Laurus nobilis originates from the Mediterranean region and is known by many common names, including bay laurel, sweet bay and Grecian laurel. These evergreens can grow to 40 feet in height in the wild but are usually found as medium sized shrubs and hedges in the home landscape. Bay laurel can be propagated from stem cuttings that should be taken in the spring. Other methods of propagation include planting seeds, layering and root division.
Stem tip cuttings are best planted in a potting mix made of perlite or peat moss blended with an equal amount of sand. The cuttings should be about 6 inches long with at least two sets of leaves. Apply powdered rooting compound to the base and lower stem after removing the bottom set of leaves. Bay laurel can be slow to root from cuttings, but root hairs may appear within four weeks.
Laurus nobilis seeds are stratified before planting. Stratification is the process whereby the dormancy of seeds is broken so that they are able to germinate. Placing the seeds in a plastic bag with peat moss and refrigerating for two months is sufficient to break the dormancy. The seeds are planted with a thin covering of soil and kept moist but not wet as they will rot easily. Germination can be erratic with bay laurel seeds ,and they may take three to four months to sprout.
The technique of layering involves bending the stem of an existing plant to the ground and nicking it with a knife to expose the stem where it meets the soil. The exposed area is then covered with soil and held in place with stones or tied to a stake. Layering works very well with Laurus nobilis, although it can take six to 12 months to produce shoots.
Bay laurel can also be propagated by root division according to Texas A&M University horticulturist Dr; William Welch. Root division is suitable for container plants and is best done when they need transplanting. Once removed from the pot, the plant is carefully separated into several sections.
Whether propagating by cuttings or seeds it is most important to keep the potting soil moist and maintain good humidity. If allowed to dry out, it is unlikely that the seeds will germinate or the cuttings take root. A spray bottle with a misting tip is useful for propagation. Frequent misting is usually sufficient to maintain a moist environment. Many commercial growers use automated misting systems that work on timers for propagating plants.