Learn all about eucalyptus plant care, including how to care for potted eucalyptus and how to help your eucalyptus plant thrive indoors!
Eucalyptus Plant Care: How to Care for Potted Eucalyptus
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, just to be clear. But I have put some lavender and eucalyptus essential oil scents to WORK over the years. And a few years ago I also bought some dried eucalyptus springs and put them in a jar.
Years later, I still have them because they look pretty. But they don’t really have much—if any—scent left now. So when I saw a live potted eucalyptus plant at one of my favorite local nurseries, I didn’t think twice. I immediately bought it. I had never seen a potted one in real life!
So tell me about 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 post. 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.
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 post.
What is the most common eucalyptus I might find?
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.
How much light does a potted eucalyptus plant need?
A lot of light. So for me, indoors was a challenge. I kept my newly potted plant in a high light area, but unfortunately since this was a tempting plant for my kitties and isn’t something they should eat, I couldn’t put it in the best indoor spot for light. It was fine for a few weeks until it got warm enough outdoors, though.
Ideally, eucalyptus plants need high levels of light. Like 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!
Eucalyptus plant care: Watering needs
Generally eucalyptus plants are drought tolerant. After all they are from the very hot Australia. However, all 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.
It’s best to let potted eucalyptus dry out between each watering, so in the late spring where we are, that means 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. So a daily soaking is probably best. 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.
One key thing to keeping your plant appropriately moist is 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 planted mine in a mix of regular indoor potting soil and high-quality peat moss.
How to care for eucalyptus: Temperature needs
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. Therefore, 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.
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).
You should do any major pruning in the spring when your plant can rebound quickly. If you want to help encourage your plant to grow a certain way (tree vs. shrub, for example), you should probably do your heavy duty pruning at this time. It’s the beginning of growing season, after all!
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. My plant was pretty small, so I started it in a 6-inch pot. Here’s to hoping I need to size up soon!
Eucalyptus plant care: Choosing the right size pot
Choosing the right pot for your eucalyptus plant is a critical step, especially if you’re growing it indoors and it will always stay in a pot. 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.
Note that I have my eucalyptus plant in a small round pot now because it’s still quite young. However, I have big dreams for this plant and am really hoping I can make it a few years! And 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 or in the ground (if you’re somewhere that that is an option).
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 large enough to either plant in the ground or place in a very large pot somewhere? If so, let’s talk about air pots.
Want more plant care tips? You’ll love my guides on how to take care of monstera plants, the ponytail palm, snake plants, elephant ear, pothos, rubber plants, fiddle leaf figs, peperomia plants, succulents, and philodendron.
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 or even the ground. They will continue growing in that “pot bound” pattern, which 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.
Air pots are not super cute, though. So if you really want that potted plant look, you can plant your eucalyptus plant in an air pot and set it inside of a decorative pot. As I mentioned, I don’t have my plant in an air pot right now because it’s so small, but it’s definitely something I will consider for the future!
How to cut and preserve eucalyptus
The best 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 post I did about crafting with greenery and resin.) The mature leaves should become thick and leathery, while the smaller leaves will crinkle a bit and become wrinkled.
Another way to preserve eucalyptus leaves is by using glycerin. Even though I haven’t done this yet, I’m going to share a few tips I read about online. First mix glycerin and boiling water in a 1:2 ratio. Then pour the mixture into a large container—a size large enough to submerge the eucalyptus branch in.
You might need to add more of this mixture as the cuttings begin to develop. The leaves should begin changing colors, and once they all do, the process is complete. Remove them from the mixture, shake off the excess, and hang to dry for a few days.