Sweet bay is a medium sized Laurel that hails from the Mediterranean. It is used primarily as a culinary herb but historically it has been used medicinally. A component of bouquet garni, a French seasoning blend, bay lends itself well to soups, stews, and sauces. Usually, sweet bay is purchased as a seedling from a nursery, but growing bay tree seeds is also possible, provided the grower has some patience since bay seed germination is a slow process. Interested in planting bay seeds? Read on to find out when to sow bay seeds and information on how to grow a bay tree from seed.
About Planting Bay Seeds
Sweet laurel or bay (Laurus nobilis) is hardy to USDA zones 8-10, so those of us growing the plant outside these parameters will need to move the bay indoors when temperatures dip. The good news is that bay makes an excellent container plant.
It can grow to 23 feet (7.5 m.) in height, but its size can be retarded by frequent pruning. It is also quite tolerant of pruning and training into topiary shapes which look gorgeous with the tree’s glossy green foliage.
As mentioned, while not the usual method of propagation, growing bay tree seeds is possible, if at times frustrating. Why frustrating? Bay seed germination is notoriously long, up to 6 months. With such a lengthy germination period, seeds may rot before germination occurs.
When to Sow Bay Seeds
To hasten guarantee viable germination, never plant seeds that are dried out. Order your seeds from a reputable purveyor and when they arrive, soak them in warm water for 24 hours and then plant them immediately. Also, germinate multiple seeds to allow for germination failure and rotting.
If you plan to harvest seeds from an existing tree, look for a female. Sweet laurels are dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. In the spring, inconspicuous pale yellow-green flowers bloom followed by small, purplish-black, oval berries. Each berry has a single seed found on mature female trees.
How to Grow a Bay Tree from Seed
Fill a seed tray with a layer of moist soilless seed mix. Spread the seeds out over the surface, keeping them about 2 inches (5 cm.) apart and press them gently into it.
Cover the seeds with a bit more moist soilless mix. Dampen the medium with a spray bottle. Make sure to just lightly moisten, not saturate the mix or the seeds will rot. Place the seed tray in a warm area of around 70 F. (21 C.) that gets up to 8 hours of sun per day. Keep the seeds moist to slightly on the dry side as they germinate.
Keep an eye on the progress of the seeds and be patient. It can take from 10 days to up to 6 months for the bay seeds to germinate.
Transplant the bay seedlings into pots or into the garden proper when leaves begin to appear.