Angus StewartWhat’s wrong with my flowering gum?

After seeing the interest on GardenDrum about my earlier post on grafted flowering gums, I feel there needs to be some follow up on the subject. A lot of comments generated by that blog suggested to me that many gardeners have had very mixed results with these plants.

Red flowering gum

Red flowering gum

The process of grafting is an age old technique that goes back thousands of years in Asia and Europe and can provide a variety of advantages to a plant grower. For instance, in grape growing the use of Phylloxera- (a root aphid that devastates vines) resistant rootstocks has restored viability to the commercial production of grapes in many parts of the world. In other cases such as citrus and roses, tough rootstocks provide resistance to root rotting fungal diseases that can kill or severely impair plants.

Rich pink flowering gum

Rich pink flowering gum

Grafting also makes possible the propagation of many woody plants that may be difficult to propagate otherwise, such as by cuttings. Many of the variegated forms of northern hemisphere deciduous trees such as claret ash fall into this category. Another function for grafting is the production of weeping standard plants where a prostrate form of a species such as weeping flowering cherry is grafted onto a tall rootstock to create a cascading plant.

Soft apricot-orange flowering gum

Soft apricot-orange flowering gum

In the case of flowering gums the purpose of grafting is twofold. First, it is about making it possible to propagate them successfully on a commercial basis. They are almost impossible to propagate routinely by cuttings and so grafting makes it possible to routinely multiply a superior selection. Secondly, the Western Australian flowering gum (Corymbia ficifolia) does not perform well in the hotter, more humid climates of places like Sydney and Brisbane and grafting them onto species such as spotted gum (Corymbia maculata) theoretically should make them more vigorous in these areas.

Pink flowering gum

Pink flowering gum

Healthy grafted Corymbia 'Wildfire' tree in streetscape

Healthy grafted Corymbia ‘Wildfire’ tree in streetscape

The problem for me is that I am seeing a lot of problems with grafted flowering gums in gardens and parklands and the supposed advantages of grafting do not always meet with the realities of real life situations. I would love to get feedback from you if you have had either a good or bad experience with grafted flowering gums so we can build knowledge base on the subject. My hunch is that there are several contributing factors so if any of these ring a bell with you then it would be fantastic if you could send in a photo or a comment outlining your experience.

Pruning off rootstock suckers

Pruning off rootstock suckers

Graft union on Corymbia gummifera

Graft union on Corymbia gummifera

The first thing to look for when there are problems with the graft union of a flowering gum is abundant suckering of the rootstock (see photo above). Other signs are an overall lack of vigour in the tree as well as dieback in the shoot tips. These problems can manifest in the first months after a graft is done but they can also take years to show up such that a tree may grow quite well and then all of a sudden the graft union deteriorates and the tree shows symptoms such as those listed above.

A healthy graft union on spotted gum, Corymbia maculata

A healthy graft union on spotted gum, Corymbia maculata

My suggestion to avoid problems is to look for young trees that are not showing any signs whatsoever of suckering from the rootstock and also ones that have a graft union that is evenly matched in diameter between the rootstock and scion and has signs of vigorous growth on top of the tree. Also ensure that there is no sign of the tree being root bound by asking a sales assistant to remove the tree from its pot so you can check the root system.

Bunches of colourful flowering gum blossom - delivered?

Bunches of colourful flowering gum blossom – delivered?

[Postscript – GardenDrum reader Jeff Howes in Sydney has kindly sent in a photo of his red-flowering marrii from Western Australia, Eucalyptus calophylla var ficifolia – see Jeff’s comments below about growing this as an alternative to a grafted form.]

Eucalyptus calophylla var ficifolia, a WA marrii. Photo Jeff Howes

Eucalyptus calophylla var ficifolia, a WA marrii. Photo Jeff Howes

[You can now learn all about pruning your flowering gum in a new post by Angus, How to prune a flowering gum]

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Angus Stewart

About Angus Stewart

Gardening Australia TV presenter, author of 'Creating an Australian Garden', 'Australian Plants for Year-round Colour' and 'Let's Propagate', garden travel guide, native plant specialist and breeder. Central Coast, NSW. Find out lots more about native plants at Gardening with Angus.

93 thoughts on “What’s wrong with my flowering gum?

  1. Hi Angus,
    They are indeed beautiful trees when healthy. This is not directly in response to your query, but I’ve had two (Wild Sunset and Mini Red) in large pots for 18 months now, and they are doing well. Sunset is currently covered in tiny buds. It’s a bit of an experiment – I’m not sure whether I can maintain them this way – unlike most of my other large long term pot plants, they’ll probably need periodic root pruning. We’ll see. BTW, what is the name of the cultivar above with the lovely apricot flowers?

