Why Is My Bay Tree Going Brown? (Solved!)

Bay trees are very fashionable at the moment and can often be found in pots outside smart restaurants.

Although they grow quite well in pots, in the ground they can become very large.

With dark green evergreen foliage and a herby savoury aroma they are not only a beautiful tree but useful in cooking too.

Sometimes they can start to discolour and perish, so if you have asked the question “Why Is My Bay Tree Going Brown?” then read on for answers and solutions.

The Bay tree can be affected by adverse environmental conditions such as too little or too much water, exposure to wind, frost, or not enough sun. It could also have outgrown it’s pot. Fungal infections such as Phytophthora Root and Crown Rot can attack the plant, as can pests such as the Bay Tree Sucker, Aphids or Scale Insects.


Bay trees grow best when conditions are as close as possible to their native environment.

They come from the Mediterranean and so enjoy warm temperatures, sunshine and free draining soil.

If those conditions are not met, then the plant can begin to suffer.

The Bay tree becomes reasonably drought tolerant when mature with a good root system, but when it is young (or in a pot) it will not like to dry out fully.

However, the Bay tree will not like to sit in waterlogged soil either.

Consider the soil type. Bay trees like a reasonably rich soil that is free draining.

If you have poor sandy soil (like we have) then your drainage will be good but you could add some extra compost to improve the soil nutrition value.

If you have very rich soil like loam or peat, then your nutrition levels will be high but it would be beneficial to add some grit to aid drainage.

Bay trees will not grow well in clay soil as the drainage is too poor, however if this is what you have you can still grow a Bay tree either by digging out a section of soil in your garden and replacing it with compost and grit, or growing your Bay in a pot.

Too Little Water – Symptoms And How To Fix:

If the leaves are drooping and have started to brown, and are possibly even falling off then it could be that your Bay tree needs some extra water.

  • First check the soil by putting your finger in and feeling the top 5cm or so, if this is wet then lack of water is not the issue.
  • If it is dry then give the tree a good water and keep an eye on it, water again if needed.
  • If the weather is particularly dry then perhaps set up a watering diary to remember when you last watered.
  • This can ensure a regular and consistent watering schedule.
  • If your Bay is in a pot, consider potting up to a larger size as this will retain more water.

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Too Much Water – Symptoms And How To Fix:

If the leaves look yellow or spotty, or look as if they have mould on them, then the plant may be receiving too much water.

  • Again, first check the soil by putting your finger in and feeling the top 5cm or so, if this is wet then too much water may be a possibility.
  • If you live in an area that receives good rainfall then it is likely that this is enough, if so do not provide any extra water.
  • If your Bay tree is in the ground check to see if rainfall is pooling around the base, if so consider moving it or redirecting the water somehow.
  • Hold off watering until you see improvement, and then only water sparingly if the weather is dry.
  • If your Bay tree is in a pot then make sure there are plenty of drainage holes.
  • Raise the pot up on legs or bricks to aid drainage.

Position in the Garden

A Bay tree’s preferred location will be in sunshine and by a wall or fence to protect from the wind.

Wind can actually damage the leaves and the vitality of the plant if it is particularly hot or frosty.

A strong wind can even snap a young Bay tree, particularly the top-heavy lollipop style.

How to fix:

  • If your tree is in a poor shady and windy position then consider moving it if possible.
  • If it cannot be moved, consider adding something to screen the tree slightly (a chair or a planter etc).
  • You can provide extra support by staking the Bay tree.
  • This will also encourage straight growth.

Leaf Scorch Caused By Frost

Bay tree leaves can be damaged by frost and very cold winds that will strip the moisture from the leaves and cause the foliage to turn brown and crispy.

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If the ground freezes they can find it difficult to draw up water to replenish the water in these leaves.

How to fix:

  • These leaves cannot be saved so when the weather is warmer you can remove them by pruning.
  • Water and mulch around the plant before winter.
  • This will insulate the soil and provide some moisture retention, allowing the plant to access water when temperatures drop below freezing.
  • Leave a space immediately around the trunk for aeration.

The Plant Has Outgrown It’s Pot

As mentioned above, Bay trees are often grown in pots, and in fact do very well.

A popular style is to train them into a lollipop shape.

The trunk can also be twisted around a cane to create a corkscrew effect.

If your Bay is in a pot and starts to look unwell, it may be that it is time to move it to a bigger pot, or even plant in the ground.

