Bay laurels, also known as sweet bay or simply laurel, are an evergreen tree native to the Mediterranean region. Their scientific name is Laurus nobilis. Bay laurels are appreciated for their aromatic leaves, which are used for seasoning in cooking. These attractive trees can grow quite large, up to 50 feet (15 m) tall. But how fast do bay laurels grow? Let’s take a look at their growth rate and what impacts it.
Bay Laurel Growth Rate
In optimal growing conditions, bay laurels can grow relatively quickly for an evergreen tree. Growth rates can vary depending on several factors (which we’ll cover shortly), but on average, you can expect bay laurels to grow:
- 12-24 inches (30-60 cm) per year when young (under 10 years old)
- 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) per year when mature (over 10 years old)
So in the first few years after planting, it’s common for bay laurels to put on 1-2 feet (30-60 cm) of new growth annually. Their growth rate gradually slows as they mature. A 10-year-old bay laurel may top out at 10-15 feet (3-4.5 m) tall.
Factors Affecting Growth Rate
Several key factors influence the growth rate of bay laurels:
As mentioned above, bay laurels grow quickest when young. Their growth rate naturally slows as they age and approach maturity. The oldest bay laurel trees can live for hundreds of years but put on negligible new growth past maturity.
Bay laurels thrive in warm, mild Mediterranean climates with cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers. These ideal conditions allow bay laurels to grow at their maximum rate. Colder climates slow their growth, while extreme summer heat and aridity also inhibits growth. Bay laurels can handle light frosts but will suffer damage below 25°F (-4°C).
Bay laurels need full sun to grow their fastest. At least 6 hours of direct sun per day is ideal. Too much shade will significantly slow their growth rate.
Rich, well-draining soil helps bay laurels achieve fast growth. Bay laurels thrive in soil with a pH between 6.0-8.0. Poor, heavy soil or overly sandy soil will limit their growth rate. Adequate moisture is important while they’re young, but established bay laurels are quite drought tolerant.
Regular pruning encourages faster, fuller growth on bay laurel trees. Pruning removes dead wood and shapes the canopy to optimize light exposure and air circulation. Annual light pruning is recommended.
Applying a balanced fertilizer in early spring gives bay laurels the nutrients they need for vigorous growth when temperatures warm. Organic compost also supplies nutrients for growth. Avoid over-fertilization which can damage roots.
Typical Growth Timeline
Under ideal growing conditions, here is a general timeline for the growth rate of bay laurel trees:
Bay laurels are relatively fast growing for an evergreen tree, especially when they’re young. Given optimal care and growing conditions, they can put on over 2 feet of new growth each year during the first decade. Their growth rate gradually slows with age.
Growing Bay Laurels for Fast Growth
If you want your bay laurel to grow as quickly as possible, follow these tips:
- Plant in spring or fall in Zone 8-10.Bay laurels can handle light frosts but not hard freezes. Avoid planting in summer.
- Choose a site with full sun (at least 6 hours of direct sun daily).
- Prepare a rich, loamy planting area for your tree. Improve heavy or poor soil with compost.
- Space multiple trees at least 15-20 feet apart.
- Water young trees regularly until their root systems establish. Then water only during droughts.
- Apply a balanced organic fertilizer or compost in early spring each year.
- Prune lightly each year to shape and stimulate new growth.
- Control weeds, insects, and diseases which slow growth.
With excellent growing conditions from the time they’re planted, bay laurels can achieve growth rates at the upper end of their potential. Avoid stressors that restrict their growth.
Growth from Cuttings
In addition to growing bay laurel trees from nursery stock, you can also propagate new bay laurels from cuttings. Here is how their growth rate progresses when started from cuttings:
Rooting the Cutting
Take 6-8 inch (15-20 cm) cuttings from new growth in early summer. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone then plant in potting mix. Keep the cutting warm and moist. It should root within 6-8 weeks.
First Year of Growth
The rooted cutting is still small at this point. Keep it in a pot and nurture it with partial sun, regular water, and temperature above 25°F (-4°C). It may put on 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) of new growth in its first year.
Second Year of Growth
Re-pot the young bay laurel into a larger container in spring. Give it full sun now that it’s established. Fertilize lightly. It should put on 12-24 inches (30-60 cm) of growth in year two.
Third Year and Beyond
Bay laurels started from cuttings follow a similar growth pattern as those started from nursery transplants. They will put on 1-2 feet of growth per year when young, then slow to 6-12 inches of growth annually as they mature. Their maximum height and growth potential are the same.
Growth Rate of Different Varieties
There are a few different varieties of bay laurel trees to choose from. Their maximum sizes and growth rates differ slightly:
Laurus nobilis – Mediterranean bay laurel
This is the true bay laurel tree species. It can reach 50 feet (15 m) tall at maturity. Growth rate is 12-24 inches (30-60 cm) per year when young.
Laurus nobilis ‘Saratoga’
A dwarf cultivar that only grows 15-20 feet (4.5-6 m) tall. Typical growth rate is 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) per year.
Laurus nobilis ‘Novita’
A compact columnar form that reaches 20 feet (6 m) tall by just 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 m) wide. Growth rate is 12-18 inches (30-45 cm) per year.
The Canary Island bay laurel is a little slower growing. It reaches 30 feet (9 m) tall eventually. Typical growth is just 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) per year.
So the dwarf Saratoga and Canary Island varieties have slower growth rates than the full size Mediterranean species. But all types will still put on over 1 foot of new growth annually when young.
Tips for Faster Growth
Here are a few more useful tips to help encourage rapid growth from your bay laurel tree:
- Use mycorrhizae fungus when planting to boost root growth.
- Mulch around the tree to retain soil moisture and suppress weeds.
- Stake the tree when planting to avoid damage from winds.
- Water deeply and infrequently once established.
- Control pests like scale insects and aphids which can slow growth.
- Grow in a large container if your climate isn’t suitable.
Troubleshooting Slow Growth
If your bay laurel trees aren’t growing as quickly as expected, here are some common issues to troubleshoot:
- Insufficient light – Increase sunlight if possible or limbvup surrounding trees.
- Compacted soil – Loosen soil and amend with compost to improve drainage.
- Overwatering – Allow soil to partially dry between waterings.
- Underwatering – Water thoroughly during drought periods.
- Extreme temperatures – Protect from hard freezes and provide shade in summer heat.
- Nutrient deficiency – Fertilize trees in early spring.
- Pests or diseases – Treat any infestations present.
Addressing any care issues will help your bay laurels regain their fast growth rate. Seek advice from local garden centers if problems persist.
Bay laurel trees are relatively fast-growing evergreens, capable of growth spurts over 2 feet per year when they’re young. Their maximum growth rate occurs in ideal Mediterranean climates with rich soil, ample sun, and proper care. Growth naturally slows as trees mature. While bay laurels don’t grow as quickly as some deciduous trees, their growth rate is quite fast for an evergreen variety. With excellent care, you can expect your bay laurel to put on over 1 foot of new growth annually during the first decade after planting.