November 21st, 2002


the trouble with eucalyptus...

One of my absolute favorite things on drives around the Bay Area are the eucalyptus tree groves... I love the smell, which is, in nature, a whole lot nicer than the smell of a eucalyptus cough drop.

The unfortunate aspect, however, is that eucalyptus trees are entirely too successful and thrive entirely too easily in California... almost as successful here as they are in Australia. Plant small seedlings one year, and the next you might be faced with an eight foot tall tree. This is very bad if you are renting, because the tree you plant when you move in might become the tree that threatens to come crashing through the house's roof when you leave... they can easily grow up to 50' in California. They are also well known for being highly flammable trees

So, how do you get your garden to have that rather distinctive smell without having that rather distinctively large tree? I have been trying to figure that one out.

I looked at keeping eucalyptus trees in pots, but some of the information that I have seen indicates that this creates very weak trees, with their roots bound into the pot in such a way as to risk the general health of the tree.

Also, I have been trying to see whether there are smaller varieties of eucalyptus out there. No luck yet. However, I did see one interesting suggestion on a British website. It suggests letting the eucalyptus grow for a year or two until it reaches a bit over 6' in height, then coppicing it in early springtime to about 4"-6" above ground level. The tree should then theoretically sprout a bunch of new shoots that should only grow to about 6' in height, essentially forming something shaped much more like a bush.

This sounds like a good answer, and I think it's what I want to do... still I think I would dread actually coppicing a tree that I had planted and nurtured for several years... Imagine if no new shoots did emurge and all you were left with was a stump! I think I want to go to Santa Cruz and visit the UCSC Arboretum, as they have a section specifically for Australian and New Zealand plants, which includes coppiced eucalyptus.

Yes, I am a bit obsessive about these things. So what... ?!