The bay tree is a very popular addition to gardens all over the UK. They can usually be found either in a large, probably earthenware, pot or just planted in a border. Bay trees in pots are very popular and the good thing is that they are hardy enough to survive very low temperatures. The mercury can drop to around minus 5 degrees C and the bay tree will still be alive. They do, however, fare better when planted directly into the ground. The roots have room to grow and spread, thus making the tree just that bit stronger than their pot planted cousins.
Bay trees in pots are probably more commonly found than those planted directly in the ground. This has much to do with the popularity of the process known as topiary. This is a finely tuned horticultural skill where trees or shrubs are carefully cut or trained into specified shapes. Examples of the shapes to be found would be pyramid, ball or "lollipop" standards, and some can even have ornately plaited or spirally trained stems. Successful cultivation in pots, however, is dependent on a number of factors.
The big advantage of bay trees, whether in pots or in the ground, is their relatively easy cultivation. So many shrubs for sale in UK garden centres come with a number of complicated care and maintenance instructions. You might be tempted to give up on such growing projects, but it is difficult to go wrong with a bay tree.
Many people though grow bay trees in pots and prune them into all kinds of fantastic and artistic shapes. Careful and fairly aggressive pruning in early summer, using sharp secateurs, will produce strong, dense growth. This is ideal for teasing and training your bay tree in a pot into the topiary design that you desire. It is also a good idea to watch out for the usual kinds of leaf problems that can be caused by weather conditions or by deterioration in the bay tree's growing conditions in the pot. Tired and worn out compost, over watering and insect infestation are typical examples of problems to be overcome if you want a healthy bay tree.