Eucalyptus is a beautifully fragrant foliage and one of my favorite elements to add into late-season bouquets. While I’ve long adored eucalyptus for its ability to pair well with most any flower, I never thought that I could actually grow armloads of it myself, like many of the warm-climate growers I saw doing on social media.
You see, eucalyptus thrives in warmer temperatures and will typically only perennialize in Zones 8 and above (a far cry from Zone 5b which I grow in).
Despite being a cold-climate grower myself, I wanted to try my hand at growing eucalyptus from seed. Plenty of sources that I had found online shared how eucalyptus could be grown as an annual if started early enough…
I love a good challenge and I was so motivated by the idea of having access to plenty of fresh eucalyptus stems that I gleefully ordered my first rounds of seeds back in 2021.
Below you’ll find a recap of my experience growing (and overwintering) eucalyptus in a cold climate.
Growing Eucalyptus from Seed:
Per the Internet’s advice, I started my seeds a good 12 weeks ahead of my last frost date- hopeful that if I could just give them an extra long head start indoors that I’d be rewarded with an even bigger harvest later in the season.
The seeds were easy enough to grow + I experienced great germination- but the one thing that was obvious from the very start was just how painfully slow my eucalyptus was going to grow. Still I was committed to seeing my experiment through and so as the plants grew, I bumped the tiny plant-starts up accordingly.
My seeds were originally sown into 72-cell trays. I then transferred them into 4 inch pots, and eventually I planted them outside into the garden when I thought they had put on enough bulk. By late August, my first year seedlings had grown decently. I was able to harvest a few stems from each plant.
And while I was thrilled to have found success in growing eucalyptus as an annual- truth be told, my plants weren’t nearly as large as I would have liked them to be. In that moment, I was truly unsure about the economics of growing eucalyptus in my climate. To me, I felt like I gave up a lot of real estate within my garden bed for very little reward…
As I put the garden to rest that season, I found it a little difficult to till under all of my eucalyptus plants that I had worked so hard to grow and in a last minute decision, I carefully dug up and re-potted one of the plants into a 10-inch garden pot. I really wasn’t sure if my eucalyptus could survive all winter inside that small pot but I didn’t have much to lose. I kept the pot in my unheated garage (a space that doesn’t freeze) for the entire winter season and allowed it to go dormant, watering it only occasionally.
Second Year Eucalyptus:
When spring rolled around, I didn’t have much hope for my eucalyptus plant. Honestly, it looked mostly dead + withered. Had it not been for the busyness of the spring season, I likely would have chucked it into the compost pile- but instead, I kept pushing that pot to the side as I worked around it. Much to my surprise, in early June, I started to notice new growth coming from the tips of the plant. That was the encouragement I needed to start tending to my eucalyptus with a little more care.
From June of 2022 on, I kept my plant in a pot, but I did top it off with fresh soil and bumped it up into an even larger 16” pot to give more room to its roots. The plant grew to more than three times its size by October of 2022 and it gave me more than enough material to work with throughout the season.
I was so thrilled by the results that I experienced during the 2022 growing season that now in 2023, I plan to repeat the same process with even more eucalyptus seedlings. Note: now that my eucalyptus has survived two winters, I did cut back my plant this spring to allow for new growth. I suspect that I likely should have cut it back after it’s first winter; however, at the time, I didn’t know any better.
All-in-all here’s a recap of the things I learned trying to overwinter eucalyptus in a cold climate:
- Eucalyptus is SLOW to establish in it’s first year- so have patience!
- If you are able to keep your eucalyptus alive, it will grow very quickly in its second year + beyond. (It’s definitely worth the wait!)
- If you have access to a greenhouse or even an unheated tunnel, I would guess that eucalyptus could successfully be overwintered in the ground. I don’t currently have either of those structures on our small flower farm; hence why I grew mine in pots which I could easily move.
While it may seem like more work to keep eucalyptus alive over the winter in cooler climates, for me, the effort is worth it! Eucalyptus is so versatile- we use it fresh, dried + even add it into wreaths come winter. My hopes is that with enough plants- it will become a staple within our growing program here at Two Sisters Flower Farm.
Is growing eucalyptus something you’re going to try?! Let me know what you think in the comments below! And if you have successful overwintered eucalyptus in your climate, share your best tip down there as well 😉