6 Common Bay Tree Problems & Solutions

Broadly speaking, bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) is an easygoing evergreen tree that should give many years of pleasure in your garden. No tree or plant is ever entirely maintenance free, however, and it’s worth knowing about the handful or so of common problems that can affect bay trees so you can deal with them effectively as they arise. As with so much in gardening (and life in general!), spotting and heading off issues before they escalate is half the battle. Our guide to troubleshooting the six most frequently encountered issues gives all the information you need to ensure that your bay tree lives long and prospers.

Bay Trees

Bay Tree Leaves Turning Yellow

There are usually two possible causes of yellow leaves on bay trees. Yellow leaves can be a sign of excess water, a common problem if you grow your bay in a pot and are overwatering it. If this is the case, ease back on your watering regime and perhaps consider changing the growing medium to a more free-draining John Innes based compost or a specialist compost for containers.

The other cause of yellowing leaves is nutrient deficiency. This is generally more of a concern with pot grown trees which cannot access nutrients in the same way as plants growing in the ground. Regular applications of general purpose fertiliser during spring and summer are an easy and straightforward solution to this common bay tree problem. Pick off affected leaves and dispose of them by burning or composting.

Yellow Bay Tree Leaves

Bay Tree Leaves Turning Brown

Brown leaves can be alarming to see on any plant, but especially on a bay tree whose chief glory is its aromatic dark green leaves. In many cases, the problem is a simple lack of water. Whether grown in the ground or in a container, bay trees will become stressed and develop brown leaves if they can’t access enough water to thrive. If the soil is dry when you dig a small hole near the tree’s roots, solve the problem by making sure your bay tree has sufficient water (but not too much – you don’t want it to suffer from yellow leaves, as above!).

Brown Leaves on a Bay Tree

Peeling Bark

Peeling or cracked bark can be another sign of stress in bay trees, with fluctuating moisture levels or extreme winter cold being the most likely culprits. Although bay trees are hardy down to at least -5℃ if the temperature drops below this for extended periods, peeling bark can be the result. Luckily no intervention is usually required, and the tree will revive when the weather warms up. If you are growing a bay tree in a container, you can protect it from extreme cold by using a horticultural fleece, or by moving it into a sheltered frost free greenhouse or porch.

Leaf Spot

Bay trees prefer free-draining soil, and if their roots become waterlogged, leaf spotting can occur. Avoid this problem by adding extra drainage to the soil, and if growing in a container, don’t overwater, and when watering, allow the excess water to drain away. Leaf spots can also be a sign that container grown bay trees need to be repotted. If possible, remove from the container and fresh the compost completely in spring, making sure the pot has sufficient drainage.

Scale Insects

These sap sucking bugs are a common pest on bay trees. Resembling a flat waxy disc, these inconspicuous insects are found on the underside of leaves and stems. In themselves, they cause little damage to the tree, but they do excrete a copious sticky residue on the leaf surface, which in turn is colonised by black sooty moulds.

Not only are these unattractive, they can inhibit photosynthesis (the process by which plants convert light into energy through their leaves). You can control small infestations of scale insects by picking them off by hand or by using a suitable organic pest control spray. Alternatively, encourage natural predators such as ladybirds into your garden or use a biological control such as the nematode Steinernema feltiae.

Bay Sucker

Bay sucker (Lauritrioza alacris) is a sap sucking bug that feeds on bay leaves, causing them to become discoloured and distorted at the shoot tips. Affected leaves ultimately
turn brown – not a good look on a bay tree. If you suspect an infestation, check the undersides of the leaves – the presence of small greyish white insects will confirm that the problem is bay sucker.

Fortunately, bay suckers rarely cause any lasting damage to the tree. They can be controlled by encouraging natural predators such as ladybirds, birds and ground beetles into the garden or by carefully applying appropriate organic pest control.

