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HELP!! Issues with bay tree

Hi all,

I’d very much welcome some advice on a problem bay tree please. It was planted in normal soil which is quite claggy/clayey. It wasn’t looking at all healthy so my gardener recommended replanting using John Innes no3. Unfortunately although some new shoots have grown it is still looking very unhealthy with lots of brown leaves, badly peeling bark and part of the stems looking dead I.e. part green and part brown. I have attached some pictures. Any advice would be very much welcome! Thanks 😊.  (I have attached a picture of our much healthier looking bay tree for comparison, which was planted in the same claggy/clayey soil and not replanted with JE No3)



  • pcrayukpcrayuk Posts: 4
    The other stark contrast between the healthy and unhealthy tree is that the healthy tree has lush dark green leaves and the unhealthy a much lighter shade of green. 
  • CeresCeres Posts: 2,521
    I reckon that bay tree has had it. They can apparently suffer from peeling bark but at this time of year, if the tree is not healthy looking, I can't see it surviving the coming winter.
  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Posts: 86,088
    edited August 2019
    I agree ... it’s dying/nearly dead ... no tree can cope with that much damage to the bark on the trunk ... could it have suffered from the attentions of a cat?

    And what’s that paper/plastic around the base of the trunk?

    The trunk of the ‘healthy’ tree also looks concerning. I’m not too sure about the long term health of that one either. 

    Are they planted too deep? The root ball should be at the same level as it was in the pot when you bought it. Planting too deep can rot the stem/trunk. 

    They have been planted without stakes ... most lollipop bays require a stake to support them ... could they have been planted too deep in the mistaken belief that this would do away with the need for a stake?

    My other thought is that you are expecting bay trees to grow in clay/ claggy soil which is totally unsuitable for them.

    Digging a hole and planting in clay is like planting into a sump ... adding some JI3 will not do away with the sump effect ... to do that the whole border needs to have its drainage and soil condition improved.  

    I think you have the wrong trees for that situation. 

    No bay will be happy in those conditions ... they are Mediterranean trees and require very free draining soil ... mine is in a very large terracotta pot of two thirds JI3 and one third coarse horticultural grit and the pot is raised up in feet to ensure good drainage ... it is watered at least twice a week with 2 gallons of water, more often in hot dry spells, and has a monthly feed of dilute seaweed. 

    Gardening in Central Norfolk on improved gritty moraine over chalk ... free-draining.

  • LynLyn Posts: 22,860
    edited August 2019
    Can’t see plastic Dove? 
    It looks as though it may have had a stake and the tie had got too tight, thus damaging the trunk.
    Gardening on the wild, windy west side of Dartmoor. 

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Posts: 86,088
    @Lyn  ... the last pic ... zoom in and look at the base of the trunk where it emerges from the gravel ... something grey wrapped around the trunk?

    Gardening in Central Norfolk on improved gritty moraine over chalk ... free-draining.

  • pcrayukpcrayuk Posts: 4
    Hi all, many thanks for your very helpful advice and guidance! All a bit frustrating really as I asked my gardener (who I have trusted and used for various things for about 10 years!) to plant these for me as I was unsure of the conditions they required and it seems like he has planted them totally inappropriately. I asked his advice re their condition and he said it was due to overwatering and frost damage, but I was not convinced so I am glad I came on here for advice.

    @Dovefromabove so it looks like I need to dig out the border and refill with a mixture of JI3 and coarse grit and then ensure that the root ball is planted so that the top of the ball is flush with the top of the soil? Do you think if I were to replant now the tree would have a chance of survival? I am happy to give anything a try in order to try to save them as I have 3 in the back garden too also in mixed health and planted in the same way so I am trying to save throwing away several hundred pounds if they all were to die. I will try your watering suggestion and the seaweed feed too.

    There is no plastic under or around the tree. What you can see in the picture is actually the old bark wrapped around the bottom of the stem. There is a weed membrane but I presume that won't cause any issues?
  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Posts: 86,088
    If you have bay trees at the front and back of your house, are one lot in a lot more shade than the others?  Bay trees aren’t plants for shady gardens. 

    Gardening in Central Norfolk on improved gritty moraine over chalk ... free-draining.

  • pcrayukpcrayuk Posts: 4
    The trees in the back probably get less sunlight that those in the front. The positioning of the trees was deliberate in that it would maximise the sunlight they get.
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 53,955
    It looks like that plastic, when trees are grafted etc, on the base of that trunk.
    In any case - @Dovefromabove is right - your soil conditions aren't what they need to thrive, and they need a sunny, not too exposed site, to do well. 
    If you want to improve the soil structure, grit is good, but you're better adding well rotted manure and/or lighter compost and mixing all that throughout. Manure helps open up heavy soil.  It still might not be great, or good enough to recover those though. You might be able to save the one that looks ok in your pic, but the other one [and possibly your others in the back garden] looks a gonner  :/
    They do look as if they're planted a bit deep, but it also could be that the gravel is adding the height. You have to bear that in mind if you use a mulch of any kind. You need to allow an extra inch or two for the mulch, so that the top of the plant is level with the top of the mulch. Keep the gravel away from the main trunk too, just by a few inches. 
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • SlumSlum Posts: 382
    The bark splitting damage looks like frost damage to me. A bay I have in a pot by the back door has similar but not as bad damage. The extent of damage yours has on the trunk and branches will be severely restricting the plants ability to move water and nutrients around - the important work happens just under the bark. This will then cause stress and the leaf damage/dying. 
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