Laurus nobilis, or sweet bay, is an aromatic shrub that is easy to grow and care for, so it is easy to always have on hand because its leaves are used in cooking. Left to its own devices, laurus nobilis will grow up to 40 feet in height and 32 feet wide while usurping all the soil nutrients in its environment. For this reason, plan on doing some pruning to keep it under control.
Buy your laurus nobilis in the fall and plant as you would any tree. Dig a hole larger than the root ball, mix in some compost, and plant to the same depth it was planted in the nursery container.
Laurus nobilis is native to the Southern Mediterranean and, in the US, grows best in USDA zones 8 to 10. Choose a spot in partial shade with rich, well-draining soil. Protect it from cold winter winds, and water regularly. Laurus nobilis is an excellent choice for topiary or hedges, and also does well as a small tree in a container on a patio or deck. It can survive temperatures down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit but prefers to be brought inside during cold weather.
In the spring, prune your laurus nobilis to shape and size with a pair of secateurs. Dry the leaves for culinary use. Apply a time release fertilizer to the trees during the first two years and water well. Once established, your sweet bay will do well on its own. Weed by hand if needed; laurus nobilis has a shallow root system which can be damaged if a shovel is used.
Pick bay leaves at any time of the year in the morning and place between paper towels under a heavy weight to dry. Bay is one herb that increases in flavor once dried. Use in soups, stews, and other dishes. Remove the leaves from the dish before serving as the sharp leaves can cut the mouth. Store the leaves in an airtight container.