Key takeaway

As we have shown, bay tree leaves turning yellow and brown is the most common sign that your bay tree has a problem. Simply ensuring that your bay tree is fed and watered correctly is often the only step you’ll need to take to rectify the issue. Regularly checking the leaves for pests is another straightforward precaution that will enable you to take timely remedial action. When planting a new bay tree, ensure that the soil has adequate drainage and use mycorrhizal fungi to help it establish quickly and strongly in optimal growing conditions. Further down the line, an application of mycorrhizal fungi enriched top dressing will benefit established plants by promoting strong growth and helping them shrug off problems more easily. Browse our bay tree sizes to find the bay laurel tree that’s right for your garden.

By Ashridge Support

Ashridge Nurseries has been in the business of delivering plants since 1949.


  1. michael Nadell says:

    Although my bay tree standards are covered in winter I still get brown leaves. They are in pots and watered monthly in winter, fed from spring and topped with compost each year.
    Spring to autumn they grow well.
    Is the answer thicker fleece?

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Hello Michael, sorry for the slow reply.

      These things are a bit of a troubleshoot – it could be one or more of a number of things and so a process of elimination is necessary. Thicker fleece may well be answer, as might less water in winter. As your trees begin to slow down for the year in late summer, a high potash, low nitrogen fertiliser should help to ripen their wood before winter.

      But all that may be a poor use of your time & resources compared to snipping off the brown leaves each spring and letting the new growth take over.

  2. Jess Alexander says:

    I don’t ever water my lollipop bay trees, also in pots, unless we are having a really long hot and dry spell. I don’t cover/wrap them in winter ( I’m in Cardiff) They just sit on my patio doing their thing and have flourished for many, many years, I think I’ve had them about ten or fifteen years now… maybe fertilised them half a dozen times over the years. Getting more and more dense foliage each year. They literally thrive on neglect which is what I like most about them! They have a quick haircut once a year to smarten them up again and then they look great until next year! Perfect plants really.
    Maybe yours need less love??

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Hello Jess,

      Great comment & I must update this post sometime to mention that fact – it’s easy to give bay trees too much of a good thing!

  3. Katherine Burton says:

    I’m glad that I came across this site, as I have had my bay tree for 9 years, it was in a pot for about the first 6 years & it has always thrived, even after planting in the garden. For the past 4 months, it has been looking really stressed, brown leaves, cracking bark, so much so, that we were reluctantly thinking about giving up on it, but we’ve decided to stick with it after reading these comments. Fingers crossed!

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Fingers crossed indeed. It’s not really possible to diagnose from a distance, but do you remember if the Bay was badly pot-bound when you planted it out?

  4. Gill Gibson says:

    My bay tree in the ground for last 10 yrs approx – this year, new growth but whole tree turning yellow. Help!

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Hi Gill,

      We have been having dry weather lately so a general purpose feed, a good watering, and some organic mulch is the first thing to try. Let us know how you get on!

  5. Karen Skuse says:

    Hi, really hope you can help. Just arrived back from holiday yesterday and found my lollipop bay tree very sad. It had not been watered for 2 weeks and looks very crispy , brown leaves. It sits in a container against south facing wall and it does get very hot here . I immediately watered. I am confused about what feed to use – high nitrogen or low nitrogen. I have fed with Westland bonemeal on one occassion in May. Which I was going up continue monthly . Any help greatly appreciated as I don’t want to loose it ! Many thanks

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Hi Karen,

      Water. That’s all. How is the patient now after a stiff drink?

      Was someone watering your plants while you were away?

      Two weeks should be fine for a plant in a large pot outdoors where the pot at least is protected from direct sun and wind.

      But a pot exposed to full sun, sitting on a baking patio as the hot breeze caresses water out of it: two weeks of that can kill a lot of plants. If the pot is on the small side and the plant is pot-bound, that’s worse.

  6. Marley Ritchie says:

    Hi my bay is in a pot. She gets water. Has been fed.
    The edges of her leaves are going crunchy and brown. I’m in a cool climate. Help.

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Hi Marley,

      Is too much water the issue for you – perhaps something near your bay is being watered as it requires, but that’s too much for the bay beside it?

      I assume there is no scaley bug problem, they are quite visible and I typically notice all the ants guarding them first.

