Learn all about potted eucalyptus plant care, including how to help your eucalyptus plant thrive indoors.
How to care for the gorgeous potted eucalyptus plant
Eucalyptus is one of my favorite scents. I’m not an essential oils person in that I think they do anything other than smell nice. But I have gone through my fair share of lavender and eucalyptus essential oils over the years!
And a few years ago I also bought some eucalyptus springs and put them in a jar. Years later, I still have them because they look pretty. They don’t really have any scent left. So even after the scent fades, eucalyptus still makes for lovely decor.
When I saw a live potted eucalyptus plant at one of my favorite local nurseries, I didn’t think twice. I immediately bought it. This was years ago, and I continue adding potted eucalyptus to my summer garden every year.
- Potted eucalyptus care overview
- What is eucalyptus?
- What is the most common eucalyptus?
- How much light does a potted eucalyptus plant need?
- How to water a potted eucalyptus
- What is the best soil?
- What is the best temperature?
- Fertilizing, pruning, and repotting
- What size pot is best?
- What are air pots?
- How to cut and preserve eucalyptus
Potted eucalyptus care overview
- Most species of eucalyptus are native to Australia; common varieties include baby blue, silver dollar, and lemon bush eucalyptus.
- Requires a lot of light; choose a very sunny spot in the garden.
- Indoor placement challenging; choose your sunniest spot and consider adding supplemental light if you do not receive enough natural light.
- Drought-tolerant; watering should allow soil to dry between sessions.
- Can be grown outdoors in USDA zones 8-11; in colder areas, it needs indoor protection in winter.
- Regular fertilization, pruning, and yearly repotting help to elongate your plant’s life and encourage its ongoing health.
- You can preserve eucalyptus leaves by drying them while hanging or in a glycerin solution.
What is eucalyptus?
I mean, you’ve probably heard of the plant, but have you ever seen a beautiful live one growing in real life? They are generally pretty simple-looking but classic plants. “Eucalyptus” itself is a genus of hundreds of plants in the Myrtaceae family.
Most of these species are native to Australia, which I totally forgot until doing some research for this article. So thanks to our mates Down Under. In fact, three-quarters of forests in Australia are Eucalyptus species, which is kind of incredible.
Wildfires are common in Australia, and Eucalyptus has adapted to fire by developing the ability to survive and resprout after being burned. Nature is metal. And since they are native to Australia, they’ve been introduced with success into other similar climates.
In the states they grow well year round in California, but where I’m at in Maryland that isn’t an option. It gets way too cold in the winter. And I’m guessing that your climate might be similar, so I’m going to chat mostly about growing eucalyptus in pots for this article.
What is the most common eucalyptus?
The kind of eucalyptus I have, and the kind of eucalyptus you might find at your local nursery, is eucalyptus pulverulenta—also known as “baby blue” eucalyptus—which is something florists often use in arrangements.
They retain a lot of their lovely scent, largely thanks to the waxy coating on the leaves that helps the cut sprigs last a long time when cut in water.
Another variety I’ve seen at local nurseries is silver dollar eucalyptus, which I was familiar with. It looks a bit different from baby blue eucalyptus but overall, the plants can be hard to tell apart (at least for me) unless they are next to each other. I have also seen the “lemon bush” variety, which has a nice lemon scent.
How much light does a potted eucalyptus plant need?
A lot of light. So for me, indoors was a challenge. When I first brought a little eucalyptus plant home, I kept it in the highest light area I could manage in my house. It wasn’t ideal, and it didn’t grow at all. But it was fine for a few weeks until it got warm enough outdoors.
Ideally, eucalyptus plants need high levels of light. About a half day of bright direct light or, ideally, full sun. It might look nice in lower light for a bit (like in my house), but it won’t look great for long.
But that’s good news because that means it won’t immediately die in poor lighting conditions—it does have some patience. Just don’t deprive it of bright light for too long! It makes a good potted accent plant on a sunny balcony or patio.
How to water a potted eucalyptus
Generally eucalyptus plants, native to the diverse climates of Australia, have evolved to thrive in conditions that can be both harsh and variable. This evolutionary background plays a critical role in their care. For instance, their drought tolerance is a direct adaptation to Australia’s often arid and hot environment.
Understanding this, we can mimic their natural habitat by allowing the soil to dry out between waterings, which also prevents root rot. Keep in mind, though, that plants that are in containers will lose moisture much faster than plants that are in the ground or large garden beds. So you want to make sure the potting soil is thoroughly damp when you water it.
Where we are, in the late spring, we don’t need to water every day. However, in the peak heat of late June, July, and August, soil in potted plants can dry out in a day. When caring for my plants, I found that a daily soaking works well. Know your climate and how quickly your plants dry out.
If you under water your potted eucalyptus plant and the leaves begin to dry, turn pale, and shrivel, they won’t recover with additional watering. They are done and dead and you’ll need to pick them off.