  2. Hello Angus

    I often help with garden clinics, and grafted Eucalyptus, principally ‘Summer Red’, ‘Summer Pink’ and ‘Summer Orange’ are frequently brought in by upset gardeners. The foliage is often badly disfigured, and sometimes it appears to have been torched. Gardeners describe that the damage happens quickly.

    It appears that the damage is fungal induced and that several different species are involved. As expected it is most severe when we have very wet summers. The different clones are differently affected and I believe ‘Summer PInk’ is the most badly affected. After seeing these impacts at the clinic, I now note how devastating the damage is in the landscape as I drive around the region.

    The foliar damage reflects three issues. Gardeners are constantly bombarded with new plant releases and rarely have extensive trials been undertaken before they are released. Often these plants have little hope of being successful. Increasingly these plants dominate our retail centres and the ‘tried and true plants’ are less freely available.

    Australia is a large country with diverse climates and C. ficifolia, the WA flowering gum, is a spring/winter rainfall plant. Generally WA plants (other than those from the far north WA) fail in coastal Queensland where summer autumn rainfall is the norm.

    Grafting may resolve root issues, but it does not resolve foliar growth issues, particularly impacts of seasonal rainfall, day length, light quality etc.

    The unfortunate issue is that gardeners, particularly new gardeners, become disillusioned when they have large plant losses.

    My advice to gardeners in the central and northern parts of Australia (i.e. most of Australia!) is to be wary of plants coming from southern nurseries or plants which grow well in Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth. It is very unlikely they will grow vigorously in northern coastal regions – unless they are provided with high levels of of maintenance and technical knowledge. This applies to native and exotic plants. I am particularly wary of plants that are promoted as being great for ‘Australian Conditions’ This surely demonstrates that the growers have limited horticultural understanding and have done no research or trials regarding the plants they are promoting.

    It would be great if members of the Horticultural Media Association and other horticultural organisations would refuse to promote plants unless trials had been undertaken across the country and the results had been reviewed. Taking a more professional approach would certainly help boost the industry and give customers greater confidence to buy plants.


    • A very horticulturally correct evaluation of the current plant transference between North to South & vice versa and the west to east of Australia. I live in South Gippsland, Vic, and we, alone, have such diverse soil and climactic conditions. C ficifolia often fails here due to waterlogging or lack of moisture in the sandier regions. Very challenging but good horticultural information absolute necessity along with constant care in line with growing conditions. Well done Arno, great comment.

  3. Coincidentally I was in a garden yesterday in Upper Sturt (Adelaide Hills) with two grafted Corymbias. One was thriving, the other only several metres away in apparently identical conditions had that “torched” look with burnt tips. There was a pest present on the tips too, small black and orange bugs like I’ve never seen before, a few mm long ( front half black, back half orange or reverse, forget which), attended by ants – perhaps they were some sort of aphid.

  4. Hi Angus
    As a landscape designer I have used various forms of grafted eucalypts. I have had too many losses tho’ to consider using them again for clients. Fairy Floss and Wildfire have succumbed too many times. I have a Summer Red growing in my own garden and it is fine and was planted by me. It is also growing in non-ideal conditions and is still doing well.
    I have noticed that all of the trees purchased for clients were in 20cm pots. They also had big root systems for these pots i.e. they were close to being pot-bound – and these were direct from the wholesaler. For this reason the plants needed far more than usual irrigation which is difficult to get clients to manage. In my own garden, as a professional, I know what to look for in a plant that needs water – clients often don’t.
    So I think that many of these plants are sold too late – they should be put into the market-place while they are smaller. Bigger is not better when it comes to plant purchase!

    • Hi Alison, enjoyed your comment. I too have my own garden which is a delight but I find it extremely challenging to get clients to put in the needed care to nurture their own gardens. People are often just too time poor. I offer a nature nurture program to gardeners now and they are usually quite happy to pay for that when I demonstrate the knowledge and level of input required. Keep going and expand those gardening horizons!!

  5. Thanks Angus for an informative article and also Arno, for putting the issue of foliage in the frame. I have not grown these plants but plan to do so soon. Is there any guide to checking what would be an appropriate rootstock for different areas? You’ve mention several graft hosts in the previous article (Corymbia ptychocarpa, C. maculata, C. gummifera) and it would seem there is still plenty of experimentation going on so how does the consumer know which to choose? All of the rootstocks seem to be me to rather large trees so I am a bit confused by the term ‘dwarf’ used to describe some varieties. Hope you can shed some light.