  7. Maree says:

    One on my lollipop bay trees has lost lots of its bark after really suffering in the Winter but made a good recovery

    Now 1/2 of the tree has lost leaves and many other leaves are wilting

    Can you advise on any remedy please ? Thank you
    Maree Atkinson

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Hello Maree,

      Assuming water is well and the roots are fine in general, the next question is an appropriate feed: damaged plants are often taking up less water and nutrients so need less than a vigorously growing plant, but they still like a fertilizer of that essential N-P-K to help them recover.

      Prune stems that are dying back to good looking tissue, light feed & water well, then mulch solves most problems.

  8. Jenny huntley says:

    Hi the branches on my bay tree have turned yellow with black marks on them HELP

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Hi Jenny, that’s no good unless it’s going to a leopard party, are there scale insects everywhere?

  9. Michelle says:

    Hi I’m sure 25 yrs. ago we purchased a young bay tree from you ! I’m sure you’ve been going that long
    It’s always been potted re potted with John innes two and three for good drainage and holes in the large wooden pot ! When I last repotted the roots were like stone solid I cut loads back and even took a long drill piece through the root ball to create oxygen and try to looses up. It’s still living a year on. Iron tonic every now and again and feed too dressing . I know the root ball is probably finding it hard to access stuff I’m giving it but it needed something with yellowing leaves ( will it ever get its dark green leaves back ? They are a mid green now ) as it’s thirty years
    O ld I’m wondering how to look after the 0 ld tree ? Epsom salts ? Does that help keep leaves greener ? Anyway it’s not yellowing anymore but the root ball is a worry ? Do you have any advice ?

    1. Julian says:

      Thank you for your question. I will answer as best I can, but I don’t think the tree is ours as we really only sold native hedging and trees 25 years ago. But it sounds as if it was a good tree and you have done very well with it as from your description it has spent a quarter of a century in a pot.

      I think what your bay needs is a really good root prune, but not until it is back in growth in mid/late March. Then take the tree out of its pot and with something like an old rusty carpenter’s saw cut striagnt down the rootball just to one side of the trunk. You wil remove about one third of the whole rootball in one cut. Put the reaims back into the pot and fill the void with a good quality compost. John Innes No 3 would be perfect. Carry on looking after your tree as normal. As Spring turns into summer you will see new shoots appearing (in the right shade of green).

      The following March, do the same thing again, but cut off an old piece of rootball. By the way – you will notice the new compost will contain plenty of new, young, healthy roots. Repeat the process in the third year and your bay will have a completely new lease of life.

      Good luck

  10. Jane Chamberlain says:

    Hello, I’m after some advice.
    I recently inherited 3 potted bay trees. They have been in pots that were waterlogged, absolutely no drainage! I would like to try and save them if possible. The bark is very hard, almost fossil like, there are a few very brown leaves left and the branches are brittle and twig like. I have managed to remove them from the swamp pots, where do I go from here? Bigger pots, obviously with plenty of drainage but which soil or supplements to give them any chance?
    Regards Jane

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Hello Jane,

      Apologies for the slow reply, our blog has been under repair.

      The fact is that we are experts on growing premium plants for sale on a nursery scale, so we have an advanced solution for every plant that is sick or struggling: chuck it away.

      I can’t give you a genuinely authoritative answer on how to bring a half-dead bay tree back to life in this precise situation, but I can tell exactly what I (and lots of other experienced gardeners) would do in your shoes: given that you have three subjects that would be dead as doornails without your intervention, this is an ideal time to do a casual experiment and treat each of them differently.

      The potting soil is not terribly important, as you say, it’s the drainage that really matters. The only supplement at the potting stage that I think should help is Mycorrhizae friendly fungi. When they are in growth this Spring, a drop of general purpose fertiliser won’t hurt.

      Because the roots were in such a bad state, I would wash off as much soil as possible in order to reduce soil pathogens and to inspect the roots. Cut out dead bits, and if it is rootbound you could either saw off the bottom, or saw straight down the rootball, thus removing around a third of it.

