The charming juvenile foliage of Eucalyptus gunnii ‘Silver Drop’ (Silver Drop cider gum); photo by Marlon Co
Eucalyptus plants, members of the Myrtaceae family, are captivating additions to any indoor space. While predominantly found in Australia and Tasmania, these plants encompass a remarkable diversity of up to 800 species. Ranging from shrubs to towering trees, such as the world’s tallest broadleaf tree, Eucalyptus regnans, these captivating plants thrive in various habitats. With their rapid growth and valuable timber, certain eucalyptus species prove indispensable to the timber industry. Furthermore, the name “gum tree” is derived from the sticky exudate found in some species.
The Appeal of Eucalyptus Houseplants
Eucalyptus houseplants showcase a unique feature – their distinctive, round, gray-green juvenile leaves. These leaves, distinct from the mature form, create a visually enticing display. However, growing Eucalyptus indoors can pose a challenge. These plants require abundant sunlight, and specific species need a cooler winter period to maintain their well-being. It’s important to note that these delicate young houseplants can rapidly transform into towering trees. Eucalyptus gunnii, also known as cedar gum, is a popular choice for temporary indoor growth. Yet, it’s essential to be aware that your plant will eventually outgrow your home, necessitating relocation or disposal. Other dwarf cultivars and species can thrive indoors for anywhere between one and five years.
Light: A Crucial Element
Adequate lighting is crucial for the care of Eucalyptus plants. These plants require strong, direct light to maintain vibrant foliage. Ideally, they should receive at least 6 hours of full sunlight daily, preferably from a southern exposure. It’s important to avoid low-light conditions, as they can lead to their rapid deterioration.
Watering and Humidity
Proper hydration is vital when caring for Eucalyptus plants. Water your plant thoroughly until water drains from the bottom hole, and then allow the soil to almost dry out before watering again. To ensure a consistent care routine, consider using a water meter to gauge soil moisture. During winter, reduce watering as the plant enters a period of rest.
Choosing the right planting container is crucial. Without a drain hole or the removal of excess water from the saucer, the root system can become overly saturated, leading to rapid decline. Fortunately, household humidity levels typically suffice for these plants, eliminating the need for additional misting.
Eucalyptus plants thrive in normal home temperatures ranging from 65 to 75ºF. To shield them from adverse microclimates, keep them away from heat sources, air conditioning vents, drafty doors, and windows. These plants are sensitive to rapid temperature fluctuations. During winter, it is advisable to lower temperatures to around 45 to 50ºF for certain Eucalyptus species sold as houseplants, including Eucalyptus gunnii.
Proper Re-potting Techniques
Due to their fast growth, Eucalyptus plants quickly outgrow their containers. Therefore, it is essential to re-pot them every spring. Some faster-growing varieties may even require re-potting twice a year. When repotting, choose a container that is one or two sizes larger than the previous one and use a mixture of organic potting soil, perlite or sharp sand for drainage, and peat moss. Some species of Eucalyptus prefer mildly acidic soil. Ensure that the entire root structure is covered with the potting mixture.
Avoid keeping Eucalyptus plants in decorative containers without drain holes, as this can lead to various problems. To maintain aesthetics, you can insert a plastic pot with a drain hole into a non-draining decorative container. Remember to remove the interior pot when watering and allow the soil to drain completely before placing the Eucalyptus back in the decorative container.
Providing Adequate Nutrition
Feed your Eucalyptus plant with an organic houseplant food once a month during spring to fall. This regular feeding schedule helps ensure the plant receives the necessary nutrients for healthy growth.
Embracing a Winter Rest
During winter, hardy Eucalyptus plants like E. gunnii require a rest period with minimal water, no fertilizer, and lower temperatures, around 45 to 50 ºF. This non-growth period, occurring under lower light conditions, enables the plant to rejuvenate and prepare for the upcoming growing season. Without this period of rest, Eucalyptus houseplants may lose vigor and may even perish.
Immature leaves become covered with a stiff, waxy, grey coating as they age
Eucalyptus plants are commonly propagated from seed. Plant the seeds in spring using a seed-starting potting medium, and keep them in bright, indirect light at temperatures ranging from 70 to 75ºF. Bottom watering ensures uniformly moist, but not wet, soil. Once true leaves appear, individual plants can be potted into small pots using the same soil mixture as mature plants (refer to ‘Re-Potting’). Remember to water them as you would a mature plant and be prepared to repot when the roots fill the container.
What to Expect When Receiving a Plant in the Mail
Occasionally, Eucalyptus plants arrive as gifts via mail. Understand that these plants will experience stress during transportation, often lacking light and water for an extended period. They may also encounter temperature extremes. As a result, acclimation and recovery require time. Maintain a stable environment, provide optimal care, and minimize changes. With patience and gentle attention, the plant will gradually regain vigor, displaying new growth. However, expect several weeks for the plant to fully recover after this challenging journey. If possible, purchase your Eucalyptus from a nursery or plant store and personally transport it home to ensure a more auspicious start for both you and the plant.
Monitoring Your Plant’s Health
Leaf curl is an unmistakable sign of stress in Eucalyptus plants. It indicates that something is amiss in the plant’s growing environment. Consider the following possibilities if you notice dry and curling leaves:
- The plant may be struggling to adapt to its new home or pot. Transplantation can temporarily impede water uptake, giving the plant a parched appearance. Review the suggested care practices and ensure the plant receives the proper care to aid in its recovery. Verify that it has been replanted in suitable soil, fully covering the root structure, using a pot no larger than one size up, while also avoiding air conditioning or other sources of rapid temperature change. With the right care routine, the plant should adjust and rebound.
- Insufficient direct sunlight may be a contributing factor to leaf curl.
- Leaf curl can also signify that the plant has outgrown its pot, lacking the necessary resources for healthy growth.
- Alternatively, the plant may be in overly wet soil. Ensure the pot has a drain hole, remove excess water after each watering, and allow the soil to almost dry out before watering again.
- If the plant did not experience its necessary winter rest period, it may lose strength and eventually die. Remember to provide the required low temperatures, reduced watering, and no fertilization during winter.
The leaves of your Eucalyptus houseplant may become stiff and gray. When grown as a houseplant, most likely, you will observe only the rounded, juvenile leaves. While some Eucalyptus species also exhibit mature leaf forms, they typically do not appear on small houseplants. Even these immature leaves undergo distinct stages, beginning soft and green but gradually developing a stiff, waxy, gray coating as they mature.
For a thriving Eucalyptus houseplant, follow these guidelines, ensuring proper lighting, watering, temperature, and repotting practices. By providing adequate nutrition and allowing for a winter rest period, you can achieve lush foliage and vibrant growth. So, embrace the enchanting world of Eucalyptus houseplants and enjoy the unique beauty they bring to your indoor space.