  6. I’ve also had one succumb to leaf problems and eventually die, can’t remeber if it was the ‘Summer Beauty’ one or not. l live in a cold climate with frosts so l initially planted it in a wine barrel where l thought it would have better conditions in a courtyard.
    It was really disappointing as it was a gift after l had my first baby.

  7. A great article Angus.

    I have 3 of the grafted gums growing in a dry garden on the north end of Sydney for many years.
    + Corymbia Inferno (Phil Keane’s plant) for 8 years, flowers well, but now has a black seepage from the graft but still looks healthy. This seepage started during an extended dry spell and stopped with a few good deep waterings.
    + The two small Summer grafted plants (one is Summer Glory and I have forgotten what the other is) are doing poorly and are still only one metre high after four years of care. They are in a dry position and I cannot keep the soil moist.

    I have come to the conclusion success depends on having them growing in a good moist soil. Extended dry periods will guarantee failure.

    Anyway I have been growing for 30 years a Eucalyptus calophylla var Ficifolia, a WA marrii. It is about 6 to 8 metres high and looks just like E. FicifoIia. i purchased this plant from the then NSW Forestry Commission nursery at Pennant Hills. It is very reliable and flowers every December.
    I also have growing, 2 plants that I raised from seeds of this plant, they both have different flower colours to the parent plant (as you would expect) and one is very showy with red flowers and gold tips on the stamens.

    SO there are alternatives, in Sydney to the somewhat unreliable grafted plants.

    • Herein lies the challenge of care. Too dry or waterlogged. That’s Australia. Taking plants out of there Natural indige environment is always going to be tricky. It’s a big country!!

  8. The other slow growing grafted gum I referred to in my comments above is E. Little Sweetie.
    Still only 1.2m high after 5 years and has not flowered.

    • I planted a dwarf flowering gum planted about three years ago and it has not flowered at all. It looks healthy, and full size similar gum trees are all in flower now in my neighbourhood, just not mine.
      Should I take it out and plant something else?

      • That is a hard one to give an answer to. Assume your plant gets at least morning sun and soil relatively free draining and you have a good graft and there is no new shoots coming from below the graft ie from the root stock. If yes to all those questions and the plants is healthy then it should flower
        My only comment is to keep the water up to it in spring when it is setting flowering buds.

      • Can only say if the plant receives morning sun, is growing in relative free draining soil, and there are no shoots from the root stock ie below the graft and it has regular watering then it should flower .

      • My only advice would be: if your plant receives at least morning soil, is growing in reasonable free drawing soil, gets ample regular moisture and has no growth from below the graft then it should flower.

  9. I live in Caloundra, Queensland. I have a grafted summer red, 5 years old, 2m tall and 3m canopy that has always done well, with great flowers. Suddenly over the last few days it has begun dying, the leaves are going dry and papery, the (scores of) flowers are shriveling…we have had a fair bit of steady rain, but no more than many other times in the last years. Anybody have a suggestion…I’d really like to save the tree; it is beautiful.

    BTW, the dwarf pink gum is at the other end of the yard, about the same size and age, possibly better drained is doing very well with dozens of flowers at the moment.

  10. I live in Brisbane and have had no luck with grafted red flowering gum. I have lost two in the past year. They seem to need so much water. Although I have a pink flowering gum that seems to be doing OK. Do they need lots of water? Kathy

  11. I’m in Melbourne. I’ve only ever had two grafted dwarf gums, both planted in the ground soon after purchase when they were around 30 cm.

    The first (Baby Orange) is spectacular – every year around Christmas it just explodes with colour and has done so for 5 years running now. Seriously, it is so good that the posties knock on the door to ask what the tree is.

    The second (Mini Red) is in a slightly less sunny position but still within 10 metres has not flowered once in five years, although this year looks promising (fingers crossed).

    Background: Once planted and established, I did not provide anything else (eg water, fertilizer, fungal agents etc) and the Baby Orange got a light pruning last year. Beyond that, they were both on their own.

    Just making my small contribution, I hope if it helps.

  12. I have an old Ficifolia with a dead crown, splitting trunk and branches and yet a healthy lower branches. What can I do?

  13. Hi Angus,
    I live in Central Queensland and have 2 beautiful Summer Red grafted trees. They are two years old now. Cyclone Marcia knocked the branches of one around, so it isn’t as bushy as the other, but so far so good! I love them.

