How To Grow and Use the Eucalyptus Plant
Eucalyptus has a distinct, menthol-like fragrance and is a popular herb for home remedies. In the garden, it is most often used as an ornamental and it makes a stunning indoor plant. Many crafters enjoy incorporating the dried leaves in their creations as well. You may be most familiar with eucalyptus as the favorite food plant of Australia’s koala, which is where the tree is most plentiful. Eucalyptus essential oils are also very common and useful throughout your home for everything from cold remedies to aromatherapy.
Eucalyptus is a fascinating plant with an exotic flair and many uses. It is definitely one to consider adding to your container garden or planting as an annual in your garden.
The Eucalyptus Plant
According to “Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs,” there are more than 500 species of eucalyptus. The type usually referred to for the home gardener, is E. globulus or Globe Eucalyptus. This is what you will find in most nurseries. Eucalyptus is native to Australia where most species grow as a tree, though some are more like a shrub. This plant is considered an evergreen, though it can lose its leaves. The leaves begin as light green ovals which take on a darker shade of green as the tree ages.
In USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10, eucalyptus grows into trees of towering heights. These trees are the very same ones that feed the koala bears in Australia. For the home gardener, however, eucalyptus is grown as a potted shrub or plant. It is trimmed back often and the resulting branches are most commonly used for crafts. Iin cooler climates, eucalyptus can be grown in pots and brought indoors for the winter. Eucalyptus can a be grown as an annual as well. You will not get the huge branches available in craft stores, but you can easily gather enough leaves to dry for your family’s needs throughout the winter.
Eucalyptus is also a very pretty indoor plant. When growing it indoors, note that eucalyptus is a heavy feeder and requires full sun. While the plant is highly adaptable to most soils, the main concern is to pay close attention to basic feeding, lighting, and watering needs. It is interesting to note that many varieties of eucalyptus also produce such fragrant blossoms in the wild, they are considered highly desirable for attracting bees. For most of us, this may not apply as the plant will probably not blossom under less than optimal conditions.
Cut the branches to your desired height as the plants grow. All parts of the plant are used medicinally: leaves, bark, and roots all contain the potent oil.
Important Note: This oil should not be used directly on the skin or ingested. Follow the suggestions below for preparing herbal infusions, salves, and other natural remedies using eucalyptus.
How to Dry and Preserve Eucalyptus
Eucalyptus leaves can be dried on the stem by hanging the branches upside down in a small bunch. You can also remove the leaves and place them on a paper towel or drying screen. With either method, allow the eucalyptus to air dry until the leaves are slightly leathery for older leaves and crispy for the smaller leaves. Once dry, store eucalyptus leaves in glass jars with a tightly sealed lid.
If you would like to use the branches for crafts, one of the best ways to preserve them is with glycerin:
Choose a container that is large enough to hold your entire eucalyptus branch.
Mix Glycerin and Water
Mix one part glycerin with two parts boiling water.
Add Liquid and Eucalyptus
Pour some of the cooled liquid into your container, then insert the eucalyptus branches until they are standing in about three inches of liquid.
Keep Jar in a Cool Spot
Keep the jar in a cool, dark place and inspect the plants weekly. Add more liquid as needed to keep it at the optimum level.
It may take anywhere between one to eight weeks for all the leaves to change color. When they have, the process is complete.
Remove the eucalyptus branches, pat them dry with a paper towel, and hang them upside down for two to three days before using.
Eucaluyptus oil is harvested from the leaves, roots, and bark of the plant. This spicy, cooling oil is used for its antiseptic and astringent effect. Eucalyptus oil is often used for respiratory ailments as the flavoring in cough drops and in decongestant type rubs.
- Make an Herbal Chest Rub – Make an herbal salve and use eucalyptus as the herb while adding a little less beeswax than normal.
- Make An Herbal Infusion – It is very similar to a cup of tea without the tea leaves and you do need to wait until the infusion has cooled completely. Simply add a few eucalyptus leaves and drink. Add a little sweetener or other herbs to improve the taste if you like. An infusion of eucalyptus leaves can also be used as a soothing skin antiseptic.
- Make Your Own Herbal Cough Drops – The process is similar to making lollipops (without the stick), but you will use your herbal infusion as the flavoring. Pour the liquid candy onto a baking sheet and cut it into squares before it hardens completely.
- Make a Steam Inhalation – Simply inhaling steam infused with eucalyptus can bring relief from nasal congestion and other cold symptoms. You can also add eucalyptus essential oil to your aromatherapy diffuser and run it while you sleep.
Please note this document has not been medically reviewed. Consult your doctor or herbalist prior to using medicinal herbs.
More Uses for Eucalyptus
Beyond its obvious medicinal uses, the herb can be used for a number of other things around the home. Make a simple syrup using eucalyptus and enjoy it during cocktail hour or to sweeten your evening cup of tea. It pairs nicely with mint, honey, lemon, and lime.
The same scent that we find soothing and somewhat refreshing is not at all appreciated by biting insects.