      Then, I would experiment: repot one plant in (for example) a poor mix of grit & sand, with a little soil & compost, the next plant in my default home potting mix (roughly half-and-half clay-rich garden soil with compost), and the third plant in a rich compost.

      Good luck!

  11. Pat says:

    My potted bay tree has 70% yellow leaves can I repot it in new compost and save it ?

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Hi Pat,

      Yes, and I recommend adding a pinch of Rootgrow fungi. Is it badly rootbound? If so a normal saw for sawing wood is a good tool for removing a chunk of the rootball (either the bottom of it, or cutting downwards, to one side of the trunk, thus removing about 1/3rd of the rootball).

      Snip off the yellow leaves, they are useless now.

      Was it in an exposed location and/or are you up North? Bay is hardy, but cold winds tend to “singe” the leaves.

      If you are doing it right now, keep the pot in a sheltered place or wrap it up so to keep the frosts off it, this is better for the fragile new roots as they establish.

      Good luck

  12. Christine Kelley says:

    My potted indoor recently repotted Bay tree seems to have leaves that appear to be drying and some developing brown spots. I I bought this when it was about 10 inches tall, now it’s about 4 feet. I need ideas and help. I thought about misting it but I’m not sure if it would burn the leaves where it gets plenty of sun. I have a gage that measures moisture and I so I can watch that it’s not over watered or too dry. Can you give me some advice? I don’t want to lose it.

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Hi Christine,

      It’s not unusual for recently repotted plants to shed old leaves, especially if they were pot-bound and had some matted roots removed in the process, so it may be nothing.

      The most common issues with indoor plants are overwatering, underwatering, and of course cycles of the two are even worse. A bay tree indoors can’t photosynthesise as much as it would like to (unless it has a grow lamp, see below), so it can’t take up as much water, but OTOH it’s in a pot, indoors, with central heating, so it can dry out quickly as well. The ideal watering situation is for it to be well watered (i.e. no more bubbles come out of the rootball when water covers it) then allowed to more or less dry out before watering again.

      Because it’s a sun loving Bay Tree being grown indoors (which is a bit like growing in a cave), it will benefit greatly from a grow lamp that will give it all the energy it needs to briskly grow new roots & leaves and look smart again.

      BTW – Misting won’t burn the leaves, that’s an old chestnut. Misting can cause fungal problems in some cases, which may in turn cause burnt looking foliage, but I don’t think that’s a concern here with a bay tree – I don’t think it will help either.

      Good luck!

  13. Michael Smeda says:

    I move house and initially put my thriving Bay leaf tree in a large pot. I then replanted at New house some 8 months later. Since replanted in ground it has struggled. Still some leafs but Brown ends as yet no new shoots I’m desperate had it over ten year’s

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Hi Michael, tell me about the location – what is the soil like, drainage, how much sun and wind – and the planting process, what you did when you planted it. How much did you water it after planting?

      Bear in mind it’s still March, the weather is cool, and a transplanted plant will usually be slow to come into leaf, so it’s a bit early to know how it’s doing for sure.

  14. Sylvia Quinn (aged 92) says:

    Spent ages tonight searching your problem page, hoping to find someone with my query. I have had a Bay tree outside in a very large pot for about 15 years and it is much admired. I have had the common brown leaves problem in the past but now it’s looking nice and green BUT I notice today that there appeared to be lots of white flower buds (which I have never seen before ) and I wondered if it was a sign of distress and it needed to reproduce before it died!!!!??

    1. Ashridge Nurseries says:

      Hello Sylvia,

      The distress of needing to reproduce before death is common to all creatures in varying degrees, but it’s unlikely to be an ill omen in this case.

      Did the pruning regime change / get skipped this year or last? Perhaps you had been trimming off the buds each year before they opened.

      And did you start with a baby tree 15 years ago? It could simply have taken a while to decide it’s time to flower.

      What is the feeding regime? Flowering drains nutrients, and all potted plants need a feed anyway to stay healthy.

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