The Q&A Archives: Bay Laurel

Question: In December of 1998 the temperature was at freezing and I believe my Bay Laurel looks as though it has frozen and is dead. Is this possible? I have had the bush for 2 or 3 years and this is the first time this has happened. The leaves are almost totally brown with some spots of green showing through the brown. They are still fragrant and I have used some of them, in this condition, in sauces. Will the bush ever come back to what it was last summer? It was a lovely bright green. Please help if you can.

Answer: The unusually cold temperatures have taken a toll on many landscape plants. Plants generally prepare for cold weather by hardening off a bit with the first frost. Part of the problem with your Bay Laurel may be that there wasn't a frost before the polar weather arrived. If it was still actively growing, it was very susceptible to the extreme cold. The damage isn't necessarily permanent, and your shrub might recover. The leaves and stems that have turned brown should be pruned off, to make room for new growth. You can prune it back in late March or early April, just before the buds begin to swell. If you're really curious about how extensive the damage is, scrape the bark off one of the stems, beginning at the tip of the stem and working your way back to the center of the plant, looking for green tissue. When you discover green just under the bark, you'll know just how far back the damage goes. When it's time to prune, cut back all the dead stems until you get to green, healthy growth. If there's still life in some of the stems, your shrub will fill out eventually.

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