Laurus nobilis, the bay laurel, provides the familiar space bay leaf (or bay). This spice lends a hearty flavor to soups and stews. Outside a laurus nobilis can grow up to 40 feet tall, but gardeners can keep their shrub much shorter. A temperate plant, bay laurel grows in USDA hardiness zones 8 to 10. Gardeners in colder areas can grow their bay laurel in containers; they'll need to prune more regularly to keep the shrub small. Prune in early spring, then harvest extra leaves as needed for cooking.
Identify dead or damaged branches on your bay laurel. Dead branches may have discolored leaves or no foliage and will be hollow to the touch. Damaged branches can be snapped or wounded or may be discolored due to bacteria or fungi. Removing this growth keeps your shrub healthy.
Clip off dead, damaged or diseased branches at their base using pruning shears. In between cuts, spray your pruning shears with disinfectant spray so you don't accidentally infect healthy parts of the bay laurel with bacteria or fungi.
Trim back the ends of long branches to keep your laurel shrub compact. Prune back each branch individually rather than using hedge clippers.
Clip off branches that rub against other branches since the friction causes damage.