    On the other hand, I have tried Fairy Floss twice…with no luck. It’s just like you described in your article- lack of vigour, any new shoots apear burnt and die back before they are even a cm long, and then the tree starts to sucker.

    Apart from Summer Red, can you suggest the next toughest for my area?

  14. Over the years I have try grow quite a few grafted gums and my failures were all in situations that were too dry. My successes were in situations where the soil retained winter moisture for longer periods. If the soil is well drained and retains moisture they sometimes produce a second crop of flowers.
    Perhaps we should be concentrating on the moisture requirements of the tree above the graft and not below the graft?
    Some trees produce growth from the root stock before the grafted plant, you need to watch for that.

  15. The inconsistencies of these grafted eucs is amply demonstrated at Glenorie, NSW. They have been planted along both sides of the main road (Old Northern Rd) on the approaches to and within the township, presumably at great expense. You’d expect great consistency from grafted trees, but it’s the opposite. After perhaps 5 years I’d say half have died. Some are looking great (maybe 10%??), some are OK, some are struggling. Many have irregular shaped canopies. Sure, there are inconsistencies in aspect, drainage, and presumably watering along a stretch of road of several kilometres, but the successes appear to be random. I’ve had clients with successes and just as many with failures, so I just don’t recommend them anymore.

  16. Thanks to everyone for their comments and observations on grafted flowering gums. Helen, I think you have summed up the situation rather well. Inconsistency is the the only consistent observation I can make as well. The odd stunning success does not make up for the frequent failures and overall I have to say that planting a grafted flowering gum (especially in coastal NSW and Qld) is a lottery where most ticket holders do not win a prize. My opinion is that it is complicated and there are a range of factors at play in creating the problem of inconsistent performance. So let the buyer beware!

  17. Hi Angus,
    Good to see such discussion on this topic of what can be a stunning tree subject to a range of cultural, physical and environmental conditions and site planting – potted or inground.
    I am familiar with the “Glenorie” planting and support gross variations in the trees alongside the main road. We need to look at the plant habit/requirements for optimum performance and physiology to which it has adapted/originated, ie canopy management, open/exposed, soil types, companion planting and nutrition.
    Within commercial nursery production there are many opportunities for management of the environment (growing media, nutrition, irrigation, plant density, hygiene,seed- rootstock and cutting selection) where the plants are grown. I have seen many trees produced in coastal climates with good “apparent” juvenility, however, once removed from the controlled managed environment their treatment post dispatch can have an influence on the plant performance. As noted – select good young healthy specimens and endeavour to mimic the natural/preferred environment for these beautiful trees.

    • Thanks Michael, some good horticultural common sense there. There can be no doubt that if one starts with an inferior grafted plant to begin with, the chances of success are drastically diminished. Any signs of suckering from the rootstock are useful indicator of a stressed plant in the pot. Placing a good quality plant into a soil that does not get waterlogged at any stage plus regular pruning each year after flowering to maintain good vegetative vigour correlates with much better performance from my observations.

    • Hi Lee Coltman, Sydney, on the coast resident – I think you may well be on the ball (as they say) as I planted two baby orange and one calypso, however now only one baby orange survived. Both appearing to die on the fresh buds for some reason, could it have water shortage? Thanks for the good reading

      • Hi Lee – how old are your trees? And yes, Sydney usually has a dry spring (September and October are two of our driest months) so it could be lack of water. But it could also be the graft failing, or possums eating the new buds.

  18. I am in Brisbane. Planted a Baby Scarlet about 2 months ago. In the pot it was a very healthy looking plant with great new growth, wasn’t root bound, great healthy root growth. Graft point looks fine. Have been giving it plenty of water and it seems to want to grow BUT new leaves are disfigured and many new shoots just die and drop off. Just recently it is also showing an orangy burnt look on the new leaves.

    It is very helpful to read here that this is a common problem. I am thinking maybe cut my losses and try again with a non-grafted Ficifolia? We have a pink one in our garden that has been growing well and flowering nicely for years

    • Hi Candi – although it’s hard to give any diagnosis without seeing your tree, it could be that graft is failing but, given that it’s so soon after planting it could also be some pests have found it and are damaging the new growth in bud. Unfortunately growing ficifolia from seed is a real lottery too as you can get many inferior specimens in a batch of seed-grown plants. If you try with seed from your own tree you would need to germinate a lot of seed and assess them for form and flowering before you planted one out in an important spot in your garden.

