Laurel is a typical Mediterranean evergreen ornamental plant, ideal for forming dense hedges, but also as an isolated shrub. This crop has been known since ancient times and in addition to its aesthetic value, it gives its aromatic leaves to those who put it in the garden.
A hedge is very important for organic farming, for many reasons. Hedges are not just dividers and windbreaks, they have various ecological functions, in particular, they offer nesting sites for birds and insects and shelter for small mammals, thus promoting the biodiversity of the environment in which they are planted. In the case of laurel, the fact that its leaves can be used in the kitchen adds to all this.
Precisely because of its renowned aromatizing and beneficial power, we can classify laurel not only among ornamental hedge plants but also among perennial aromatic essences. Here is a series of useful information for introducing laurel into our garden or growing area, according to organic farming methods.
The laurel plant
Laurel (Laurus nobilis) is an evergreen plant that usually assumes a shrubby habit, but which, when left to grow freely, becomes a relatively small tree, reaching a maximum of 10-12 meters.
The plant has been a symbol of our Western culture since ancient times: it was considered sacred to Apollo and associated with poets and people of great culture. It is no coincidence that the term “graduate” means just girded with laurel, and, on the day of graduation, it is common to wear a laurel wreath.
The laurel plant forms very dense vegetation, with closely spaced branches with smooth bark and dense foliage, and this characteristic makes it very suitable for the formation of hedges. The leaves are rather thick and leathery, shiny, dark green on the upper side, lighter in the lower one, and pointed oval shape with slightly serrated edges.
Botanically, Laurel is a dioecious plant: we can find uniquely male individuals and uniquely female individuals, respectively bearing inflorescences that produce pollen and inflorescences that have the ovary and produce fruit after pollination. The fruit of the female plants resembles a small black olive.
Be careful not to confuse laurel with cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus), even if it is called laurel, it has little to do with Laurus nobilis. The cherry laurel is one of the most widespread hedge plants, it is characterized by large glossy green leaves and is visibly different from the species we are describing.
Variety of laurel
We can find two distinct varieties of laurel: Angustifolia and Aurea. The second is less tolerant to the winter cold, requires protection in areas with a harsh climate, and has pointed leaves tending to golden yellow as a color.
Ideal climate and terrain
Laurel is a rustic and adaptable species, which does not have very particular needs, although being a Mediterranean essence it certainly finds its ideal conditions along the coast, in the plains, or on the hills, up to a maximum of 800 meters above sea level. However, in winter it can tolerate drops in temperatures below zero, as long as they are not too prolonged.
It adapts to various types of soil, as long as they are not asphyxiated, and therefore, despite their variability, they must be sufficiently draining, while as a position it can easily grow both in full sun and in partial shade.
How and when to plant
If you intend to introduce laurel plants in the garden or the growing space of vegetables and fruit plants, or even more so to create a hedge, it is advisable to buy plants that have already grown up and plant them between October and March, avoiding however the periods very rainy and cold ones.
For the transplant, a hole is dug deep enough, to loosen all the earth that will then be found near the roots. The plant must be inserted very straight on the bottom, and then the hole is covered with excavated earth mixed with mature compost or manure.
For an ecologically better effect, the idea is to keep the deeper layers of earth separate from the more superficial ones, to put them back in the same order, and mix the soil improver only to the superficial layers.
The laurel cutting
If we want to multiply the laurel on our own and are not in a hurry to see it grow, we can make cuttings, rooting apical shoots in jars full of good soil, to always keep moist.
It is useful to choose a particularly beautiful and healthy specimen of laurel for taking the twigs from cuttings because, with this technique, specimens genetically identical to the mother plant are obtained, which will have the same characteristics.
Making laurel hedges
To delimit many private properties and gardens, it is customary to plant single-specific laurel hedges, but also mixed hedges in which the laurel still plays a key role, also thanks to its tendentially columnar bearing. The hedges provide privacy and shade, but also emit precious oxygen, which should not be taken for granted at all.
So, before opting for fake hedges or building walled fences, it is useful to ask yourself whether it is worthwhile to set up a real laurel hedge and other species, to breathe better air, and to make an ecological contribution to the surrounding environment.