But don’t worry, just a few shriveled leaves doesn’t mean the plant is a goner. It just means you need to pay a bit more attention to its watering needs. Keep your plant in appropriately moist is soil.
What is the best soil?
Eucalyptus plants enjoy a well-draining and loose potting soil that retains some water—but not so much that it will drown the roots. I plant mine in a Fox Farm soil mix that I keep on hand all spring and summer for most of my potted planted.
It’s a great, lightweight soil that is packed with nutrients. And a big bag tends to go a long way. If it’s too pricy for your budget, you can use any soil designed for potted plants with confidence that it isn’t too dense for your eucalyptus plant.
What is the best temperature?
Eucalyptus can be grown only in the U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 11. So that means that in most of the U.S., they can’t stay outdoors over the winter.
Anytime the temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, your plant could be in danger. Therefore, you should move the plant indoors when the temperature drops this low. If you move your plant to somewhere without enough light or that is too dry, your plant might not be happy.
If you don’t have a greenhouse, you’re likely stuck bringing the pot indoors. Put it next to the brightest window possible (or under a grow light) and mist the leaves throughout the winter. Not going to lie, it might throw a bit of a fit for you due to lack of light. But it will likely rebound in the spring.
You can also choose to chop down your plant at the end of the growing season and use it for arrangements, as I do. I treat potted eucalyptus as an annual in my garden, simply purchasing a new small plant every spring and watching it explode with growth all summer.
Fertilizing, pruning, and repotting
To help keep your eucalyptus happy and healthy, it’s a good idea to fertilize it every few weeks during its active growing season. The best fertilizer to use is a low nitrogen, low phosphorous, high potassium fertilizer. (If you’re looking at labels, look for 10-30-10 or 10-10-10 concentrated fertilizer that you dilute in water.)
Since potted eucalyptus plants grow fairly quickly, they often need a bit of pruning and repotting. You can nip the ends off of your plant if it’s getting too unruly, or you can add a stake in and help it grow up while it’s still small (otherwise it will grow out and take over a lot of surface area).
If you’re growing your plant year round, you should do any major pruning in the spring when your plant can rebound quickly. I simply snip mine throughout the spring and summer for shape or to take cuttings for arrangements.
As your plant begins to grow, you can repot it every few years—also in the spring—with fresh potting soil. It’s a good idea to give the plant a few extra inches of growing room by sizing the pot up a bit.
Only go about an inch or two—a pot that is too big will have too much excess soil and retain too much water. If you’re growing your plant as an annual, you may even find that you need to repot it in the summer if it’s growing prolifically.
What size pot is best?
First, no matter what size pot you choose, select something with good drainage. The drainage holes will let all of the excess water drain out of the bottom and prevent overwatering.
Second, know that keeping your plant root bound in a round pots for too many years can lead the roots to circle densely around the shape of the pot. If this circling goes on for too long, the roots can become more than just root bound. They will become extremely tight and unable to free themselves once the plant is transplanted to a larger pot.
So what’s the right kind of pot to plant your eucalyptus in? Well, do you want it to be a long-term thing, eventually growing in a larger pot? If so, let’s talk about air pots.
What are air pots?
Air pots help to prevent this major root circling and binding. Remember, the roots grow quickly—they will take over and continue in that pattern. Even after you transplant the eucalyptus plant into a larger pot. This isn’t good for the plant’s new growth.
In fact, this pot-bound root growth can lead to the eventual downfall of your plant as it continues to get larger. The root system won’t be able to support the plant and provide the best new growth. Air pots are a special sort of pot made out of plastic. The plastic has bumps and patterns in it to help the plant’s root system spread and grow more naturally.
It prevents the root bound circling you get in traditional pots. As I mentioned, I don’t keep my eucalyptus plants in air pots because I generally treat them as annuals. But it’s something I recommend keeping in mind based on your climate and goals!
How to cut and preserve eucalyptus
One great way to preserve eucalyptus branches so they look like the lovely dried ones you buy at the craft store is to cut and dry them upside down. Like a lot of other herbs, you can cut the stems off, tie them in a bundle, and hang them upside down to dry.
If you just want to dry and preserve the leaves, you can do so by gently removing them from the stems and pressing them between two paper towels. (Check out some tips on drying greens in this article I did about crafting with greenery and resin.)
If you want to preserve the pliability of the leaves, you can dry the leaves in a glycerin solution. This preserves some of the color, and the leaves take on an even more leathery appearance. I have a detailed tutorial for doing this here: How to Dry Eucalyptus.
Caring for a eucalyptus plant, much like any aspect of gardening, can have a bit of a learning curve. But once you determine a care routine that’s appropriate for your growing conditions, watching a plant thrive is so rewarding!
Understanding the unique needs of these beautiful plants allows us to bring a little piece of their native Australian habitat right into our gardens and homes. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a beginner, eucalyptus will make a fun addition to your collection. Happy planting!