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A Home among the Gum Trees

Planting under established trees on your property brings challenges.

Gum trees (Eucalyptus sp.) are widely planted throughout the Golden Plains shire and deservedly so.  They are hardy trees which provide valuable shade and a restful and relaxing environment.  They also provide habitat, for too many birds, insects and mammals to mention.  I often get asked why it is so hard to get other plants to grow underneath them and what can be done to achieve success.  Let's start with the facts

Within the immediate area under the canopy of an existing tree, there is a sunny side and a side that might be quite densely shaded, or in most cases bears filtered light.  This will vary depending on the variety of gum, the time of year (most gums shed leaves over summer allowing more light through) and the health of the tree.  Take this into consideration in your planting choices.

Correa Pink Bells  

Gum trees out-compete many other plant species for moisture. This means that any plant that has been planted under or around the root zone of a eucalypt will never have access to annual rainfall, but in fact much less.

It sounds tough doesn't it? Well it is not all bad news; in fact there are some pretty good advantages it terms of what you can grow. The environment under a gum tree, although harsh, provides opportunities to grow plants that may not be able to survive throughout the rest of your garden due to the unique climate provided by this marvellous canopy. 

You need to plant after a good solid rain event that has the soil profile moist at least 30cm down. Look for upwards of 50mm of rain over say 3 weeks. This should be enough for the existing gum tree to get all it needs with plenty left in the soil for the plants you are about to put in.  I like any time from mid-March through until August but it will vary from year to year. The rain event we had in June saw me straight out there planting under my trees in any spots I thought needed filling.

Follow up rain should then suffice for the cooler months.  The first summer may require a couple of additional waters.  Then rather than water plants individually, I prefer to slow soak the entire area planted over a few hours to mimic a decent rain event. This will make your plants less dependent on you to look after them and you will use far less water. In this summer just gone I watered the gardens under my gum trees once only.  I cannot think of one plant which died, and although a few varieties did look stressed at times they all survived with very minimal water.

It terms of varieties, look locally for plants that naturally grow in our region.  For shrubs and screens, try Hop Bush (Dodonea) or the sweet Bursaria. There are several wattle species also worth consideration. You can also use native Correas, a favourite of mine with so many flower colours shapes and sizes to choose from, and the native rosemary (Westringia sp.) too. Consider Western Australian plants that detest wet soils but thrive in areas such as this where any excess water is quickly used. Emu bush (Eremophila) is a prime example. (pictured left)

Strappy foliage is popular and our local Lomandra is so tough you can almost plant it upside down! There are also many new breeds of Lomandra. I like one called Tanika for its fine arching leaves and another blue foliaged form called seascape. 

Succulents require very little soil to grow in and therefore can compete and will grow well on the sunny side of your tree. Bromeliads, protected by the tree canopy from frost can thrive on the shady side.  These are the plants that look like a vase and store water in their throat.  We have frogs visit ours as an added bonus!

Of course your local nursery will have a larger range of varieties to suggest so run these past him or her and ask for a few more suggestions too, they will be only too happy to assist.

Be realistic in terms of growth.  The competition will slow grow when compared to other locations in your garden. Be patient, follow these steps and success will follow, not overnight but in time you will have an attractive, lush, bird attracting garden very low in maintenance and very high on appeal!

Happy Gardening!,  Chris Hose.

Rosemary Grevillea pictured right.