose bush. So it would take a while for those two branches and leaves to appear. But that doesn’t matter much since you only use one or two bay leaves, while when you need basil you usually need a bunch of it. I harvest my bay from the lower stem. ~ karen!

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  5. silvie says:

    On the west coast of Vancouver Island, my bay is in a clay pot, tucked into a sheltered SE corner beside the house. First winter I put the pot in a large cardboard box, stuffed in an old wool blanket along with some bubble wrap to insulate it, and left it to fend for itself. This past winter I did nothing. The bay is thriving, and underplanted with a teeny leafed creeping thyme. So happy together.

  6. geraldine joyce says:

    where can i buy a bay leaf plant

  7. Susan says:

    I just bought a hibiscus tree, live in SC. Will I have any luck this winter if I put it in the garage and water it once a month?
    I really like it.
    Thanks.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Susan – Yup. You’ll be fine. It may lose every single leaf on it, LOL, but if you protect it from frost (and your garage stays relatively warm?) then you should be able to put it outside again once it warms up. It will look sad and sickly but within a couple of weeks it should start putting out fresh new leaves. ~ karen!

  8. I swear there are some fiber optic plants at the grocery store just down the street from my house. I’ll plant some and pour a little out for your lost homies.

    Nikki

  9. Pam'a says:

    I’ve had a bay plant in a pot for years that I trained to a single stem and pruned into a ball (well, sort of…). It goes outside all summer and sits inside by a window all winter, and doesn’t grow too awfully fast. Easy peasy. Definitely worth it!

  10. Barbie says:

    We have made thousands of wreaths using bay laurel from the coast (seattle / Olympia area) I think it grows wild over there. It is so pungent when we are doing large production that some of my workers have gotten sick from it and had to take a day off to get it out of their system and then try again. (Same with large production of lavender wreaths) It gets to be quite a big bush from the ones I have seen in California central coast. I wish I had some myself growing on our property, but I think it needs a milder climate to get really big like the ones I saw. 🙂

    • Margaret K. says:

      Belated response – somehow I missed this last summer. The California bay [which also grows in Oregon] gets to be a pretty good-sized tree. It’s the one the carvers use for that “Oregon myrtlewood” stuff. It’s a lot more aromatic and assertive than the European bay that Karen has – you do have to be careful handling it in quantity.
      For those in cold-winter areas who need to overwinter this inside, just keep it trimmed to a manageable size. You don’t want to trim it like a hedge or those round balls some people like their shrubs to be in. Cut it back to leave maybe the first 2 internodes produced each year, or farther if it’s getting too big. [Internodes being the stem sections between the leaf nodes]. Cut it a little above the leaf node so the leaves from the dormant buds will be at the end of the branches. Otherwise you will have little dead branch stubs everywhere above the new leaves.
      I like the fresh leaves from this better than any of the store-bought alternatives

  11. Janet says:

    Secret Garden Growers has the optic plant.

  12. Cathy says:

    Now, I’m inspired to get a Bay Tree and Fiber Optics pellets. I never heard o f it but it looks fantastic in the photo. This fun! Thank you!

  13. Joanna says:

    Did you successfully harvest any bay leaves prior to overwintering?

  14. Trish says:

    Well, I know what plant I’ll be getting next….I live in Massachusetts, so it would have to come back in during the winter. How difficult is it to plant and then dig up every year? We rent, and I don’t think our landlord’s would mind (they’re in to gardening) but would it just be easier to put it in a large pot? Or would that just be hindering its growth? I just got a 10 inch fig tree so I have the same concerns for that little fellow.

    • Karen says:

      HI Trish – It’ll be fine in a pot outside if you like. They’re easy enough to plant and dig up if you like though. ~ karen!

  15. Shauna says:

    You just reminded me that I need to find out if I can find another pair of my favorite ballet flats. I have tiny little ankles and can only wear shoes that are ‘Mary Jane’ style, so finding some that are comfortable and cute (a la, not old lady looking) can be difficult. I should learn to buy several pair at once.

  16. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    I can get fiber optic plants at an Amish greenhouse that I am going to this week..They have had them for many years there..I am hoping they still do as I want one this year also..Good luck..looks like you got some good leads above..

  17. we’ve had our laurel tree for about 10 years. We kept it in the front room during the winter and the deck for summer. That was fine when we lived in toronto with a 9 foot ceiling, but now we live in a cottage like house in NS with a 7.5 foot ceiling. We’ll see how long it will live inside. Although, he 2nd floor has cathedral ceilings… Friends think it’s special to get fresh bay leaves. nutters.

  18. I actually thought you were looking for one of those plastic wire fiber optic trees lol. Then I read the comments. Pretty cool plant.

  19. Bri says:

    If you ever run out of leaves, let me know. We’ve got a 30 foot tall tree in our back yard. There is definitely something to be said for free spices! I’ve even made a wreath with the trimmings. Once. Because apparently I do not have the patience for that level of fussiness.

  20. ruth says:

    I work at a garden centre in BC, Karen – we always have isolepsis! Come on over and I’ll set you up! I have a little bay tree too, but I have to fight scale all the time – it’s a pain but I haven’t given up yet. It’s made it through 4 winters in my basement so far.