The hedges in urban contexts are very narrow, while in the countryside the laurel can become part of wider and mixed rural hedges, composed of various species of the low, medium, and high size (real trees) with the important functions of windbreaks, habitats of various species and ecological corridors.
How it is grown
After the planting of the laurel plant, it is important to follow it in the first phases to guarantee it favorable conditions for growth, but there are no particularly demanding interventions to be done. Like many other hedge plants, it is an adaptable and resistant species, capable of growing in good autonomy.
Irrigation and fertilization
Irrigation must be administered regularly only to young specimens, after which the rainfall is usually sufficient to meet the needs of the plant, which are not high in any case, and this allows us to intervene in cases of persistent drought, with emergency irrigation.
Every year it is useful to spread handfuls of manure at the base of the plant or to choose other naturally derived fertilizers, organic or mineral.
Mulch and roofing
At the base of the plant, it may be useful to put good organic mulch based on straw, leaves, even bark, both to limit the growth of weeds and to reduce water transpiration, a useful precaution especially in drought areas.
If you are in particularly cold areas, the mulch can also be a covering of the roots from the cold, and always in harsh climatic conditions, it may be convenient to cover the still young plants with sheets of non-woven fabric.
Diseases and pests of laurel
Among the fungal diseases that can affect laurel, we must mention powdery mildew or white sickness, which manifests itself with whitish patches with a dusty consistency on the leaves. We can try to treat the affected plant with bicarbonate dissolved in water, if necessary by doing more repeated treatments about a week apart.
Insects harmful to the laurel are the scale insects, which love to stay in the shade of the thick branches, and which suck the sap from the young shoots. We can simply pass some cotton soaked in alcohol on the attached twigs, but this practice is convenient only in the presence of a plant or a few. If the plants are many we can sprinkle them with fern macerates with preventive action or treat them with white oils.
In addition to scale insects, psylla attacks may occur, a small yellowish-green insect that infests young shoots, leaves, and branches, feeding on sap and leaving you with a lot of sticky honeydew, which not only causes aesthetic damage to the plant but also certain asphyxiation. Psylla attacks are contained by treating plants with soap diluted in water.
Prune the laurel
There are no strict rules for pruning laurel and generally, the reason why it is pruned is above all aesthetic, for example, if it is part of a hedge to which it is necessary to give a well-defined shape and contours or to keep its development limited. The periods indicated for pruning the laurel are September-October and March.
Compared to other plants in general, laurel does not require an increase in productivity: a small shrub can satisfy the consumption of laurel in many families with its leaves.
On large hedges, we intervene with a hedge trimmer, for a quick periodic resizing work.
Grow laurel in pots
Laurel is a plant that is also suitable for cultivation in pots, for the embellishment of balconies, terraces, and courtyards. In this condition, of course, the size remains limited compared to outdoors, but still easily exceeds one and a half meters.
The ideal pot is at least 30 cm in diameter and height to offer a minimum of volume to the roots. The young plant must be transplanted with quality soil, possibly mixed with mature compost and a few handfuls of other fertilizer.
New fertilizers will have to be periodically added, preferably choosing from natural organic or mineral ones, of which there are also liquid formats that are convenient for use with irrigation (plant macerates, self-produced or purchased, blood meal, etc.).
Since it is a multi-year species it is important to provide periodic repotting in containers of increasing size, to give space to the roots, otherwise forced to envelop themselves in the little land available, but if you do not want the plant to continue growing, it is at least recommended. top up the soil frequently and periodically add fertilizer.
Watering in pots must be regular.
Collect and use bay leaves
Throughout the year it is possible to remove leaves from the bay tree to use it in the kitchen. Being an evergreen species, we find leaves available even during the winter.
By their strong aroma, they are used to flavor legume soups but also other dishes such as a game, only they must be used in moderation, otherwise, their flavor could cover that of the food. The same functions can be fulfilled by the berries emitted by female plants, with which a liqueur is also prepared.
The leaves of this medicinal plant can be boiled to make a simple herbal tea that helps in case of colds or digestive difficulties.
Another highly recommended use is the preparation of Liquore Alloro (Bay Leaf Liqueur), an excellent digestive spirit based on laurel.
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