  19. This is so interesting. I am in Perth in a coastal suburb. I planted a Summer Red grafted tree 3 years ago in full sun and with ample water. It simply failed to thrive. New growth would appear, but then it would not grow. This Anzac weekend, we have removed it. The root system was minimal. I don’t know whether to risk another one or not. There are plenty of them around my area as street trees and they look beautiful.

  20. We have a grafted Corymbia ficifolia planted in Buderim, SE Queensland, and have been eagerly watching and waiting over the past 2 years to see it grow into a lovely small tree. We are just as eagerly waiting and watching now to see when it may flower. Hopefully it will happen this coming September with spring. Apart from dropping a few yellowed leaves lately in the cooler time, all is going well. Wondering if I need to fertilise with anything to encourage flowering?

  21. My flowering gum was planted 18 months ago and seemed to be doing well. I have noticed recently many of its leaves have gone brown and fallen off. New shoots appeared but they are now also shrivelling. Not sure if it is the compost I placed around it a month or 2 back. Any ideas? I think it may die.

  22. I have a dwarf orange flowering gum, planted in the first week of Feb this year which I purchased from my local native nursery in Sydney.

    When I discussed my plans to have a site cleared and planted with native plants with the landscaper, I wanted two things one a flowering gum and two an experiment – Hakea Laurina.

    I have a very open southerly garden that receives full sun from first morning to sunset.

    Gum and Laurina have grown a lot (especially the Laurina) since planted and graft union healthy, no suckers on the gum.

    Before I bought the gum I did a bit of research over the web looking for a nursery near to me that supplied the native nursery. I initially thought by doing this, the gum would have similar climate patterns and environmental factors. I also took a look around my area to see if someone else was growing a dwarf orange.

    My gum now stands at 1.2m and is not quite 6 months old. The Laurina stands at 1.3m and planted in May.

    My soil is loam sand, probably more sand than loam.

    When I bought the grafted gum there was a stake taped to the stem – landscaper planted with stake being a small grafted plant. Last week the tapes had broken so I removed the stake. Yesterday we had strong winds and I noticed the gum tilting from left to right, forwards and backwards, stem really bending over.

    Has the gum been planted to shallow?

    Should I put in another stake or increase the height of the soil?

    • Hi Jennifer – Angus is busy travelling overseas so I will give you some tips on managing your gum tree. When these plants are grown in a pot, they are tied up tightly to a bamboo stake to keep them growing very upright and protect the vulnerable graft point. When you plant out a young tree with a single stake from a pot, you should gently remove that stake and instead surround the young tree with 3 stakes positioned outside its root ball, with a loose loop of hessian between each stake and the trunk. This allows the tree to move enough in all directions to develop what’s called ‘reaction wood’ – the thickening of the trunk that protects it from snapping in a wind – but not move so much that the new roots keep breaking or the tree becomes bent over. Don’t add any more soil over its root zone as this can cause fungal problems around the base of the trunk from moisture build-up and will also suffocate the main growing roots near the surface. Roots need to respire to grow so they need to have plenty of oxygen in the soil. A coarse mulch lets through enough oxygen and conserves some soil moisture.
      regards Catherine Stewart, GardenDrum creator/curator/editor

      • Hi Catherine,

        Many thanks for your reply and advice.

        I have inserted the three stakes and ties for my gum and just topped up with a coarse bark mulch. Had to peel away the existing mulch and dig a little bit to check I wasn’t hammering the stakes into any roots.

        Gum is really stable now and I have to say, although we have had cool temps in the morning and evening, my native garden still hasn’t stopped growing.

        I love walking around my plants and observing every couple of days, especially when the sun is out.

        Geraldton wax – Lady Stephanie is in bud and so is my leptospermum – Lavender queen and Nanum Pink.

        I love the colour of the leaves on my gum, such a contrast between the blue/ green leaves and light red stem.

        Kind Regards

      • Lee from Sydney you have more than got that right, I am still working hard with my gums and I’ve at least got the best thing thing working. I use a soft cloth or ribbon to give it good support in windier conditions and. Feel the watering timing and quantities crucial good luck

        • Hi Lee,

          I read your previous post, will be interesting to see if my gum fails now as flowering buds have developed and changing to an orange colour. (It is nearly one year old and still no sign of any suckers).

