The Q&A Archives: Fertilizer for Bay Laurel Shrub

Question: I apologize beforehand that this is a long question.

I have had wonderful luck with bay laurels except the one I have now. I bought it at a reputable nursery and it was in excellent health until I brought it home and potted it early this summer. Given that it was already over 4 ft. tall, I planted it in a 14-in. clay pot in super soil, which I fertilized by mixing (a very small amount) of Master Start into the soil, and watered it thoroughly. I placed it in a partially sunny area and began a regular watering routine. About two weeks later, it took on a burned appearance and began dropping its leaves. So, I moved it to a shady area and increased watering and also began misting the leaves. After two weeks or so of this, it looked even worse and while it was mid summer (middle of the growing season), I decided to prune it back. This had a positive effect; there was a flurry of new low branch leaves. This was in July. Nothing since.

My question is whether in your opinion, the Master Start or transplanting shock is to blame for the problem and, while every instructional guide I have read says to use a

Answer: Master Start(5-20-10 with micronutrients) is an excellent fertilizer and as long is it is applied in amounts as recommended on the label and not applied more than every 6 weeks, it should not cause root stress or leaf burn. It is important to make sure the soil is moist before applying fertilizer and to water thoroughly after applying the fertilizer to avoid burning the plants. Fertilizing plants in containers can be tricky - I typically use one-quarter of the amount recommended and feed every 3-4 weeks just to make sure I'm not over-applying.

What you describe sounds more like transplant stress, coupled with the fact that the pot and plant were placed in full sunshine. Depending upon what the pot is made of, and how intense the summertime sunshine, the roots can actually cook, and the damage will show up on the foliage. Dropping foliage can be an indication of overheated roots or too much or too little water.

While laurel prefers full sunshine, the roots will appreciate some shade from the hot summer sun. Try grouping pots together or setting the pot where the plant will be in full sun but the pot will be shaded.

Containerized plants can sometimes develop air pockets within the root mass. Then, when you think you're watering adequately, you're really not. To control this common problem try immersing the pot in a large container of water and allowing it to soak for 15-30 mintues or until no more air bubble rise to the surface. This method of watering will ensure the potting soil is thoroughly moistened. Do this once every week or two during the growing season and your plants will be adequately hydrated.

You can use any general purpose fertilizer for your laurel, just be sure to apply in small amounts so you don't burn the roots.

Best wishes with your bay laurel!

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