Growing Eucalyptus in Patio Pots

 

Growing Eucalyptus in a pot

You could take any Eucalyptus tree and stick it in any old pot in some sort of compost and it will grow (after a fashion), but if you want more than a stab at success, read the following suggestions.

Siting your tree:  
what is its growing conditions going to be like?

The ideal location for your potted Eucalyptus would be in a sunny position, where it is easy for you to water on a regular basis.  It can sit happily amongst other potted plants, provided it is not in shade. Eucalyptus look great when grown along with a collection of potted Phormium, lush Banana plants, Acacia, vibrant Canna lilies and spikey Cordylines.

What to avoid:

  • Windy exposed front gardens.  Any tree species in a pot will keep falling over and require far too much watering, it's going to dry out and shrivel and you will become depressed!
  • Dark gloomy locations under other trees: Eucalyptus require full sun. They will only brighten up a dark corner for a few weeks, after that, they will become depressed!

To help prevent your pot falling over in windy weather, you could try the following:-

  • Temporarily move the Eucalyptus to a more sheltered venue
  • Stand your airpot inside a heavy ornamental pot
  • Apply a mulch of large pebbles (hen/goose egg size) to the top of the compost to weight the pot down (this also reduces water loss)

Choice of Pot:
the first decision you need to take is whether, long term, you intend to plant your Eucalyptus in the ground, once it has outgrown your pot and/or garden.   If, after say 8 years, your tree has grown to 3 metres (10ft) tall (species dependent) and is starting to exert its authority, what are you going to do with it?  Very few people will take the decision to pot it on and keep it growing, as by this stage it is turning in to a small civil engineering project!  

If you want to give your super-sized tree to a parks department or friend with large garden, you will need to have been growing your Eucalyptus in an air-pot.  
If you originally purchased a
KangarooT Tree from Grafton Nursery, it will have been grown in an air-pot and have a radial super-fibrous root system.

To get your own larger air-pot visit www.airpotgarden.com   If you are potting on a 1 litre Eucalyptus, move it on into a 12 litre pot for the first two seasons and thereafter, pot it on into a 45-50 litre pot, where it should be happy for several years.

Round pots and dodgy roots:
If a Eucalyptus is grown in a conventional round pot, the fast growing roots will encounter the pot wall very quickly and continue to grow round in a spiral.  Once this happens they continue to expand and if then planted out into the ground they will carry on growing in a spiral.  The tree will fail to establish well and will most likely fall over in windy conditions, anything from 1 year up to 15-20 years later.

Far better to use your giant but redundant patio Eucalyptus to light the 'barbie' than inflict in on a friend!

Air-pot inside an ornamental container:        
Many people become attached to their potted trees and will not want to torch them when they have outstayed their welcome (i.e. outgrown their pot). To this end, buy it a large air-pot and plant it up correctly.  You can always place the air-pot inside another ornamental cover  if you do not fancy looking at black spikey containers.   Eucalyptus in metal or blue pots look stunning.   Provided there is an air gap between the air-pot and your pot cover, root pruning will continue and your Eucalyptus will remain healthy.  At a later date (say in 5-8 years time) and if the need arises, you can donate your magnificent specimen to a large garden, with confidence.

If you feel no allegiance to your Eucalyptus, grow it in a large conventional ornamental terrace pot, but be prepared to dispose of it, when it is too large.   In this instance, please do not be tempted to plant it in the ground: it is a liability.

Compost
The compost needs to be stable, free draining and moisture retentive.  Make your own by blending John Innes number 1 or 2  with a good quality peat free compost (Ericaceous is best) on a  50:50 basis.  Add a pinch only of moisture retaining granules to help with the watering and some low nitrogen, slow release fertiliser granules (quantity as per the manufacturers recommendations).

Aftercare
Feeding:   
If you used slow release fertiliser granules to pot on your Eucalyptus, they will keep working for you for one growing season. Thereafter, you will need to liquid feed.