          I bought my gum from the Sydney Wildflower Nursery located at Heathcote – south of Sydney. My gum is a dwarf orange and from Tarrawood Nursery at Bega NSW . To be honest, I wouldn’t have bought it, if coming from Victoria or Queensland, too many other factors to consider. If you visit their site they have an information page in regards to their grafted gums. They also develop their plants when young to rely on rainfall only, so I do the same with mine. Dave at Sydney Wildflower advised me not to over water the gum.

          Lost my Geraldton wax, somehow I knew that wasn’t going to last, everyone kept telling me I was insane to even try. Laurina is growing well and soon again I will have to trim. All my other natives are thriving.

          One last thing, later in every month (with the exception of January), I apply to the soil only a very, very weak solution of seaweed soil conditioner. This has definitely assisted my plants during the hot dry summer we are having.

          • Hi Jennifer also done the seaweed watering if you read back it is very hit and miss. a chap from flower Power where I’ve bought all six gums even said I should water every day, don’t think this is right though. good luck. lee

          • Moisture until established is the key, in my opinion to success. In a too dry spell I had some black ooze out of the graft, with regular watering it stopped and the tree flowered as expected. I have found with various grafted plant species that you must consider the watering requirements of the plant on top not the root stock.

          • Hi Jeff does that mean watering the leaves only sounds strange? Anyway thanks for all the comments all round as its survey H a shame to such a lovely type of tree underperforming regards lee

          • It was not my intention to say you need to only water the leaves.
            The plant grafted on top is E. Ficifolia and it occurs naturally in the south west corner of Western Australia and receives more than 1200mm of rain mainly in winter. So it needs to access a lot of water from its root stock. If the ground is dry they will stop growing and die.
            Conversely if the plant on top comes from an arid area in needs less water and so the ground can be allowed to dry out.
            Perhaps a few professionals can join this discussion?
            PS I have lost a few of these plants as well.

          • Observation is the key to growing any plants, look for signs, plants will tell you when something is wrong, like drooping leaves, burning edges, yellowing etc.

            I am so excited, I feel like a child in a candy store.
            My dwarf orange is just starting to bust it’s flowering bud caps and the most intense orange flower is showing. Gum has baby leaves and new stems with leaves even in this weather.

            I did a huge watering regime when my garden was first planted. Waited one day then soaked the soil every night for one week and I mean really soak. Then I soaked every third night for one week, then once a week for one week. I tend to water very late in the evening starting from 8pm.
            When the rain hit, I stopped soaking as humidity increased, as we know plants absorb atmospheric moisture. Once humidity dropped I watered every second week and so forth. When new growth appeared then I observed and watered when required. I thought I would have difficulty maintaining a new native garden at just over 250 msq in size given it was February and I could only take this time as the landscaper was very busy, however the plants established really well before summer 2016/2017. I think the best time to plant natives is April/May. My graft union is really healthy and still no suckers, gum stands at roughly 1.6m in height.

            Lastly, the site where my garden is, use to have an above ground pool. Soil was starved, sandy and silty. Topsoil and manure were added before planting.

            It’s still early days for me, however continued observation with plants and weather patterns certainly helps a lot. I hope I get to enjoy my gum for many years to come.

          • A good comment. Further to my suggestion about watering.
            As we all know the plant grafted onto the root stock is E.Ficifolia which grows naturally in the SW corner of Western Australia. This area receives about 1200mm of rain a year. So when you are trying to grow the grafted plant it will try to draw this moisture via its root stock. If you grow it in dry well drained soil it will slowly die off unless it can find adequate moisture. Hence my observation about plants needing adequate water till established. Hope this helps this discussion. Jeff

          • Great comment Jeff and very helpful, totally agree with you.

            Gardening is a lifetime of learning!!

          • The grafted plant we are trying to grow is E. Ficifolia grafted onto a suitable compatible eucalyptus. This tree grows naturally in the SW corner of western Australia where it receives about 1200mm of rain a year. When you are trying to grow it the top growth will try to find this moisture through the plant it is grafted on. If the soil is too dry the plant will stop growing and gradually die. Hence my observation about needing water till well established. Jeff

  23. Hi i am a novice tree gardener recently moved to taree area. There is a lovely flowering gum in yard it has flowered 3 times last 6 mths but the trunk seems to be too thin and it looks anorexic to my eye..any help appreciated ..patty

    • If the tree looks otherwise healthy and the leaves are a nice, rich green then the thickness of the trunk is probably not a problem. However it could be because it’s been staked too tightly to protect the graft point, like Jennifer’s problem in the comment above. Tree trunks need to move slightly to develop reaction wood, which also thickens the trunk and keeps it more stable in strong winds.