What is the eucalyptus plant, can you grow it, and what is it used for? This article covers the answers to all of these questions.
How to Grow Eucalyptus Indoors
Whether you’ve tasted eucalyptus as a tea, smelled a candle scented with its oil, or hung a leafy eucalyptus wreath on your front door, you’re likely familiar with how this beautiful plant can be much more than just another boost of green in your horticulture collection. If you’re wondering how to grow eucalyptus indoors, we’ve got great news: it comes in all sizes!
Types of Eucalyptus Plants
There are over 800 species of eucalyptus plants that are mostly native to Australia, according to the Australian Academy of Science. They are fast-growing, and some varieties range from 10- to a whopping 200-feet tall, as Better Homes & Gardens notes.
None of the members of the eucalyptus family tolerate cold, so they can only be planted in US Hardiness Zones eight through eleven outside. They are evergreens with distinctive blue-green to silver leaves that can be either circular or moon-shaped. Most eucalyptus plants have fragrant, unique flowers. Additionally, most varieties shed their bark annually, which can create pretty patterns on the trunk.
Eucalyptus trees are probably most famous for their relationship with cute and sleepy koalas—one of the rare species of animals that can digest eucalyptus leaves, as National Geographic explains. The oil is toxic to ingest for most other animals (including humans!). Externally, the essential oil has a number of uses. It has a pleasant smell and works well as a bug repellent against dust mites and houseflies alike. Eucalyptus is also a common component of cough drops and chest rubs for congestion.
Starting Your Eucalyptus
With some care, eucalyptus trees can be brought indoors as houseplants. As mentioned before, eucalyptus plants grow very fast and are relatively easy to start—but they can be finicky. It’s best to go with smaller varieties that do well indoors. Mallee Eucalyptus are shrub varieties that include Eucalyptus erythronema, Eucalyptus gracilis, Eucalyptus socialis, and Eucalyptus oleosa. Other varieties that do well inside include:
- Eucalyptus gunnii (cider gum)
- Eucalyptus citriodora (lemon-scented gum)
- Eucalyptus vernicosa
- Eucalyptus archeri
- Eucalyptus gregsoniana
- Eucalyptus crenulata
- Eucalyptus coccifera
Most eucalyptus plants can easily be grown from a cutting. If you have a friend that has a plant, ask them to cut off a small branch and let it soak in water in a vase for a few weeks. The branch will grow roots and then can be planted in a pot. The finicky part? They don’t want to be repotted. So, it’s best to pick out a huge pot that will still look nice in ten years and that the plant can grow into. Make sure the pot has drainage holes, too, so the roots won’t be sitting in water. You may also want to invest in a plant stand with wheels so you can move the heavy pot around when you move furniture.
If you don’t have access to a friendly eucalyptus gardener, you can try your hand at growing your plant from seed. Most seeds in this plant family are small and like to be planted less than an inch under the soil. Keep the soil moist, never dry but also never saturated or flooded. And remember, eucalyptus plants really don’t like to be transplanted. This means that you may want to start your seeds in a pot you can put directly in the soil and will decompose, such as a homemade newspaper seedling pot, an egg carton, or a toilet paper roll with the end folded. When your plant is a few inches tall, plant the entire seedling pot into a huge, long-term pot just like you would with a plant grown from a cutting.
You can also very easily buy a small plant from a local garden center or a mail-order nursery! When planting your new baby, do your best not to disturb the roots. I often loosen the soil and roots when putting any plant into its new home—but that should never be done with eucalyptus! If your plant is root-bound in its old container, use scissors to cut the plastic container away so you don’t tear the roots.
Caring for Your Eucalyptus
Eucalyptus plants like a lot of light, so keep your plant in a south-facing window. It would also be happy outside in a sunny spot in the summer for a few months. Just be sure to bring it in before any threat of frost (find your average first frost date at the Old Farmer’s Almanac).
These plants are used to hot, tropical environments. They can tolerate a drought with some wilting, but don’t go too long without watering them. They are evergreens, so if you have leaf drop, try to adjust your watering schedule. Note that eucalyptus plants kept indoors do not often flower.
This is how to grow eucalyptus indoors: force them to stay small! You may want to treat your eucalyptus as a Bonzi. Pinch off old growth and shape the tree to the size you prefer.
Benefits of an Indoor Eucalyptus Plant
Be sure to make use of those cast-off leaves you’ve pruned! Dry the leaves by hanging them upside down out of the sun. You can arrange them in a pretty wreath or floral arrangement, or decorate your patio with the leaves to ward off uninvited bugs. You can also crush the dried leaves and make them into a calming tea. These crushed leaves are also great additions to sugar scrubs or homemade soap and can be found in store-bought natural soaps, too.
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Why It’s Good
Growing indoor plants brings the outside in. A eucalyptus plant will also bring a little piece of Australia to your home and make your room smell wonderful!
Here's how to grow eucalyptus indoors, along with tips for caring for your eucalyptus plant.