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A medium to large size native tree that is best known by its dense and highly aromatic foliage. California bay grows in an upright manner, 30-50 ft. tall; dark green leathery leaves grow 1-4 in. long, with smooth margins and a pointed apex. Clusters of tiny pale yellow flowers develop during winter; few olive-like fruit are produced in the spring.

California bay grows in foothills and canyons across the entire length of California and into southern Oregon where it grows in riparian, woodland and chaparral plant communities. It grows to largest sizes near water and can survive as a shrub in drier parts of its range.

As a garden plant, California bay has proven to be highly adaptable to a variety of soil types and climate conditions, and is adapted to partial shade in Inland Empire gardens. It grows best in well-drained soils, shelter from hot afternoon sun exposures and with regular moisture into summer. It is planted as a tall screen, shade tree and can be clipped as a formal hedge. Leaves release pungent oils under high temperatures and when cut or crushed. Small amounts of leaves are sometimes used as a substitute for Laurus nobles, Sweet Bay, in cooking.

Water Needs

The California bay is well adapted to all parts of the Inland Empire where it can be sustained with normal winter rainfall and with moderate amounts of summer water. Deep summer watering will help maintain good foliage character. It should be noted there are several winter months marked by an asterisk (*) in the chart below 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 depending upon exposure conditions and size. Larger trees and those planted in sunny exposures will benefit from more water.

Irrigation Schedule and Graph

Moderate Water Use Plants

Irrigation Schedule 3

  Jan* Feb* Mar* Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov* Dec*
Runs per Month 0x to 3x 0x to 3x 0x to 3x 2x to 3x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 2x to 3x 0x to 3x 0x to 3x
Inches per Run 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1"
Inches per Month 0" to 3" 0" to 3" 0" to 3" 2" to 3" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 2" to 3" 0" to 3" 0" to 3"

Range of supplemental summer water: 9"-16"
Range of supplemental winter water: 0"-15"

  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, Native
Foliage Character: Evergreen
Habit: Upright, Dense
Growth Rate: Moderate
Height: 30 ft. - 50 ft.
Width: 30 ft. - 50 ft.
Water Needs: Moderate 3
Foliage Color: Olive green
Flower Color: Yellow
Flower Season: Winter
Soil Adaptations: Well-draining soil
Exposure Adaptations: Morning sun, Partial sun
Function: Wildlife value, Shade Tree, Screening, Parks and open space, California native, Background plant


Fruit will drop, so plant somewhere where fruit drop is acceptable, or plan to clean it as needed. Can be trained as a tree or a large scale hedge. If desired as a hedge, lightly prune back or shear young plants often to develop bushy structure. Plants grown as trees should be pruned in summer, but be cautious not to prune too much when young if planted in full sun, because the shade from the leaves helps protect the tree. Plants grown as hedges will require more frequent pruning (7).



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