How to grow eucalyptus
These evergreen trees are prized for their blue-green leaves and typically peeling, coloured bark. There are many species, most thriving in a sheltered, sunny location. They can be vigorous, often growing into tall, majestic specimens, or can be pruned to keep them more compact.
- Evergreen trees or shrubs
- Grown for their ornamental foliage and bark
- Most are hardy and easy to grow
- Plant in spring or summer
- Like sun and well-drained soil
- Some can grow very large
- Prune to keep to a manageable size
All you need to know
What are eucalyptus?
They are evergreen trees or shrubs, mainly from Australia. There are many species, of various sizes, to suit most situations. They usually form elegant specimens that work well as focal points.
The leaves are generally blue-green or silvery, with a menthol-like fragrance. There is usually a juvenile leaf form that is often disc-like, while adult leaves tend to be long and pointed. Coppicing can keep plants producing juvenile foliage, which is popular for flower arrangements.
Eucalyptus bark can be highly ornamental, in shades of grey, brown, green, pink and white. In some species it forms a multi-coloured mosaic, as the outer layer peels off in patches or strips to reveal new hues underneath.
The flowers are small petal-less pompoms of white or cream stamens (occasionally yellow, pink or red). They are rich in nectar, attracting bees and other pollinators. They appear at various times of year, depending on the species.
Choosing the right eucalyptus
Eucalyptus make striking specimen trees with year-round appeal – eye-catching bark and evergreen, grey-blue leaves. They generally have a light canopy that doesn't cast deep shade, despite being evergreen.
Some can grow quite tall, ideal for large or medium-sized gardens, while others form shrubs or compact trees, for smaller gardens or even containers.
Eucalyptus can grow rapidly, especially in the initial years – typically 1m (3⅓ft) or more annually. Still, they can be pruned to keep them compact. Always check the eventual height before buying, to ensure the plant won't outgrow its space.
To explore the range of species, go to RHS Plants. Search for 'eucalyptus' to browse the photos and plant descriptions, and find out where to buy them.
How and what to buy
Eucalyptus are available from larger garden centres and some online plant suppliers, particularly tree specialists. Go to RHS Plants and search for 'eucalyptus' to find out where to buy specific species.
Popular and readily available species with an RHS Award of Garden Merit include:
cider gum (Eucalyptus gunnii)
snow gum (E. pauciflora subsp. niphophila)
mountain gum (E. dalrympleana)
Plants are sold at various sizes, but smaller specimens – up to 1m (3⅓ft) tall – tend to settle in more successfully.
Where to plant
Eucalyptus thrive in full sun. Most also grow well in:
Well-drained conditions, and most soil types, including poor soils
Large containers, ideally 60cm (2ft) or more in diameter
Most species dislike:
cold, frost-prone sites
When to plant
Plant eucalyptus in spring and summer, so they have plenty of time to get established before winter.
How to plant
Eucalyptus trees are easy to plant and should settle in quickly, especially if you buy smaller specimens up to 1m (3⅓ft) tall.
Planting in the ground
Don't enrich the soil with manure or garden compost, as this will encourage too much leafy growth
There is also no need to stake young, small plants – they will develop stronger roots if unsupported
Take care to plant them in the right position, as they dislike being moved once settled in
For full planting instructions, see our guide to planting trees.
Planting in a container
Use a multipurpose compost, such as soil-based John Innes No 2 or No 3
To improve drainage, mix in plenty of horticultural grit (up to 30 per cent by volume)
Water newly planted eucalyptus well, to help them settle in
After that, for the next few years until well rooted, you should only need to water during dry spells
Subsequently, watering isn't generally necessary
Many established specimens are drought tolerant
Keep the compost moist throughout the growing season
Make sure it doesn't become waterlogged
Reduce watering in winter
Tips on recycling and collecting water
How to water efficiently
Most established trees growing in the ground don't need feeding.
However, it can be beneficial to feed eucalyptus that have just been hard pruned, particularly if the tree isn't growing strongly. An application of Vitax Q4 or pelleted poultry manure according to the instructions on the pack in spring will give them a boost.
Feed monthly with a general-purpose liquid fertiliser throughout the growing season (April to September)
Re-pot every two years, into a container that is slightly larger, using fresh compost (as listed above in Planting in Containers) – see our guide to container maintenance
For the first few years after planting, maintain a circle of bare soil, free of weeds and other plants, around the base of the trunk, about 1m (3⅓ft) in diameter.
This ensures the developing roots don't have to compete for moisture or nutrients with other plants. It is particularly important with trees growing in lawns, as the dense grass would absorb much of the rainfall.
However, once settled in, dense planting around the base can help to restrict growth, if required, by limiting the amount of rainfall reaching the tree's roots.
Lay a thick layer of mulch over the soil in the area the roots are growing annually in early spring or autumn:
Use chipped bark, and apply to damp soil
This helps to hold moisture in the soil and deter weed germination
Leave a gap of about 7.5cm (3in) around the trunk, to discourage rot
The widely available species are generally hardy and need no protection over winter.
With plants growing in containers, move them to a sheltered spot over winter, such as against a south- or west-facing wall where it's a little warmer and it will prevent waterlogging by sheltering the plant from the worst of the rain.
You can also raise up containers on 'feet' or bricks, to keep the drainage holes clear. This ensures plants don't sit in soggy compost in winter.
Caring for older plants
Eucalyptus trees are generally long-lived and healthy if grown in suitable conditions (see Planting above), needing little ongoing care.
However, if they have become too large for their site, you can pollard or coppice them to reduce their size. See our guide to eucalyptus pruning.
Generally, established eucalyptus need little or no pruning. However, see our guide to eucalyptus pruning as pruning may be needed in a few cases:
On newly planted eucalyptus – these usually require some initial pruning, to ensure they form well-shaped trees
To keep the foliage in its juvenile form, which is often more ornamental and prized by both gardeners and florists
The best way to make new eucalyptus plants is grow them from seed, as cuttings are extremely difficult to root.
To grow from seed:
- Collect ripe seeds when the seed capsules split easily. They can take a year or more to ripen on the tree
- Put the seeds of hardy species in a fridge (at 3–5°C/37–41°F) for two months
- Sow seeds in mid February, into deep pots/modules (such as root trainers), as eucalyptus plants dislike root disturbance
- Use peat-free compost and, if possible, provide bottom heat (such as in a heater propagator) to encourage successful germination
- Plant the seedlings into their permanent positions by mid-summer, to give them the best chance of settling in well
Eucalyptus suffer from few problems, but you may occasionally come across:
Eucalyptus gall wasp – look out for tiny slightly raised swellings on the leaves. These pinkish-brown galls are hollow and contain a tiny grub. The galls are most noticeable in early spring, when infestations can cause heavy leaf fall. This pest is mainly restricted to southern England
Honey fungus – this fungus typically produces clumps of golden-brown toadstools in autumn. It attacks the roots and will eventually kill the tree
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