Rainfall over the past month in McDonough, GA has been a stingy 1.2 inches. Combine that with an average daytime temperature in the low to mid 90’s and I’m tempted, for the first time in 2 years, to water sixty-five Eucalyptus trees left alone on a cramped and parched strip of land.
The temptation to water came from a walk around the gardens on a recent 97 degree day. I was surprised when I saw reliable natives like Eastern Redbud and American Beautyberry struggling to keep their leaves hydrated, especially at their tips.
On my way to the Eucalyptus trials I noticed some dieback in the always reliable Cryptomeria Japonica. If you are not familiar with this conifer it’s still a worthy candidate for a specimen or screen and should always, in my humble opinion, be planted instead of the more popular Leyland Cypress.
Out of the 65 three-year old trees, only one Eucalyptus - paucifloria ‘niphophilia’ (not through trials yet) - was showing any signs of distress from the recent month-long drought. In contrast, the other 64 Eucalyptus trees showed ample new growth, rigidity, and even blush and red stems usually reserved for the fall.
I'm sitting on a balcony at the Park Plaza hotel in Winter Park, Florida. It's not one of those pricey boutique joints where you pay three times as much for a small Euro style room and crappy service Nope, this place is a real gem! I read about it in Garden & Gun magazine, and for about the price of a Hampton, you get a real "old school" hotel experience.
I'm surrounded by hanging ferns, palms, and Bougainvillea, all overgrown and random, but somehow working as a whole. The mostly tropical plants frame the narrow balcony that hangs over the brick lined Park Ave. It makes for a perfect vantage point for people watching: funny and surreal at the same time. But it's 5 o'clock on a Friday, I have a cold beer in hand, and it's about all I could ask for. Okay, so maybe a little fragrance would be nice.
Just recently I started fielding a lot of questions about whether Eucalyptus trees would do well in pots on decks, patios and such. A lot of the inquiries are from folks who have discovered the elegant trees but live in parts of the country where it's just too cold to put them in the ground. Others are from the lower South, where the trees will thrive in the ground, but they want to be closer to the great fragrance and have access to the trees outstanding foliage.
So focused on proving cold hardiness in Southern Eucs, I never thought about how beautiful, fragrant, and functional these trees are when put in a great pot for easy access and for all to enjoy. When the trees roots get to the edge of the pot and are encircled, the tree's legendary growth rate is stunted. No issues with health and happiness, just a smaller version of a great tree!
In between growing Eucalyptus and producing TV, I find some time to do a little design work for friends and family. Recently, I was helping out a few such friends: one a talented graphic artist and musician, and the other, one of the country's top metal fabricators. Now both of these guys are the kind of dudes that just ooze with creativity, so I was surprised when I saw their hesitation with designing with plants. Sure, they get textures, tones, and balance, but not knowing about a plant's palette, care, and tendencies can throw up the white flag with the creative mind. The experience got me thinking about three little things homeowners, DIYers, and new gardeners can do, before they spend a penny, that will make a considerable impact on the landscape.
Thin - If it looks crowded or you're grooming it more often than yourself, get rid of it! Many new homes are left with "builders specials" where the landscape design was the last and least thing they thought about.
Limb - Don't look past a tree or shrub's trunk.. In my last blog I wrote about the wonderful contorted trunks and exfoliating bark of Eucalyptus trees http://southerneucs.com/blogs/news/27233028-move-over-crepe-myrtle. The same could be said for Japanese Maples, birches, and elms. Start by removing any crossing or diseased branches. Then remove any lower branches. With trees, prune to the point where you can walk under. With large shrubs, prune to point where you can add underpaintings.
Trim - Like the way you feel after a good haircut? So do your beds. Define them with a steep 3-5" trench. Use a sharp, flat shovel to get a good clean line. Refresh the beds with your mulch of choice. The method is very effective for those with a running grass like Bermuda. An occasional application of Roundup to the trench will keep the Bermuda out of your beds.
Did you know that Eucalyptus trees are in the same Myrtle family of plants as the Crepe Myrtle? It’s a diverse group that includes Clove, Guava, and Allspice. Now like any good cook, I love my Allspice. And like any Southern Gardener, I love my Crepe Myrtles. So much that I have 18 ‘Natchez’ lining my driveway. I like the white blooms and fall colors, but have always admired the smooth exfoliating bark on mature trees, especially in the South where a tree’s trunk often plays second fiddle to its flower.
15 year old 'Natchez' Crepe Myrtle
Eucalyptus trees, like their crepe cousins, share a similar blind faith from their admirers. Their evergreen blue to silver to green foliage is fragrant and used for everything from candy making to medicines. It’s a well-deserved first attribute when folks think about Eucs. But one look at a 2 year old Eucalyptus rubida ‘Cab Sav’s’ bark in our McDonough Trials might get you to rethink your priorities. It did me!
2 year old Eucalyptus rubida 'Cab Sav'
The cinnamon and orange paper thin bark that is peeling back to reveal a cream trunk is stunning. Never saw those bright sharp colors and delicate layers on any of my beloved crepes, and those trees lining my driveway are over 15 years old.
There’s an old saying about reasonable expectations one should have when planting trees. It goes something like this.
“The first year they sleep…The second year they creep...The third year they leap.”
Not sure who said it first, but I know it didn’t come from anyone who has ever planted a Eucalyptus tree!
Eucalyptus Tree: rubida 'Cab Sav'
Location: McDonough, GA Home
Seed started: 2/5/13
Picture taken: 5/14/15
Current size: 8 -9'
Eucalyptus Tree: elliptica 'Grace'
Location: McDonough, GA Trials Garden
Seed started: 2/5/13
Picture taken: 8/15/14
Size: 14 -16'
Current size: 20'+
Eucalyptus Tree: nicholii 'Angus'
Location: McDonough, GA Home
Seed started: 2003
Picture taken: 6/4/13
Current size: 50'
"That's the Fact, Jack." --- John Winger - Stripes
Following a cold winter (6 degrees here in McDonough, GA /zone 8a) is there anything cooler than seeing what a new or marginal plant will do in your landscape? Our Southern Euc trials on cold hardy Eucalyptus trees are entering their third season. From over 700 species of Eucalyptus we identified 25 that we believed would be most cold hardy in our region. Some like Eucalyptus coccifera, cinera, urnigera, and robusta were quick to pan out when temps dropped into the 20’s. Others like Eucalyptus rubida, stellulata, perrinianna, neglecta, and pauciflora lived up to their claims and had only slight leaf damage following single digit temps.
But it’s what I saw on Eucalyptus camphora and elliptica, two lesser known species, that offered a real surprise. The evergreen trees behaved more like their neighboring oaks; holding onto old brittle leaves only to shed them when temperatures warmed. I had seen Eucalyptus, in cold temps, behave more like perennials – growing back from the base – but never mimic a deciduous tree.