Laurel: the aromatic hedge

The laurel is one 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. In fact, hedges are not only dividers and windbreaks, they have different ecological functions, in particular they offer nesting sites for birds and insects and shelter for small mammals, therefore they go to encourage biodiversity of the environment in which they are planted. In the case of laurel, the fact that its leaves are usable in the kitchen.

Precisely because of its renowned flavoring and beneficial power, we can classify laurel not only among ornamental hedge plants, but also among the perennial aromatic essences. So here is a series of useful information for introducing laurel into our garden or cultivation space, according to organic farming methods.

The laurel plant

Laurel (Laurus nobilis) it's a evergreen plant which usually assumes a shrubby bearing, but which left to grow freely becomes a tree relatively small in size, 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" actually means girded with laurel, and in fact on the day of graduation, it is common to wear a laurel wreath.

The laurel plant forms one very dense vegetation, with closely spaced branches with smooth bark and dense foliage, and this feature makes it a lot 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, the laurel is one 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: the angustifolia and the aura. The second is less tolerant to 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

The laurel is one 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 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, provided that they are not asphyxiated, and therefore, despite their variability, they must be draining sufficiently, while as a position it can grow easily.and both in full sun and in partial shade.

How and when to plant

If you intend to introduce laurel plants in the garden or in the growing space of vegetables and fruit plants, or even more so to create a hedge, it is recommended to buy seedlings that have already grown enough and plant them between October and March, however, avoiding very rainy and cold periods.

A fairly deep hole is dug for the transplant, in order 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 ideal is to keep the deeper layers of earth separate from the more superficial ones, to put them back in in the same order and mixing the soil improver only to the surface 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, by rooting apical shoots in pots full of good soil, to be kept always 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

It is customary to delimit many private properties and gardens planting single-specific laurel hedges, but also mixed hedges in which laurel still plays a key role, also thanks to its tendentially columnar bearing. Hedges provide privacy and shade, but also emit precious oxygen, something not to be taken for granted at all.

So, before opting for fake hedges or building walled fences, it is useful to ask yourself if it is not worth setting 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 low, medium and high size (real trees) with the important ones functions of windbreak, habitat 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 comes to 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 rainfall is usually sufficient to meet the needs of the plant, which are not high in any case, and this gives us the possibility of intervene in cases of persistent drought, with emergency irrigation.

Every year it is useful to shed handfuls of manure at the base of the plant or choose other naturally derived fertilizers, organic or mineral.

Mulch and roofing

At the base of the plant it may be useful to put some good organic mulch based on straw, leaves, including 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, mulching can also be a covering of the roots from the cold, and always in harsh climatic conditions, it can be convenient cover the still young plants with non-woven fabric sheets.

Diseases and pests of laurel

Among the fungal diseases that can affect laurel we must mention powdery mildew or sore white, which manifests itself as 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 several treatments repeated about a week apart.

Insects harmful to laurel are the mealybugs, who like to stay in the shade of the thick branches, and who suck the sap from the young shoots. We can simply pass of the 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 spray them with macerated fern to preventive action or to deal with white oils.

In addition to mealybugs, they could occur psylla attacks, 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 a 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 in general 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 well-defined shape and contours, or 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 work with a hedge trimmer, for a quick periodic resizing work.

Grow laurel in pots

Laurel is a plant that it is also suitable for growing in pots, for the embellishment of balconies, terraces and courtyards. In this condition, of course, the size remains limited than outdoors, but still easily exceeds one and a half meters.

THEThe ideal pot is at least 30 cm in diameter and height to offer a minimum of volume at the roots. The young plant must be transplanted with a quality soil, possibly mixed with mature compost and a few handfuls of other fertilizer.

New fertilizers will need to be added periodically, 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 foresee 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 really do not want the plant to continue to grow, it is at least recommended to top up the earth frequently and periodically add fertilizer.

The irrigations in pots they must be regular.

Collect and use bay leaves

Throughout the year it is possible to remove leaves from the laurel plant to use it in the kitchen. Being a species evergreen we find leaves also available during the winter.

By virtue of their strong aroma they are used for to flavor legume soups but also other dishes such as game, only that they must be used in moderation, otherwise their flavor could cover that of the food. The same functions can be covered by berries emitted by female plants, with which a liqueur is also prepared.

The leaves of this medicinal plant can be boiled to make one simple herbal tea which helps in case of colds or digestive difficulties.

Another highly recommended use is the preparation of allorino liqueur, an excellent digestive spirit based on laurel.

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