Native to Australia (and a favorite food of koala bears!), eucalyptus is an attractive ornamental plant which grows into tree form in the wild and reaches heights of 150 feet or more! It’s also found in warm climates in the U.S., such as California and Texas. But in the rest of the country, it’s grown as an annual. With its striking round or oval aromatic foliage, it also makes a great cut or dried flower for arrangements. “What’s interesting about eucalyptus is that when grown as an annual, it looks very different in its first year of life than it does in tree form,” says Hilary Alger, product manager of herbs and flowers at Johnny’s Seeds. “It’s generally easy to grow so it’s a great addition to most gardens.”
Here’s what else you need to know about how to grow eucalyptus plants:
How do I grow eucalyptus?
It’s uncommon to see eucalyptus for sale in nurseries in much of the country, and, sadly, seeds have been in limited supply in recent years due to the Australian wildfires. When you do find seeds, it’s not recommended to direct seed into the garden. Instead, start eucalyptus seeds indoors early to give them a head start because it takes about 10 to 12 weeks to develop a transplant, says Alger. Plant them in seed starting soil in small pots or flats in a mini greenhouse; a heat mat also helps them germinate faster. But be patient! Eucalyptus seeds take from 14 to 21 days to germinate. Bottom water or mist occasionally but don’t keep them soggy.
Once your transplants reach about 4 to 6 inches tall, they’re ready to go outdoors. Make sure all danger of frost is past in your area, then plant them in full sun, which is 6 or more hours of direct sunlight. You can plant into garden beds or large containers, which should be a minimum of 5 gallons to accommodate their mature root systems, says Alger.
After transplanting, don’t expect much at first. The baby eucalyptus plants will sort of hang out for a while, not really doing much of anything. But after about a month, they’ll finally take off and start growing quickly to reach a height of about 4 or more feet, depending on the variety.
How do I care for eucalyptus plants?
Eucalyptus plants are not fussy, tolerate most types of soils, and don’t have pest or disease issues. They’re also drought tolerant due to the waxy coating on their foliage, which helps them conserve moisture. But low water doesn’t mean no water; water deeply if it hasn’t rained for a week. It’s not necessary to fertilize.
When can I harvest my eucalyptus plants?
“If you harvest too young, the tips of the foliage tend to wilt,” says Alger. Wait until as late in the growing season as possible— but before a hard frost. Then snip long branches when the stems and leaves feel firm and leathery, not soft and tender. Harvest during the cool part of the day and immediately place in water. There are many different techniques for drying, but the easiest is to hang them upside down in a cool, dark area or leave them upright in a bucket. Use in arrangements or wreaths, or create a eucalyptus bundle to hang in the shower.
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