How to Repot a Bay Tree

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Bay trees are especially suited to being grown in containers but over time they can become root bound and need re potting. I had been growing a bay tree in the same pot for 5 years (picture above) and it was not looking its best.

Bay trees need repotting every 3 to 4 years. The best time to repot is in the spring. Once removed from the old pot, the root ball of the bay tree can be trimmed before repotting using new, free draining compost.

I had noticed that some of the leaves of my bay tree had gone brown, while others had some black spots. The leaves were not their usual dark, vibrant green.

So based on its overall appearance, I guessed that it had probably outgrown the pot and this was going to be having an overall negative impact on the health of the tree. It was early spring, so a good time to repot!

Removing The Old Pot

There was only one way to find out exactly what was happening with the root system and that was to remove the pot. So, this is what I did. It took a fair bit of time and encouragement to coax the tree from the pot as it had been in there for so long. Once loosened off, I pulled the tree free from the pot by firmly gripping it at the base. It was then that my suspicions were confirmed – I had a very pot bound bay tree:

A potbound bay tree
The roots had run out of space and were restricting drainage at the bottom of the pot

Bay trees can tolerate being pot bound to a degree, but what they absolutely cannot tolerate is being waterlogged. The state of the root ball above would have been restricting water from draining from the pot. I did place some crocks at the bottom of the pot when I originally planted the tree to try and aid drainage but, as you can see, these have been completely enveloped by the root system so, as it turns out, weren’t that much use!

Preparing For Repotting – Reducing The Size Of The Root Ball

The smaller root ball

As my bay tree had a large overgrown root ball, I decided to reduce the root ball size slightly before repotting. This will allow for more growing space and improved drainage in the new pot. I trimmed off some of the excess roots, shook off any loose compost, and teased the remaining roots out ready for repotting.

How To Choose A New Pot For Your Bay Tree

When choosing a replacement pot for your bay tree you will need to take into account both the size and the type of pot:

– Pot size

When repotting, the sizing of the new pot will have an effect on the growth of the tree. For controlled growth, bay trees should ideally only be be moved to a slightly larger pot. The diameter of my original pot was 50cm, and I opted for a new pot with a diameter of 55cm. That means the tree will have space to allow it to grow slightly larger.

If you don’t want your bay tree to grow any larger you can always replant it back into the original pot. This will give you the chance to renew the compost, and ensure good drainage, thus maximising the chances of a healthy bay tree going forward.

– Pot type

I decided to use a plastic pot when repotting. This is the same type of pot that my bay tree was in originally – it had grown very well in that pot for the first 4 of the 5 years it spent in it.

Plastic pots have a few advantages over terracotta – they are significantly cheaper and with many designs available can also look good. You can make extra large drainage holes in the bottom of plastic pots easily, and they are not prone to cracking like terracotta pots are. On the other hand, they can retain moisture more than terracotta pots so, if you use plastic, ensuring good drainage is vital.

Check out our article on plastic pots: Are plastic pots any good? (5 pros and cons)

Which Compost Is Best For Bay Trees?

The original compost, being 5 years old, was past its best and probably short on nutrients. I removed what old compost I could and replaced it with new John Innes number 2.

John Innes number 2 compost is soil based, and contains high nutrient levels along with sand and grit which helps drainage.

As already mentioned, bay trees need to be in a free draining soil and will not do well if waterlogged. You can improve drainage even further by mixing in some additional grit, or perlite, (around 25%) with the compost (around 75%).

Shop for John Innes number 2 compost on Amazon below:

My Repotted Bay Tree

Because my new pot was a slightly bigger diameter than the original, and I had reduced the size of the root ball, there was plenty of free space at the bottom and sides to fill with new compost. I firmed down the new compost filled it to a level which covered the top of the root ball.

And that was “job done” – one re potted bay tree!

The repotted bay tree

Immediately after repotting was complete, I gave the tree some water.

What Is The Best Position For A Potted Bay Tree?

Bay trees are hardy down to -5 degrees and do best in sunny to part sunny positions that are sheltered from the full force of the wind.

My bay tree has been in a corner location with a shed one side and wooden fence the other for a few years now. In the summer this position gets plenty of sunlight so is ideal and importantly it also affords the tree some protection from the wind.

To help ensure good drainage, I have raised the pot slightly off the ground using pot feet. Pot feet allow you to easily and evenly raise the pot and the feet that I used are not really noticeable when in place. The gap that they create is a great help when it comes to preventing the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot from becoming blocked:

Pot feet

The pot feet that I used are available on Amazon below. I used 6 pot feet in total (3 blocks of 2). You can vary the height of the pot by using more or less pot feet, depending on your requirements.

To protect the tree in winter, come autumn time, I am planning to move the pot to an even more sheltered position closer to the house. A position close to the house will mean that the bay tree will benefit from a degree of radiated heat from the walls during the colder months. I am also going to be taking some extra steps to protect it from frost – during severe winter weather when the temperature drops below -5 degrees I will wrap the pot with bubble wrap and and cover the foliage of the tree with a fleece.

Horticultural fleeces are available in various sizes on Amazon:

How Often Do Bay Trees In Pots Need Watering?

During the summer, bay trees in pots will need to be watered on a regular basis. It is best to check the top layer of soil – if this is dry it is a good indication that more watering is needed. Be careful not to over water them, as overwatering can cause waterlogging which in turn can lead to root damage.

During the winter watering will be required much less frequently – you will need to monitor every so often and just ensure that the pot does not dry out. Again, it is best to check the top layer of soil to determine whether watering is required.

Do Bay Trees In Pots Need Feeding?

As well as being regularly watered, bay trees in pots need to be fed when they are in their growing phase, throughout the spring and summer.

As I have just repotted the tree, the new compost should contain enough nutrients to sustain the tree for around 4 or 5 weeks.

After that, I will be feeding my tree with a liquid feed every 2 – 3 weeks during the growing months (April through to September in the UK). This should have a noticeable effect on the overall health of the tree and its leaves. Feeding is not necessary over autumn and winter.

I will be using a miracle grow multipurpose liquid feed, available on Amazon here:

More Articles And Information On Bay Trees

Links to our other bay tree related articles are below – why not check them out?

Why are there black spots on my bay tree leaves?

Why have my bay tree leaves turned brown?

How to revive a bay tree

And Finally….

If you are looking to add more bay trees to your garden space, take a look at bay trees in pots available on Amazon here!

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