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Most people know the Sweet bay by its dried leaves that are valued for culinary purposes. From a gardening perspective, this Mediterranean native is also a handsome foliage plant that is grown as clipped hedges as well as small and medium size garden trees. It is an evergreen plant growing with an upright habit and capable of reaching 15-25 ft. tall, 15-20 ft. wide. Over time, older specimens can eventually grow to 40 ft. in height. Foliage is comprised of leathery dark green leaves, 2-4 in. long, that are attached to stiff branches. Small yellow flowers and round fruits are mostly inconspicuous.

Sweet bay is an easy to grow foliage plant in Inland Empire gardens as a patio tree, clipped hedge and background screen plant. It has a very dense and dark green foliage habit that is appreciated in our summer dry climate. It has proven to be tolerant of many soil and climate conditions. Established plants can become quite self-reliant and require only low amounts of supplemental water. However, it will grow faster and to larger sizes when planted in loam soils and provided with regular moisture. One cultivar, L. n. 'Saratoga', has broader leaves and is more robust and tree-like in habit.

Water Needs

The Sweet bay grows well across the Inland Empire with normal winter rainfall and periodic deep summer water. The chart below provides a baseline irrigation schedule for this species. It should be noted there are several winter months marked by an asterisk (*) when rains can provide sufficient moisture and irrigation is not needed. The high and low range of moisture indicates it can grow with varying amounts of water; higher amounts of water within this range will result in stronger summer foliage character.

Irrigation Schedule and Graph

Low Water Use Plants

Irrigation Schedule 2

  Jan* Feb* Mar* Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov* Dec*
Runs per Month 0x to 2x 0x to 2x 0x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 0x to 2x 0x to 2x
Inches per Run 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1"
Inches per Month 0" to 2" 0" to 2" 0" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 0" to 2" 0" to 2"

Range of supplemental summer water: 7"-14"
Range of supplemental winter water: 0"-10"

  Jan* Feb* Mar* Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov* Dec*
For more information on how to use this Irrigation Schedule and Graph, follow this link.

For information how to calculate your irrigation system’s schedule and precipitation rate, please follow this link.

Plant Properties

Plant Type: Tree
Foliage Character: Evergreen
Habit: Upright, Multi-trunk, Mounding, Low-branching, Dense
Growth Rate: Slow
Height: 15 ft. - 25 ft.
Width: 15 ft. - 20 ft.
Water Needs: Low 2
Foliage Color: Dark green
Flower Color: Insignificant, Cream
Flower Season: Spring
Soil Adaptations: Well-draining soil, Loam, Clay, Calcareous soil
Exposure Adaptations: Wind, Morning sun, Heat, Drought, Aridity, All day sun, Partial sun
Function: Shade Tree, Screening, Residential spaces, Raised planters, Foundations, Foliage accent plant, Espalier, Commercial spaces, Background plant, Fragrant foliage, Hedge


Plan for minor early structural pruning as necessary. Can be grown as a large shrub, multi trunk tree, or singly trunk tree, or can be kept smaller with regular pruning. It can also be grown as a clipped hedge. Winter is an ideal time to prune Sweet Bay, but hedges and bushes being kept small will likely require pruning in other seasons as well. Depending on growing and site conditions, Sweet Bay can be prone to scale insect infestation, which is "ranched" by ants who eat the sugary honeydew they excrete. This is best taken care of by blasting off scale with a high pressure nozzle on a hose, or directly rubbing them off branches. Long term ant control may also be necessary to help prevent re-infestation. A small amount of scale is not a threat to healthy established trees, but a heavy infestation can cause problems. When they occur, problems tend to we worst on tender new growth. If there are just a few young shoots with heavy infestation, it may be easiest and most effective to simply prune those off (D,S).



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