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My bay leaf tree is turning brown. What should I do?

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Some of the leaves on my bay leaf tree are turning brown, and I'm not sure what the best plan of action should be. It's potted, and lives on my porch in San Francisco year round. The rainy season just started here, and we didn't water it much during much of the dry season, so perhaps that's part of the problem and it will clear up?

But should I pick off the brown leaves (which is only about 10% of the leaves)?

I'm inheriting this tree from my housemate who was the one who took care of it, and I'd like to keep it healthy even though I don't know much about caring for plants like this. So any help would be appreciated!

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  1. make sure the bottom of the saucer has rocks or other material in it so that the pot & roots aren't sitting in water. Water when the top inch of soil is dry. Inspect for bugs (underside of leaves, too), look for little black spots like pepper (tap a branch onto white paper to check, the bugs should fall onto the paper), spider webs, and any sort of critter that seems stuck on the underside of the leaves. See if you can find a complete liquid fertilizer that you can mix with water (Shultz comes in a small bottle that is easily stored), or a granular one like Miracid, which is readily available. If you cook with the leaves, find an organic fertilizer like fish emulsion. Find out if your city adds chlorine to the water supply (they didn't when I lived in SF but it's been awhile). If yes, then keep a quart bottle you can fill up and let sit for about 24 hours for the chlorine to evaporate before watering. If the leaves are falling off no more than 10%, don't stress if you've done all of the above. If edges are turning yellow, try removing the saucer and really drenching the plant to flush out the salts. Potted plants also like to be repotted with quality fresh potting soil periodically. Ask a friend to help you do this, particularly if the pot is really big and needs manhandling. This isn't complicated, you'll do fine.

    1. Maybe too cold or not enough light. Many varieties like heat and / or full sunlight so do not grow everywhere. Possibly try it in a warmer place with southern exposure this winter and see if helps.

      1. I think what actually happened is that it got too much sun and not enough water over the summer. It was sitting in a place with a fair amount of sun and wind exposure, and we probably didn't water it enough during some of the dry months. I do think it's salvageable though, so thanks everyone for these ideas!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Dave MP

          When you water it, see if you can sprinkle it from overhead and really wet all the leaves (do this when it's not sunny, like very early in the morning if you're up) to maintain humidity, but if you water the leaves when it's sunny the little droplets can burn them. Bay trees are pretty sturdy, if it's really damaged cut back the branches and it will leaf out again. I have a bay tree here in a patio in Las Vegas, so direct sun for an hour or two a day shouldn't hurt it. If it's in really strong wind, stake it and make sure the pot is heavy enough to not topple.