Liquid feed your potted Eucalyptus once a week, from the beginning of April until the end of August, using a low nitrogen, high phosphorous, high potash fertiliser (Chempak No.8 soluble powder).  

      Food note: In any event, liquid feed your Eucalyptus twice during August with a high potassium feed to ripen the wood and increase your trees ability to deal with cold weather and frost conditions.  This applies to any potted plant, not just Eucalyptus.

 

Watering:  
Keep an eye on the watering of your potted Eucalyptus.  Whilst they are drought tolerant when estalished and growing in the ground and they can tolerate a little drying out in the pot, but they are fairly unforgiving if you let them become crispy.  Shrivelled leaves do not recover and once the plant gets to the permanent wilting point there is a high possibility it might die.

Airpots can dry out quite quickly in windy weather and therefore a little moisture retaining granules can help with compost water retention and reduce stress for your tree  (but don't be tempted to over do it). Nor should you ever leave your tree sitting fully submerged in water to soak for more than half an hour; it is possible to drown roots.

      Water note:  To help give you an idea of the correct weight of a fully hydrated air-pot grown Eucalyptus during the growing season, as a rule of thumb:
      1 litre air-pot, when wet, equates to a large mug of tea
      9 litre airpot, when wet, equates to an average full carrier bag of supermarket shopping
      Any lighter than this and they will most likely need watering

 

Pruning:
A little trimming now and then will keep your potted Eucalyptus happy and in good condition. Generally most species are fast growing and they can produce a great deal of top growth, which will be out of balance with the roots.  

You can nip out the ends of the shoots on a regular basis during the growing season, especially with the bushier species.  Also, depending upon your choice of species,  prune to the pyramid shape with the top chopped off (see hedges and screens) in the spring as growth starts.  If you live in a warm part of the UK, you could also prune the Eucalyptus in September if that is preferable to Spring pruning.  

Depending on how vigorous or not the species, you may only have to prune every other year.

Winter Protection:  
Any potted plant left out of doors over winter will be at risk when the temperature drops to 0C, particularly for prolonged periods.  The compost in the pot freezes and root death occurs below -4C.  Eucalyptus especially do not thrive under such conditions.

Potted Eucalyptus are also more vulnerable to freezing weather and frosts than the same species when grown in the ground.  Suggestions on how to protect the roots:

  • Move the Eucalyptus to a more sheltered location and either wrap the pot in hessian sacking stuffed with straw or stand the Eucalyptus pot in a larger pot packed with straw.
  • Move the plant to a greenhouse. If this is frost protected, your tree will be fine, otherwise it may still be a good idea to wrap the pot in straw
  • Move the plant to a light and airy conservatory for the hardest part of the winter.

Avoid keeping your potted Eucalyptus anywhere warm and/or dark over winter, as it will not be happy.

Choice of species
I have left the choice of species 'till last,  because you need to have worked through all the other parameters in the list above, before making your selection.  As is always the case with a Eucalyptus, it is important to match the right tree to your environment, to ensure that it is going to be successful and give you the desired result.

i) You can grow any Eucalyptus species in an Air- pot. How long you keep it for and the size it will ultimately attain, depends very much on the species,  its growing conditions and how you look after it

ii) Short term: 1 to 2 years, as an 'extended bedding plant'  E. globulus bicostata has stunning foliage and white stems, grows very fast, but not very hardy in the UK

iii) Up to 6-8 years: Bushy species are the best choice for pot culture. Have a look at the following:
E. archeri, E. coccifera, E. crenulata, E. nicholii, E. parvula, E. pulverulenta,

E. pulverulenta 'Baby Blue'.
E. risdonii
has a wonderful aroma, but will need winter protectection in most parts of the UK.

iv) Longer than 8 years: choose the smaller species, they grow slowly. Then they won't out grow their pot too quickly.  
E. gregsoniana (syn E. pauciflora Nana)
E. kybeanensis
E. vernicosa

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