We have a fairly large (and old) bay tree in our garden by our garage, which I pruned back quite a ways last year (about ~1foot off all sides) as it had grown too large. The hope being that it would sprout back happily this year, which it has started too.

Unfortunately we recently had a fire in the garage (tumble dryer went up in flames, nobody hurt though!), the heat and flames from which have caused severe damage to one side of the tree as can be seen in the pictures below:

Bay Tree Overview

(click to enlarge pictures below):

Burnt Leaves
Burnt Side vs Happy Side
Base of Tree
Inside Tree

I'm wondering what the best course of action is to try and help the tree recover.

As I say, I'd pruned it quite far back last year. There wasn't much foliage, so the fire has pretty much destroyed all the leaves on that side.

Should I just leave it and hope that it grows back? Should I prune off the dead leaves? If so, how far back would you recommend going?

Extra details as requested:

I'm in the UK, so currently its the middle of spring (May 22nd the fire happened). We live in Leeds (53.8 degree latitude) where it is typically a mixture of cool drizzly weather, and the occasional warm (23 *C) sunny day. Although we've been having a lot of sunny days over the last couple of weeks, so having to do a lot of watering.

The burnt side of the plant is the westward wide (the picture is taken facing the north-east).

The house is pretty near a very old sand-stone quarry, so the soil is full of sand. We have from time to time mixed in compost from our own heap (composted leaves, grass, and vegetable matter).

I know a little about pruning, but would definitely class myself as an amateur. I know the best way to prune varies from plant to plant.

I'll add a photo of the base and inside of the bay shortly. The base is quite a large trunk with some terracotta tiles around it, originally to stop gravel from washing away, but now just decorative.

  • A picture of the trunk and branching would be great. Do you have a pair of top notch bypass pruners? Felco? No anvil allowed. Crushes the vascular system and may allow disease. Does your homeowner insurance allow for the landscape? You should check on that. This plant should be able to survive just fine but this is part of your home and property...please check?
    – stormy
    Commented May 27, 2018 at 8:29
  • Nice branching, lots of the branching where the leaves fried is still viable. Thinning will help this plant. You've been heading which makes shrubs thicker, denser and sometimes more vulnerable to disease. Taking out the tiniest diameter branches, branches that go into the plant instead of out of the plant's circle, injured branches, redundant branches. Cut back to the main trunk. Keep the blade of the bypass closest to the trunk. Do a little now, a little in a month...keep thinning until winter.
    – stormy
    Commented May 27, 2018 at 8:34
  • I'd pull out those tiles from the base of your tree and rake the debris away. You WANT to see peekaboos of the trunk and branching. Similar to a bonsai look. Otherwise you will have a stressed out plant very flat on one side. Have you ever fertilized? Is there a slope I am unable to see? You said something about gravel washing away?
    – stormy
    Commented May 27, 2018 at 8:38
  • @stormy It's on a slight gradient (about 5-10 degrees) from left to right in the top picture. Though the soil cones up towards the base of the trunk (the tiles are all mostly level, so you can see how it rides up). We don't tend to put fertilizer on it specifically. It gets some compost put around its base every few years. Commented May 27, 2018 at 8:46
  • Sandy soil is just fine. Need to learn how to manage it. The only way to improve any soil type is simply dumping DECOMPOSED organic matter on the surface. Keep it away from the base of that trunk. You'll have to reapply from time to time because the soil organisms are eating this decomposed organic matter, pooping it out in the soil mixing FOR you better than we humans are able to do. Also snuffs weeds atst. Take more pictures and I'll try to use one of my new apps to show what to cut and why?
    – stormy
    Commented May 27, 2018 at 8:51

2 Answers 2


That is a striking looking bay tree. Personally, I'd be inclined to leave it to sort itself out. If you prune it you will destroy that nice conical shape and it will be interesting over the coming years to see (hopefully) how it recovers. And it certainly provides a talking point in your garden - not many gardeners can lay claim to a neatly half burnt bay tree like yours! I'd remove all the debris around the base, though (as stormy suggests).

  • Followed your advice and just left it to it. Two years later its pretty much fully recovered and filled in the hole. Needs a hell of a prune now on the other side to get it back into shape. Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 11:55
  • @TomCarpenter - Thanks for the update. Glad to hear your bay tree has recovered.
    – Peter4075
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 14:16

The rule for pruning is only cut off less than 1/3 of the plant at any one time. Any more than that puts a plant into shock and stress. Your plant is already stressed. Dead stuff can safely be removed. Plan to rehabilitate this plant in stages. Get rid of the dead stuff.

What is at the base of this plant, shrub? Iron of some sort? What time of year is it what zone where you and your plant live?

I'd be inclined to THIN this little tree large shrub, cutting off dead branches and removing some of the density. Allow more air flow. This plant is most certainly alive and savable. Need to know what you have added to the soil, where you live and how much you understand about pruning.

What is the little tree that has its branches up into your roof? That needs addressing. Or pruned. The branch that is touching your home needs to go. The rest perhaps later. Talk about this in another question?

  • Thanks for your response. I've added some more detail to the question. In terms of the little tree behind it, that is a cotoneaster. It runs the length of the garage, so we will simply chop off the branch you can see that's dead. Commented May 27, 2018 at 7:57
  • It's also a very large bay tree (about 10 foot tall, 4 foot wide), so the pruning last year was no more than 1/4 of the main branches at the bottom, and less at the top. Commented May 27, 2018 at 8:04
  • Sounds good, Tom. This plant should make it...might be an adventure in pruning? How thick is the stone for the siding of your home? The soil should be 4" below any siding on a home.
    – stormy
    Commented May 27, 2018 at 8:43
  • About 6" tall blocks. It's an outhouse/garage though, the house can't be seen in the photos (it's off to the right of the top picture). Commented May 27, 2018 at 8:48
  • My eye goes right to the edges of things, sorry. Check the siding on your home, the bottom of your fence...keep it away from soil and plants. Is there an asphalt coating on the stones below the soil?
    – stormy
    Commented May 27, 2018 at 22:17

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