Eucalyptus or gum tree is a fast-growing evergreen tree that looks attractive all year round, thanks to its decorative foliage and bark. Its ornamental leaves are large, grey-green or blue-grey, and the main stems shed their bark to create an appealing patterned ‘snakeskin’ effect. Mature trees may also produce clusters of petal-less flowers in summer. Eucalyptus trees are native to Australia and are therefore suitable for growing in milder areas of UK. They’re tolerant of drought once established.
Eucalyptus is easily recognised by its large, waxy, lance-shaped evergreen leaves, which are grey-green or blue-grey in colour and aromatic when crushed. The bark naturally sheds every year to create attractive patterns on the trunk, in colours that vary from white, cream and shades of grey, sometimes with pink or orange tints.
The most commonly grown eucalyptus is the cider gum (Eucalyptus gunnii), which tolerates hard pruning and can be cut back to the ground annually to form a bushy shrub. Kept in this state, it produces rounded, blue-grey juvenile leaves only, which are popular for using in floral arrangements. Smaller-growing eucalyptus suitable for growing as specimen trees include the snow gum (Eucalyptus niphophila) and the round-leaved snow gum (Eucalyptus perriniana).
How to grow eucalyptus
Grow eucalyptus in milder areas of the country, in a sheltered, sunny spot protected from cold winds. Plant in spring or early summer and keep watered during dry spells for the first growing season. If growing as a shrub, hard prune the whole plant in early spring.
Where to grow eucalyptus
Eucalyptus trees look best as specimens, singly in a lawn or border, or as screen planting in a line or group. Ensure there is sufficient room for growth, especially if choosing the largest species. To grow Eucalyptus gunnii as an annually pruned shrub, plant singly or in a small group in a border. Site in full sun and sheltered from cold winds. Soil that drains freely as eucalyptus won’t thrive on moisture-retentive ground. Ideally, soil should have a pH that is neutral to acid, as eucalyptus don’t do well in alkaline soils.
How to plant eucalyptus
Plant eucalyptus in spring or early summer to give sufficient time for the plant to establish before the colder months. Plant into reasonably fertile, well drained soil, but without additional organic matter or fertilizer. Ensure the top of the rootball is level with the surrounding soil, firm in and water well. Secure the tree with a short stake and a tree tie.
How to prune eucalyptus
Eucalyptus that are grown as trees need no regular pruning. Take out any dead or damaged branches, in early spring.
To grow Eucalyptus gunnii as a shrub, hard prune each year or every second year, in early spring, taking all growth back almost to ground level.
Growing eucalyptus: problem solving
Eucalyptus are trouble-free and needs virtually no maintenance once established, provided they are sited and grown in the right conditions. Soil that is too moist causes discoloured, weak growth and the tree may ultimately die. Strong, cold winds are likely to damage and scorch the leaves.
Despite being evergreen, large eucalyptus trees can shed a lot of leaves over the year. As they are waxy they take a while to break down, so you may find you need to remove them from your borders as a thick layer of waxy leaves could inhibit herbaceous growth in spring. (It’s worth thinking about leaves falling on your neighbours’ gardens, too.)
Advice on buying eucalyptus
- Eucalyptus gunnii is widely available from nurseries and garden centres
- Other species of eucalyptus may sometimes be available or may need to be ordered from specialist nurseries
- While a range of sizes may be offered, it’s best to buy and plant eucalyptus while fairly small (up to around 1.5 m high) so they can establish a good root system
Where to buy eucalptus
Eucalyptus varieties to grow
Eucalyptus gunnii – tall and slender, with blue-green young foliage, maturing to grey-green. Height x Spread: 25m x 12m unless cut back annually
Eucalyptus pauciflora niphophila – this small, spreadubg tree is ideal for smaller gardens. Large, leathery mid-green leaves. H x S: 8m x 8m