Bay Tree Looking Ill – What to do?

I had this question arrive about a bay tree that’s not looking well:

I have attached an image of my bay tree which is looking rather sparse for leaves. Could you give me any guidance on how to encourage thicker growth?

First, thanks for sending a good photo with your question – it makes things so much easier. Often people send me questions but fail to give me enough information to help them.

Bay Tree in a Pot

The Poorly Bay Tree

We had a bay tree in a pot for many years – it’s now in the ground – and had similar problems with it. So our experience may be helpful. Bay trees are slow growing which is why you most often find them in pots. It’s also why they’re expensive to buy.


Position is important with bay trees. They’re pretty tolerant of shade but they do like some sun. On the other hand, they don’t like being scorched so avoid putting them on the sun trap patio.

They really don’t like cold, windy spots. Our bay hated being by the front door but did really well when we moved it to the sunnier, more-protected other side of the house.


Bay trees are not greedy but they do like something to live on. In spring and summer a light feed of a liquid feed like MiracleGro is beneficial. Make it up at half strength or less. Swapping over occasionally to a tomato feed, again at half strength, will avoid an excess of nitrogen. Apply fortnightly when growing larger and monthly when the tree is big enough.

I can see some yellowing in the leaves in the photo, so it may be short of nitrogen and a feed similar to MiracleGro will fix that. Do not be tempted to over-feed. I tried that and nearly killed out poor bay although it did recover after a few months.

Bay Tree Yellowing Leaves

Bay Tree Yellowing Leaves – Close Up


Although a bay tree can stay in the same pot for years, it will benefit from fresh compost each spring. Gently loosen the top inch of compost in the pot being careful of any roots and replace with fresh compost. I like to mix multi-purpose with John Innes No. 3 mixed 50/50 by volume.

In this particular case though, I’d re-pot if possible. Moving it up a pot size with fresh compost around the base and sides will certainly give it a new lease of life. Note the comments below on watering and drainage.

Watering & Drainage

As the tree’s roots fill the pot, it can dry out very quickly in warm weather. Dry compost is always hard to re-wet so frequent watering in hot weather. Little and often is better than a massive soak and then drought. Adding water retaining gel granules to the compost will help.

On the other hand, bay trees don’t like being water logged. When potting up, place broken crocks and gravel in the base to keep the holes in the bottom of the pot from blocking. Putting a circle of porous weed matting over the broken crocks and gravel will stop the compost blocking drainage.

Make sure the pot’s drain holes are not sitting on the ground, blocking them, by putting the pot on pot feet if necessary

Posted in Allotment Garden Diary
11 comments on “Bay Tree Looking Ill – What to do?
  1. Lynne says:

    I moved my huge lollipop bay tree last Octoberw because I could no longer get my car past it. It now looks dead. The leaves are brown and crispy. Have I killed it?

  2. Pearl Boyce says:

    My lolipop bay tree started to flower but they seemed to die off. Around the edges of the leaves have gone brown. I presume it’s windburn? I’m near the coast. I tried a feed but probably too strong.

  3. Elizabeth sansom says:

    Hi I have two small bay trees and I’ve noticed it’s got new shoots growing out the base 3 altogether,, as I am new to gardening can I dig them out and repot them ,, thanks

    • Kath stephenson says:

      Yes I’ve done it, try to keep as much as the stem as you can, dip it in water then rooting powder . I’ve managed to grow another 5 bushes with this method. It can be a bit bitty missy but persevere And good luck.

  4. Kathy Russell says:

    Hi , we have a huge bay tree ( 35ft ) in our south facing garden . It is losing lots of leaves at the moment ( May / June) and the branches look sparse , however It does have new leaf growth coming through . Could you give me any help and info to encourage it back to its previous bushy condition . Many thanks

    • Ian says:

      You could check soil ph, I think it needs to be slightly acid so
      iron sulphate solution in moderation should help as will a good
      watering prior. You could also sprinkle with Epsom salts on
      the ground as evergreen leaves can suffer magnesium deficiencies.
      Finally I would drive a garden fork several times around the plant
      vertically down to increase water penetration and fertilisers directly
      to the roots, otherwise if the soil is hard (a) oxygen can find it hard
      to reach roots, yes this is a fact! and ( b) Water will just run of
      over a hard surface to the lowest point leaving poor old bay thirsty.
      Miracle grow is a good fertiliser and may provide some of the iron
      it needs but maybe not all the acidity, that will come from the
      FeSO4 mentioned above.

      Good luck, your bay tree is lucky to have someone who really

  5. Rachael Westmacott says:

    I have a new bay tree and i repotted it and it’s grown nice and bushy but something is happening to the leafs.. they are developing dark spots that then turn into holes… I can not see any bugs attacking it … any advice please would be gratefully received

    • Linda Rack says:

      Some of the leaves on my bay trees are curled on the edges and the curled bit is white. Underneath looks white and powdery. Any idea what’s attacking it?

  6. Pauline Ruddock says:

    our anniversary tree has been moved to a sunny balcony in mornings. The leaves are going brown and
    crisp all so it is 35 years old what can we do to save i Thankyu.t

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