Bay trees can be kept trimmed to make classic evergreen lollipop-shaped topiary. Straight stems look handsome, but for extra texture you can braid or twist several stems around each other. It is an expensive look that you can achieve yourself; all you need are young plants and time for them to grow.
When to plant: Late spring or early summer.
At their best: All year round.
Time to complete: 4 hours.
You will need: Two or three young bay plants or a plant with suckering stems, sharp spade, clippers, large container, broken clay pot pieces, soil-based potting mix, slow-release granular fertilizer.
Select straight stems
If you have a multistemmed bay, dig it up and select the longest and straightest stems. Alternatively, buy a plant with lots of stems. Sever the root ball between the stems with a sharp spade.
Plant stems together
Place some clay pot pieces in the base of a large container, at least 12 in (30 cm) wide. Add soil-based potting mix and some fertilizer, and plant two or three stems as close together as possible.
Make sure that the bay stems are planted at the same depth as they were in the ground or pot. Use clippers to remove the leaves from the lower two–thirds of the stems. Rub off any new leaf buds with your fingers.
In spring and summer, when the wood is sappy, the stems should be pliable enough to be loosely braided, repeatedly passing the stems left over right, right over left. It may look forced at first, but will even out as the stems grow.
Trim off uneven growth
Once you have finished braided, secure the stems temporarily with strong garden twine, then trim off any uneven growth to leave a compact head. As the tree grows, prune lightly to encourage bushier growth.