Death of a Eucalyptus

Last night another in a series of ferocious windstorms to hit the Northwest this fall/winter swept through my garden. I’m not sure just how hard it blew, but it had to be at least in excess of the 52 mph gust recorded at Shelton before it stopped reporting. I’m amazed the power is still on. The skies opened up blasting rain and wind for about 20 minutes, and the windows shook. The wind was so powerful that it blew a waterfall of rainwater off the roof, bypassing the gutters. After it died down a bit, I went outside on the suspicion that my large E. viminalis, already leaning from the last windstorm, had come down. Indeed I was correct: the surprise was, though it had been leaning strongly to the north from the previous storm, the west winds last night were so strong they picked the tree up and made it fall to the east!

Well, that’s too bad. It was my largest eucalyptus, and measured about 64′ tall. (I have one still standing that is a little taller but not as massive.) It was a very beautiful tree with a nice weeping habit. All the seed capsules on it are unripe – I think it may grow back from the base, but who knows how long it will be before it can produce seeds again. I really wanted some seed from this tree as it is a beautiful form of E. viminalis.

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I planted this tree in June 1999 as a 1′ tall seedling. Here is the last picture I have of it still standing up, in August 2006. It had a beautiful weeping habit and white bark. (Ah, summer…. that sun sure looks nice right about now, doesn’t it?)

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After the infamous December 14th windstorm, our most powerful in 14 years, this tree developed a precarious northerly lean. Closer inspection revealed some damage to the base of the tree where the wood split. Uh oh, thought I. Since it isn’t close to any structures, I didn’t do anything about it.

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Finally, here it is after last night’s storm…. not lying down pointing north, but pointing east. The force of the wind to lift this tree and make it fall the other way must have been incredible! Fortunately, it narrowly missed knocking over a number of other large eucs, though it did break a couple large branches off some. Podocarpus macrophyllus is smashed, but it should stand up again with a little help.

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A close up of the base reveals the problem: root rot that didn’t heal up properly. And I know what caused it. When I planted this tree I buried it too deeply, about 3″ below the soil surface. Then it had some problems in its second winter: the wind knocked it over, but I stood it back up, and it seemed to be OK after that. Now I can see that it never really recovered from this: there is a huge scar where there should be roots to anchor the tree.

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These two large E. dalrympleana also came down in the December 14th windstorm. I was disappointed to find that they, like the E. viminalis, were loaded with unripe seed capsules. If only the wind could have waited another year! However, it should be noted that these two eucs also had root problems. Because they were planted close to a structure, and planted too deep, their root systems developed unevenly.

In fact, all the eucs that have fallen over had some kind of problem with the root system – either they were planted too deep, too close to something, or on soil that was too wet. I still contend that eucalypts planted properly and in an appropriate site are very wind tolerant and present no hazard to anything nearby. But as you can see, a lot can go wrong – plant with caution! I no longer suggest planting the trees deeper than they were in the pot, unless your garden is on pure sand.

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Here’s a tree that’s not so wind tolerant: Acacia dealbata var. subalpina. This one, my largest specimen at 44′ tall, blew down on December 12, before the big windstorm even hit.  It didn’t have any visible root rot problem; the wind heaved it completely out of the ground.  They are beautiful trees, but should be used in wind sheltered gardens only. Thankfully, I have a couple more of these in my garden still standing, and I really hope they will produce some seeds.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jody
    Feb 16, 2007 @ 03:44:52

    Ian – can I grow and eucalyptus in Houston?? It is a zone 9a – but has killer summer heat. I’m trying to come up with ideas for that empty backyard of mine. Right now a grapefruit tree is on the top of the list, and I’m going to a Deep South Gardening talk on Sat to get more ideas.

    Reply

  2. desertnw
    Feb 16, 2007 @ 23:30:46

    Hi Jody,
    That’s really sad, all those horticulture classes and they never taught us about eucalyptus. There are some eucs that will grow in Houston. YuccaDo has had E. mannifera in their display gardens for many years and it has done well. You might also try E. camaldulensis and E. microtheca. Have a look at the Hardy Eucalyptus Board. I started it a long time ago as a resource and now lots of people visit it. Click on the thread about ‘hybrid eucalyptus camaldulensis hardiness’, there is a lot of discussion about Texas.

    Other than that I would say to plant a lot of Agaves, Yuccas and such but maybe that is not the best thing for you right now. You don’t want babies or young children getting into them and getting hurt. There are still some aloes, succulents, palms and other fun things that would be fun to grow. You could have a look through some of the non-prickly plants on the YuccaDo site (no, they’re not paying me to advertise for them, LOL).

    Ian

    Reply

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