When to prune bay trees to improve both their shape and health

Every question you've had about pruning bay trees, answered by the garden experts

Close up of bay tree in front of lavender plant
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Discovering when to prune bay trees is key to ensuring the health and longevity of your plant. To answer all our pruning questions, we've gone straight to the experts to find out everything we need to know about caring for these garden classics.

When it comes to versatile garden ideas, bay has to be one of the best. That's in terms of how you can style and shape it and, of course, use the leaves. 'Bay trees (Laurus nobilis) make wonderful shrubs in the garden,' agrees garden designer Camellia Taylor. 'They provide evergreen structure, can easily be shaped into topiary, and have beautiful aromatic leaves that can be used in cooking.'

But to make the most out of your bays, you need to know when to cut them back. Then, you can focus on perfecting how to prune bay trees. 

When to prune bay trees

Two bay trees in pots beside wooden front door

(Image credit: Beard and Daisies)

Unlike with cutting back lavender, a bay tree likes an early prune. 'The best time to treat your bay tree to a trim is during the late spring months as it enters its peak growing season,' explains Jo Lambell, founder of houseplant company Beards & Daisies.

'You’ll notice your bay tree will enter a growth spurt during the warm summer months, so you can continue to trim as and when needed throughout the season,' continues Jo. 'But aim to finish pruning into your desired shape by the end of summer. Pruning during your tree’s growing season can help encourage a fuller, more dense foliage.'

If a topiary is your aim for the bay tree, timing is also key. 'If you are growing a bay tree as topiary this should be pruned to shape in the summer and will encourage a dense habit,' explains garden designer Camellia.

When not to prune bay trees

Two bay trees in pots on either side of white front door

(Image credit: Future PLC/David Giles)

Just as important as knowing when to prune bay trees is knowing when not to. 'Avoid pruning in the winter, as this can make the tree susceptible to frost damage,' warns Sean Lade, director of Easy Garden Irrigation.

However, this isn't the only time that you should avoid pruning bay trees. You also need to avoid any type of extreme weather, including incessant rain (which is very common in the UK) and hot temperatures. 

Sean echoes this, saying, 'You also want to avoid pruning during a heat wave. Don't try this type of gardening in hot weather, instead wait for cooler temperatures to be forecasted before pruning to ensure you don’t stress the plant.' 

Easy Garden Irrigation
Sean Lade

Sean holds in-depth expertise in gardening and horticulture, with a focus on designing efficient irrigation systems. His solutions grace gardens and nurseries across the UK, embodying an environmentally-conscious approach to water usage. 

Sean is always happy to share knowledge, guiding gardeners and growers through regular training on irrigation best practices. This way, we help our clients create lush, thriving environments and empower them to use water wisely, combining aesthetics with sustainability.

Close up of leaves on bay tree

(Image credit: Getty Images)


What month do you prune bay trees?

Bay trees can really benefit from an early prune, but that doesn't mean that you have to put the secateurs as soon as the summer comes around. In fact, you have a very large window to prune bay trees.

Most experts would suggest pruning a bay tree anytime between April and August. But if you want to give yours a hard prune, it's best to do that at closer to April than August, as you don't want to affect the growth of the plant. 

How do you look after bay trees?

As bay trees are often used as topiaries, it's important to keep them looking good and growing well. Because of this, it's important to look after them. 

'Throughout the year, keep an eye on your bay tree for any dead or yellow leaves,' says Sean from Easy Garden Irrigation. 'Regularly removing these will help keep the tree healthy and looking its best.'

'If your bay tree is potted and you want to maintain its current size, trim the roots every few years,' Sean continues. 'This is best done in early spring at the same time you're doing your regular pruning. Simply remove the tree from its pot, trim back the outer layer of roots, and repot it with fresh compost.'

'Regularly check your bay tree for signs of pests or disease. Common issues include bay sucker pests and leaf spot. Pruning can often help control these problems, but if you see extensive damage or something you can't identify, it may be best to consult a pro.'

Are bay trees cold hardy?

'I have seen how the last few winters have taken their toll on bay trees,' says garden designer Camellia. 'They can withstand temperatures down to -5c but cold winds and frost will damage the foliage.'

'My tip is to keep an eye on the winter weather and be prepared to cover bay trees in fleece (if possible) to prevent damage to their foliage.'

So, you should always make sure that you choose the right time to prune bay trees. 

Thea Babington-Stitt
Managing Editor

Thea Babington-Stitt is the Managing Editor for Ideal Home. Thea has been working across some of the UK’s leading interiors titles for around 10 years.

She started working on these magazines and websites after graduating from City University London with a Masters in Magazine Journalism. Before moving to Ideal Home, Thea was News and Features Editor at Homes & Gardens, LivingEtc and Country Homes & Interiors.

With contributions from