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How to Start a California Bay Laurel Tree

California bay laurel (Umbellularia californica), the sole bay laurel tree native to the western United States, thrives in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 9. Even though you shouldn’t eat the leaves, then you can substitute the leaves for sweet bay leaves (Laurus nobilis) to flavor stews and additional recipes. The timber is widely utilized in woodworking projects and the leaves have been used in traditional medicine. Seed germination is the toughest part of starting a California bay, however, the trees can develop in a variety of soil types and in full sun to full shade.

Harvest the seeds from an existing California bay laurel tree in October to December, when the fruit is dark purple and the seeds within are dark brownish. Collect approximately five seeds in case a few of the seeds do not germinate.

Peel off the fruit husk and remove the seed from within it; you can slice the outside of the fruit using a knife to make it much easier to peel.

Crack the seed marginally to make germination simpler. It is possible to use a nutcracker or vice grips or place the seed in a paper towel and then wrap it with a hammer. Be sure not to smash the seed.

Fill a plastic bag with a mixture of equal parts sphagnum peat and perlite. Add just enough water to humidity the mixture and incorporate all ingredients thoroughly.

Put the seeds in potting mixture within the bag, then put the bag in a refrigerator set at a temperature between 30 and 42 degrees Fahrenheit for 90 to 120 days. This period of cold stratification increases the chances of germination by supplying the same type of environment that the seed would endure if left outside over winter.

Verify the seeds daily for germination starting at approximately day 85; the seeds generally germinate at around day 93, but early or after germination will be possible. Remove the seeds at the very first sign of germination, when you notice a key root forcing through the tree that is broken.

Plant the seed in a 4-by-4-by-14-inch container filled with a general bagged potting mix or your own mixture of equal parts sphagnum peat, finished compost and perlite. Plant the seed about 1 inch deep at the potting mix together with the emerging root facing down.

Put the container inside in full to partial sun, where it weighs approximately six to eight hours of daily sunlight to help it grow quickly. Water the plant as required to keep the soil moist, but avoid overwatering, which may cause the roots to rot. If the plant outgrows the container, you can transplant it to a 6-inch, then 8-inch and larger containers, as required, for your first year of development.

Transplant the tree outside when it’s approximately 1 year old at a location with rich, well-drained dirt, and in full sun to deep shade. Dig the hole two to three times the diameter of the container and as deep as the container.

Water the tree often to keep the soil moist, but not moist. Mature California bay laurel trees can tolerate dry soil, but many trees suffer in periods of drought. To cut down on watering time, you can plant the tree at a moist location near a water supply in which the trees grow best naturally.

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