  24. I received a beautiful corymbia last year and it was doing well up until last week .I gave the plant a sprinkle of worm castings and I was shocked to see burnt leaves. I believe the this beautiful plant in the pot is dying. is there a way to save it or is it too late.

  25. Hi Mohandas
    If the burnt leaves appeared after the fertilizing then it may have been too much. A fertilizer burn can also occur if the plants dry out in the pot because this concentrates whatever fertilizer is there. Try flushing the pot with lots of water as this will remove any excess fertilizer salts. After fertilizing in future just try and ensure the pot never dries out if possible.
    All the best

  26. Hello Angus, I bought a beautiful corymbia ficifolia last summer in Albany: it was in a bit 30 litre pot; it was about 1.5m tall, with a healthy looking graft and it was flowering spectacularly. I cut all the spent flowers off; I waited until late autumn before planting it in the ground; I cut off a few roots which were encircling inside the pot before putting it in the ground; I dug a big hole and mixed our local grey sand with some homemade compost; I mulched the surface around the plant, and I’ve given it several buckets of water every few days, which I’d be confident would have stopped the ground drying out. The problem is that the plant hasn’t responded; it hasn’t died, but it hasn’t put on any height either, and it hasn’t flowered! It’s against our back (north) fence, but the top of the tree peeks over the fence so gets plenty of sun. Could it still be in shock from being transplanted? Any help would be much appreciated. I can send you pictures of the plant if it would help.

    • I have found they need to be kept moist but not wet to encourage the root stock to grow and establish, once established they usually fine on their own. I have also found that before new top growth starts you can get a lot of growth from the root stock so watch out and rub off any shoots that appear . Hope this helps? Jeff

      • Sounds right although I wonder if being on the nature strip exposed sandy soil ect its harder to get established I’ve not had sucker’s at all.I picked even groth stems, as suggested by a few people yours lee

  27. Also you’ll need plenty of patience as if you read previous comments you’ll work out I lost 2 of 3 plants the surviving one not flowering yet having replacing the others with different small gums all the regards lee

  28. Just to give everyone an update.

    Gum in full flower, birds fighting over the flowers.

    I have had some blue banded bees feeding off the nectar on the gum blossoms and scaevola. Also in the scaevola I spotted another bee which was totally blue, like aqua marine blue with a really shiny body. At first I thought this was an insect however on closer inspection it was drawing nectar from the scaevola flowers.

    Loving this rain and so is my garden just before another really hot spell forecast for the weekend.

  29. Hi Angus,
    Seeing your picture of a Corymbia ficifolia Wildfire above surrounded by FOUR steel stakes makes me think that my problem with a grafted Corymbia ficifolia “Blaze of Red” (from Austem New World Flora – $45) was due to insufficient staking. I planted a beautiful grafted specimen 2 springs ago and it flowered well during its first summer. Flowering was well into bud and some buds had opened into a blaze of red only a week ago then last Monday the disaster happened – the graft snapped entirely! I had supported the plant with ONE tall steel pole and one fibreglass pole using bicycle tube as the tie. Some movement of the tree was permitted but the tree seemed very healthy in an open and windy part of a lawn. I had not fertilized it this summer with low phosphorus native fertilizer as recommended on the label but the ground is good red soil and weeds were kept back from the trunk. Should I have splinted the trunk either side of the graft? Would 4 poles have made a difference? I await your reply with interest.
    Many thanks,
    Mr Kerry Pritchard

    • Just bad luck I suspect. I would advise to keeping the water up to the plant for the first few years so the top growth draws enough moisture from the root stock and hence strengthens the graft. Don’t forget that E. Ficifolia naturally grow stronger in the SW corner of WA and the annual rainfall is 1200mm and higher. Hope this helps?

  30. Hi Lee from Clovelly again. Another grafted gum died last week whilst I saw NZ for ten days. Had my doubts it was going to survive as if was dying off at the shoots like the others before hand. It was a mini red Melissa King Norwood, very contradictory on the label stating moist well drained soil and also a sign saying it tolerates dryness. I may well get on to their website. I’m now very tempted to call it quits, one only surviving the term is 13 months old, and yet to bloom. Sorry if this subject maybe boring. Regards Lee

    • I suspect your plants dried out in the light sandy soil you have(I may be wrong) they need to be kept well watered until the root stock is established. My untested theory is they die of lack of moisture as the grafted plant comes from a 1200mm and more rainfall area in SW Western Australia. If the plant is stressed as mine is at present they send out copious shoots from the root stock as mine is doing weekly. My plant flowers well but will not grow above one metre so its fate is hanging by a mattock blow. Cheers

