I ‘topiaried’ my sweet bay

topiary – adj, n,: of, relating to, or being the practice or art of training , cutting, and trimming trees or shrubs into odd or ornamental shapes.

Every year a few ‘select’ potted herbs travel between my garden outdoors ~ as soon as ‘Spring’ arrives ~  and then safely again indoors to over-winter on a southern exposed windowsill. Usually, a number of scented geraniums, perhaps a rosemary or two (they’re very temperamental), lavender and my sweet bay laurel are my indoor/outdoor potted herbs.

I obtained my sweet bay ‘starter’ plant (Laurus nobilis – most laurels, except the sweet bay are poisonous!) several years ago in a 3 or 4-inch pot at a nursery. The leaves of a fresh bay plant are slick, shiny, vibrant dark forest green and exude a sharp clean scent when rubbed between your fingers.  One leaf or two, is enough to flavor a whole pot roast, stew or kettle of soup!  Bay is often an ingredient added to bouquet garni and potpourri.

Sweet bay can easily be grown successfully in a container…and, if desired, pruned into an elegant topiary. It prefers full sun and good drainage and may be propagated from cuttings. 


Select a topiary candidate: scented geranium, lavender, rosemary, sweet bay, santolina, myrtle, sweet bay, etc., to name a few. I like to use woody stem-type plants/herbs. You may purchase a ‘mother’ plant from a local nursery – from which to take cuttings (and root) and make lots of baby plants…or look for a semi-instant gratification topiary candidate. A plant with a single or strong central/straight stem. The scented geraniums (above), the mother plant is on the left, the topiary on the right is one of her babies, 2 or 3 years old?

Here is a rosemary topiary, flowering.

Once you have your topiary candidate, now comes the scary part. Select the strong central stem, and cut off (depending on the topiary shape you’ve chosen) and strip all the side leaves/stems and secondary branches (dry/save them to use in the kitchen – OR – root them in a glass of water to make more plants) and leave 10 – 15 leaves at the top! As the plant grows, continue to trim any side shoots to encourage top growth. Rotate the pot every few days and insert a stake in the soil and tie the plant to it loosely with raffia several inches apart.

Here’s a close-up of my recently ‘topiaried’ sweet bay plant. I cut off the side-branch right at the soil level, leaving the ONE straight main branch to begin my topiary. The bay is about 4 1/2 feet tall. I’d like to have a three-tiered topiary…so I have a top ball, center and bottom. Every leaf and lateral stem in-between will be removed/clipped, to promote growth in these three spheres. I also plan to re-pot my bay into a larger/deeper pot and will also stake it for additional support (and to make sure it grows straight) once it’s transplanted…always something to do!

Make sure your pot has a drainage hole; I use a soil-less starter potting mix with new/bare-root cuttings. Fertilize once per month with a liquid fertilizer, April thru November. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings.

I hope you try to grow a topiary or two!

1 thought on “I ‘topiaried’ my sweet bay

  1. Hi Jenny!
    Making topiaries is something I love to do-Your bay leaf topiary reminded me of making mine about 10 yrs ago-scared me to death making the big cut leaving the main stem…but it went well & I ‘ve enjoyed it on my deck ever since-here in Georgia I get to leave it out all year unless it gets down into the teens..making them sure teaches patience! Thanks for sharing all you do!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s