Gum trees have had a lot of bad press: they grow too big, fall over, drop branches and have other habits gardeners will not tolerate. But these problems relate to some species, often badly planted or positioned, not to all gum trees. Some of the species that have given all gum trees a bad image include the Tasmanian blue gum, Tasmania’s floral emblem, which grew into a towering forest giant, and the Sydney blue gum, which also grew very big.
But gums have a lot to offer. Many grow quickly to give dappled shade and privacy, have pretty flowers and will attract birds, insects and even small mammals to your garden. Gum trees deserve a revival in our backyards so to help you find your way through the hundreds of species and varieties of gums ‘Burke’s Backyard’ has put together a list of the 10 best garden friendly gum trees.
Scribbly Gum, Eucalyptus haemastoma, is known as the tree with scribbly writing on the trunk (or trunks as it may have multiple trunks). To create the illusion of a clump, up to seven trees can be planted in the one hole or a young tree can be staked out prostrate on the ground when young. The side branches create the illusion of a series of trunks.
- up to 10m (30′) tall with cream flowers in autumn and spring.
- Grows in all but the tropics and is frost tolerant. Needs good drainage and full sun, but tolerates poor or shallow soils.
Dwarf Angophora, Angophora costata ‘Little Gumball’, is a hybrid gum never known to flower. Found 14 years ago as a chance seedling in a garden in Frankston, Victoria it has proved to be an excellent small, multiple-trunked tree. After 14 years the original plant is 5m or 15′ high, with red new leaves and pink to orange-red bark.
- 5m (15′) tall but slow growing.
- Grows in frost-free areas of Australia to the sub-tropics. Likes full sun or part shade and plenty of water in summer.
Plunkett Mallee, Eucalyptus curtisii, is a fast-growing small tree with many smooth barked trunks and masses of white, nectar-laden flowers in spring.
- 7m (21′) tall but slender, fast-growing and quick to flower.
- Grows from the tropics to southern Australia in well-drained, sandy soils in full sun.
Water Gum,Tristaniopsis laurina, although not a eucalypt, has the common name of gum. It grows naturally by streams and rivers, has deep green laurel-like leaves and clusters of yellow flowers in summer.
- 6-10m (24-30′) with a dense crown of leaves; reasonably fast growing.
- Grows from the subtropics (Brisbane) to southern Australia in shade to full sun.
- Tolerant of poorly drained soils.
Argyle Apple, Eucalyptus cinerea, is known by its round grey-blue leaves that often pop up in floral arrangements. These are grown in commercial plantations and cut back regularly to encourage new growth for picking. In the garden keep it pruned or allow it to grow into a medium-sized tree.
- up to 12m (36′) tall and fast growing.
- Grows from the subtropics to southern Australia in full sun in well-drained soils.
Large-fruited Yellow Gum, Eucalyptus leucoxylon ssp. megalocarpa, is a gum to grow for its large, decorative flowers which are usually light pink.
- 5-10m (15-30′) tall. Best in southern Australia (will not take humid areas such as Brisbane and north) in full sun and welldrained soils.
- Tolerates smog, drought and alkaline soils.
Eucalyptus ‘Summer Beauty’ and ‘Summer Red’ are two outstanding new pink and red flowering hybrid gum trees. They can be grown in a garden or in a pot and will grow Australia-wide as they are grafted onto hardy rootstocks.
- around 8m (25′) tall and flowering in its first summer.
- Tolerant of frost and drought these varieties will grow all over Australia in full sun.
Red Flowering Gum, Eucalyptus ficifolia, is highly appealing with its red to orange flowers in summer. Until now variation in flower colour has meant waiting two or three years to see what colour your tree will be. A good red colour is now assured from a grafted red flowering form called ‘Wildfire’.
- to 10m (30′) with a dense, rounded crown.
- Best in inland and southern Australia, south from Brisbane with frost protection when young.
Lemon-scented Gum, Eucalyptus citriodora, announces its presence in a garden or street by the delicious lemon fragrance from the leaves. It has creamy white flowers in winter and grows into a tall tree with a straight white trunk. It is the classic gum tree.
- to 20-30m (60-90′) so site well away from buildings.
- Grows in the warmer parts of Australia in full sun and well-drained soils with frost protection when young.
Mugga Ironbark, Eucalyptus sideroxylon ‘Rosea’ flowers from late autumn to spring with red, pink and cream flowers. It has striking deep furrowed black bark on an often crooked trunk.
- to 8m (25′) tall and growing well south from south-eastern Queensland.
- It is frost hardy, likes full sun and will cope with dry conditions and smog.
Cost and Availability
A wide range of gum trees is available in tubes from State Forest Department nurseries (see list below) for $2.50 each. They can cost as little as 70 cents when bought in bulk.
QLD: Queensland Department of Primary Industries
Everton Park, phone: (07) 3353 1770
Salisbury, phone: (07) 3277 1092
NSW: Cumberland State Forest Nursery
Phone: (02) 9871 3222
VIC: Natural Resources Conservation League Nursery
Springvale, phone: (03) 9546 9744
SA: Department of Primary Industries and Resources of SA
Belair State Flora Nursery, phone: (08) 8278 7777
NT: Not available to the gardening public. Need to go to commercial nurseries.
WA: Nothing available in Perth. Plants may be ordered from Department of Conservation and Land Management nursery at Narrogin, phone: (08) 9881 1113.
TAS: Nothing available in Hobart. Minimum orders of 90 plants of the same species are available from Forestry Tasmania at Perth (near Launceston), phone: (03) 6233 8203.