  21. Babs says:

    Hi Karen, I googled Fibre Optic plant because I was curious….seems that you might be able to get it a two nurseries that aren’t too far from you – one in Mississauga, and one in Caledon….both have websites so you could probably check with them before you waste gas and time….and the inevitable $$$ because once there, you likely won’t come away empty handed…
    As for your meat/vegan post – loved it! I also know people (and it is always women….) who claim to be vegetarians, until you put a certain meat dish in front of them….they are my Veg-unless really yummy meat-friends….

  22. Gail says:

    Hi
    I did a quick search for fibre optic seeds. If you *need* the plants you might have to order the seeds and start them yourself.
    http://www.mullerseeds.com/isolepis-live-wire.html
    http://tinyurl.com/mogb9jr
    I did a search for Isolepis cernua seeds.

  23. Karen, I bought one a few years ago at our local Farmers Market. (We live in Memphis and I can leave it outdoors all winter! l The plant is so hearty! I pick leaves off of it all the time for my recipes. I absolutely love not having to buy them at the store. Now.. a question. Are they more potent fresh or dried?

    • Karen says:

      Debbie – The flavour is actually better when they’re dried for at least a few days. They are more potent dried the same way dried herbs like oregano and basil are more potent than fresh. I’ve also heard that fresh bay leaves can be a bit bitter when they’re fresh (though I don’t have any proof of this). ~ karen!

  24. Mary Werner says:

    Native Bay trees in Florida are all dying from some strange disease and the experts don’t know why. So they are watching as big trees die and after all is said and done, they will go around and try to find a few that survive to propagate more. It is so sad. We had several and thought they were safe, then one branch wilted, then more, then they were gone. Native Florida Bays are not quite the same as the true culinary ones but they are very similar or “were”. I envy you and your Bay tree!

  25. Sabrina@loulousucre says:

    I have a bay leaf tree that is about 6 feet tall. We don’t have to bring in for the winter, though. (We don’t have much of one.) Hope yours does well.

  26. Lynn Rollins says:

    nanny nanny boo boo, i have fiber optic plants in my biggest pots! nc must be behind on fad plants because i walked right in this year, saw them, grabbed them, planted them, and now, in all my gardener glory, i get to enjoy them and taunt you with the fact i have them. i’d mail you some, but they’d be dead dead dead. i will say, i had them many many years ago, longed for them and then boom shakalaka, they’re baaaa-ck. la ti da, la ti da, i think i’ll go enjoy my morning tea on my deck with my optics. have a lovely day with your bay!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Lynn! It’s not nice to taunt a blogger. ~ karen!

      • Lynn Rollins says:

        you’re right, it isn’t, i just couldn’t help myself. you weren’t awake to defend yourself. i think i’ll go out and admire my plants some more.

  27. Terry says:

    Karen,

    Unless the garden center is your secret place would you mind sharing with us where you got this plant.
    How big does it get? Just thinking it might be impossible to move it indoors in a few years due to size and leaving an unsightly crater in the backyard.

    • Karen says:

      Terry – I’ve noticed Bay plants at most garden centres. Terra nurseries and Holland Park Garden Centres for sure, and the Loblaws with garden centres might have them as well. ~ karen!

  28. Sylvie says:

    Good morning Karen,

    In the event that you want to replace your “lost” fibre optic plant – http://www.damseeds.ca/productcart/pc/viewcategories.asp?idCategory=904

  29. Cheryl Lindsay says:

    I had a bay tree for years!!! It was over 8′ tall and I planted it as a maybe foot tall twig! It died and I have no idea why and have not been able to find a replacement twig anywhere!!! I’m in central NC.
    🙁

  30. Laura Bee says:

    Have you ever tried growing a fig? I almost bought a plant last year. Didn’t know you could overwinter it. hmmmm…

    • Karen says:

      I planned to buy a fig tree this year actually but never got around to it. There’s a guy who sells them quite close by. ~ karen!

      • Laura Bee says:

        “There’s a guy…” Everyone knows a guy for whatever you need! haha – half the time, you’re my “guy”. I wish I could hire you for a weekend.

  31. laurie says:

    We live in Maine,,does this plant need to come inside for the winter or was that specific to where you live? I may like to try it. Thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Laurie – If you’re in Maine, you’ll have to bring the Bay plant inside too. I’m just outside of Toronto so our weather would be simialar. Bay Laurel is sensitive to frost and cold. It would die if you tried to leave it out all winter. ~ karen!

  32. Anemone says:

    So Proven Winners doesn’t have it any more either?

    • Karen says:

      Anemone – I have no idea if they provide it or not, the problem is (and I’m pretty much over it now) the local nurseries aren’t carrying it anymore. ~ karen!

  33. Cathy says:

    Does this mean your writer’s block is gone?

    • Karen says:

      LOL. Um. No. I’m doing fine with writing my posts … it’s the 750 word magazine article I’m having trouble getting done. Or started. 🙂 ~ karen

  34. Peg says:

    lucky you, I had a bay leaf plant indoors for a few years,then it was the dreaded leaf drop??? Too much of a bother to winter over in Bend Oregon.Maybe time to get another??!!
    Growing up in California,I worked for a lady who had 4~6’tall plants growing by her front door(lovely).

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