Eucalyptus; treat 'em mean...
30 July 2018 - by Liz Browne

Eucalyptus

Fast growing, evergreen, interesting/often beautiful bark, scented foliage…..these amazing trees create an all year round, sub-tropical feel in our gardens. What's not to love about them? Well recently we've noticed that Eucalyptus have been getting a bad press. Many gardeners are often afraid to plant trees, especially of a genus which includes many extremely fast-growing large species. But it's the fast-growing nature of Eucalyptus that makes them so valuable, especially for impatient gardeners who don't want to wait decades for a mature tree to grace their garden. Not all reach monster proportions in a decade though, and there are some lovely, smaller-growing species available. 

It's all about choosing the right species, planting in a suitable location, and planting when very small. This is because tall potted specimens have too high a top-growth to root-ball ratio and never seem to establish very well. They flop around in the wind and need to be staked for far too long. We once heard a saying about Eucalyptus - 'The bigger they are when you plant them, the bigger they are when they blow over'. And there is truth in this. Eucalyptus are Australian natives and they have evolved to grow in poor, nutrient deficient soil. The roots of the seedlings quickly dive deep to find water and nutrients, and in the process give the tree firm anchorage. But if planted in rich moist soil they don't need to bother putting the effort into making deep roots - why would they when they can simply produce shallow roots to find all their needs? And this is key - if your soil is poor and dry, a Eucalyptus could well be a beautiful and safe addition to your garden, without the risk of strong winds toppling it. If your soil is very fertile you might want a re-think.

When we moved into our sister site at Beccles last year we had several large specimens which had been planted as a windbreak. Growing next to a ditch they were getting ample water and we were concerned that they may have been lazy with their rooting system. This coupled with the fact that they were precariously leaning towards our polytunnels made the chop inevitable. Shame because they were looking good and adding much needed height and shade to the nursery. We topped them at approx 1.5 metres and they all survived and are re-shooting. They will now make bushy specimens and we'll restrict their height to about 4m in future.

The hardier specimens are usually problem free, although like all evergreens, the foliage can be damaged by icy easterly winds in winter. The 'Beast from the East' caused some leaf damage this year, but fortunately this was cosmetic only. By mid-summer, these leaves had been shed and replaced by lush new growth. 

The scent of Eucalyptus leaves is produced by a chemical in its leaves called Cineole. This chemical is the Eucalyptus' weapon against predators, and only a few creatures have adapted to be able to eat it, including Koalas, and a few insects. It's this chemical that bestows antiseptic properties to Eucalyptus oil, which is why it's been used for centuries for cleansing and medicine. And last but not least, did you know that the wood of Eucalyptus makes for the very finest didgeridoos? Toodle-oo.


Some of our favourites include...

Eucalyptus gregsoniana

This gorgeous little tree is an excellent choice for a smaller garden. Growing to 6m or so it has a pretty, airy canopy and silver grey bark. We had a specimen at our Costessey nursery which survived the 'Beast from the East' this year and temperatures of -8 degrees. 

There is a super specimen outside the Princess of Wales conservatory at Kew Gardens that survived the dreadful winter of 2010, where temperatures plummeted to -14 degrees for a prolonged period. Unfortunately the little tree at our Costessey branch had to go as it was in the way of our new kitchen building, but we'll be planting more of our favourite Eucalyptus at our Beccles site very soon.




Eucalyptus coccifera 

Moderately fast growing and can reach a height of approx. 18m. During the first few years you can expect it to grow between 1 and 1.5m a year, slowing down when it reaches 10-12m. The adult foliage is willow-like and the bark is very striking, shredding to reveal shades of pink, silver, grey, brown and white. Very hardy and wind tolerant.



Eucalyptus nicholii 

A wide spreading tree with a dense, weeping crown of slender blue-green leaves. Rough, fissured, cinnamon coloured bark. This is a fast-growing species, achieving 2.5m growth in its first year, eventually forming a tree some 12m high. This specimen loves the heat and is well versed in drought tolerance, so it'll be thriving in this hot, dry summer.



Eucalyptus dalrympleana

Smooth pink/brown bark, peeling to reveal a patchwork of creamy white beneath. Mature trees have pure white bark. Although round and glaucous in their juvenile form, the adult leaves are green, often copper tinted, and sickle-shaped. Very hardy, mature specimens survived the very worst winters in the UK, and although suffered leaf damage, they quickly recovered. Beautiful mature specimens can be seen at Kew Gardens.



This specimen has fascinating foliage. The leaves are round and completely circle the stem. As they die they dry, becoming bright red and separate from the stem, but remain encircling it. As the wind blows them they spin, giving this tree the name of 'Spinning gum'. This tree is suitable for coppicing to form a shrub or hedge. The added advantage of coppicing is that it  encourages it to continue to produce juvenile foliage - much sought after incidentally, for flower arranging. Left to its own devices it can reach 6m but can be maintained at 3m or so if desired.


Select any of the sub-headers to find out more about each Eucalyptus tree including the prices, care guidelines and how you can order this online for home delivery. Contact us here if you have any further questions at all. Talk to us about trade sales too!

 
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