How to fix:

  • Carefully remove it from the pot and check the roots.
  • If you can see lots of roots filling the soil and they have wound around the pot then the plant has likely outgrown the pot.
  • Move it to a larger pot to encourage further growth.
  • Alternatively if your climate is reasonably warm and you do not have clay soil, the plant will probably do much better outside.
  • Review the information above and chose a sheltered sunny spot in the garden.
  • Your Bay tree can then grow to be quite large.

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Bay trees are quite resilient and do not tend to suffer from many diseases.

If the tree sits in water for too long however, it can succumb to fungal infection.

Phytophthora Root and Crown Rot

This is the main fungus that can attack the roots of a waterlogged Bay tree.

The plant starts to struggle as the root system becomes damaged, decays and turns brown or black.

The bark can turn darker with patchy streaks.

Leaves look stressed, weak, droopy and discoloured.

Full branches can then start to die back.

How to fix:

  • If identified early enough and in a Bay tree that can be uprooted, treated and replanted, Phytophthora Root and Crown Rot can be rectified.
  • The Bay tree should be dug up quickly and the roots rinsed with fresh water.
  • Any decomposing root matter and surrounding soil should be removed and disposed of (not in the compost heap).
  • Sterilise any tools or pots used.
  • Replant the Bay tree in a different area of the garden with drier soils and better drainage.
  • Monitor to make sure it recovers.
  • Prevention is better than a cure so do not overwater the garden or susceptible plants.


There are three main types of pest that can affect the Bay tree:

The Bay Tree Sucker

This is an insect that feeds on Bay tree leaves in the warmer months.

As an adult it looks like a small yellow brown aphid.

When young they look like small larvae covered in a white residue.

The affected leaves can turn yellow and curl in at the edges, eventually becoming thicker and brown.

Leaves also become sticky from excreted honeydew which in turn attracts black sooty mould.

How to fix:

  • Regularly check your Bay tree for the signs above.
  • If you see any affected leaves, remove them and dispose (not in the compost heap).
  • Although the damage can look unattractive, it won’t usually cause significant harm to the plant if you keep on top of removing the affected leaves.
  • You can also encourage natural predators such as ladybirds by placing any you find in the garden onto the Bay tree.
  • If you have a large infestation you could try Neem Oil as directed on the packaging.


These insects can cause similar problems to the Bay Tree Sucker above.

Aphids can usually be seen grouped together on the underside of leaves, or the leaf stem itself.

They suck the sap from the leaves and stems and this can cause the leaf to become discoloured, distorted and curl.

Left untreated their numbers can increase and over time they can devitalize the plant.

Their honeydew excretion can also attract a sooty mould.

How to fix:

  • A good way to start is to manually remove the aphids by hand, wipe them off with a wet cloth, or spray them off with a hose.
  • Diluted washing up liquid can be applied to discourage further infestations.
  • Wipe off any sooty mould and consider using Neem Oil as directed on the container.
  • The next step would be to remove infected leaves and dispose (not in the compost heap).
  • Again, ladybirds are excellent predators of aphids and can be relocated onto your Bay tree when found elsewhere in the garden.

Why Is My Bay Tree Going Brown? (Solved!) - Ladybird Eating Aphids

Scale Insects

Scale insects can affect both the leaves and woody stems of many trees and shrubs such as Bay trees and Hornbeam.

Adults look like miniature limpet shells stuck to the leaf or branch.

The young are pale pink in colour and group together on the underside of leaves and stems.

Signs to look out for are sticky leaves and/or sooty mould.

If left untreated their numbers can increase and they can begin to stunt the growth of the plant.

It is easier to address when the insects are young before they form the shell that clamps them to the plant.

How to fix:

  • If you notice an infestation it is best to contact a professional, as they will have access to appropriate chemical control.
  • If you cannot source a professional then Neem oil is an option, with repeat sprays before dawn and dusk, for 10 days.
  • Remove affected branches and dispose (not in the compost heap).

Final Thoughts

Bay trees are both elegant and useful plants.

Their evergreen leaves with a savoury aroma are a fabulous addition to gardens, balconies and front porches.

They are very easy to care for with relatively few instances of disease or failure.

Hopefully the information in this article will help you identify and resolve any issues your Bay tree may be having.

If you come across something not covered, please do drop me a message and I will do my best to help.

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