      • Hi Jeff, I think these types of trees are not suitable for my conditions at home I’ve been mollycoddling my trees for more than a while as this is now the 3rd tree that’s karked it. Without drip feeding them I’m sure I don’t know what to do maybe down the track they will get more satisfactory results. I’ve been following this problem on the site for ages hopefully something else may help, I was also thinking maybe from seed will be stronger, regards lee

  31. Hi Angus, I have a young grafted Summer Red about 1.8m tall that I planted last Autumn. The tree didn’t flower last summer but started to form flower pods about 4-6 weeks ago, which seems a little unseasonal. They are taking a long time to bud and are getting larger and some are dropping. It also doesn’t appear to have formed a sound root system and I found out recently it will virtually fall over if it’s not staked. Over the last few weeks the leaves on the lower branches have started to drop and this is gradually working its way up the tree and now most of the leaves on the lower half of the tree have died. I mulched the garden with red cypress mulch about a month ago and re staked it and that seems to have coincided with the leaves dying but I’m not sure if its related. I also planted the tree in a hollow, not realising that ideally it should be planed on a mound. I fertilised all my gardens with some dynamic lifter the same time I mulched and was considering using some osmocote native plant fertiliser but if it’s root rot causing the issue then I’m not sure if that’s wise. It has been a long, hot and dry summer in Brisbane and we have been away the last couple of weeks so it may have been neglected with water recently. I’ve given it a couple of big drinks the last few days but not sure if this is helping or hurting. Would really appreciate any advice. It’s a beautiful young tree that was quite expensive so we’re keen to find out what’s causing the problem. Thanks and regards, Kerry.

    • Just a few comments.
      Planting with a small hollow is a great idea as it catches all the water and directs it to the roots.
      if you have just had a lot of rain then that will be the reason the buds are forming.
      If you have not had some rain then your plant is drying out as the root stock has not had time to establish (hence the staking need) The plant needs to be kept well watered until the root stock is established. My untested theory is they die of lack of moisture as the grafted plant comes from a 1200mm and more rainfall area in SW Western Australia.
      Dynamic Lifter is not a good fertilizer for natives – do not use! as it is high in phosphorous and nitrogen. I suspect it has burnt the root stocks roots with the result the grafted plant is staving for moisture.
      Does not look good for a long term recovery and my only suggestion is to give the plant a long, deep drink and hope you flush the fertiliser away from the roots.


      • Thanks Jeff, yes it is lack of water I suspect and the dynamic lifter hasn’t helped. Surprised about the dynamic lifter though, it is Yates Organic blend and says it is ok for natives and actually states the slow release blood & bone ingredient (high in phosphorous and nitrogen) is ideal for native plants! Perhaps it was too close to the trunk of the tree which has caused the burning. I’ve cleared the mulch well away form the base of the tree and will continue to give it plenty of water every couple of days and hope for the best. I’ll also try some soluble native plant fertiliser to give it a bit more assistance.

        Appreciate your feedback. Cheers, Kerry

        • I would not give it any more fertilizer. If the roots are damaged they will not be able to take up the fertilizer any way. Just water well. If I apply fertilizer to native plants I only give them half or quarter strength. Too much can be detrimental I have found. Hope it recovers.

        • Hi Kerry,

          I have a grafted dwarf orange flowering gum that seems to be very happy. Has produced the most wonderful display in early February and now growing new shoots. Every month I apply an organic seaweed soil conditioner very diluted (on soil only not plants) and have just bought an Eco organic fertiliser ( high in Nitrogen and other elements, low in phosphorous) which I will start to use twice a month very diluted.

          These are the ingredients of Eco fertiliser;

          17 amino acids from digested marine waste (eg prawn and crab shells)
          Nitrogen 2.7%
          Phosphorus 0.4%
          Potassium 0.7%
          Plus Calcium, Sulphur, Boron, Molybdenum, Zinc, Magnesium, Manganese, Iron and Copper
          Vitamins A, B12, C, D, E and K

          Notice the phosphorus rate.

          I have always been told native plants, don’t like too much phosphorous and to note that if you use blood and bone it activates in the soil for a very long time. Too much phosphorus can affect the level of iron which then becomes another problem.

          I suggest if you are going to use the dynamic lifter to use only a very, very tiny amount.

          Hope your gum recovers.


          • Thanks Jennifer, is this widely available do you know? Sounds like something I should invest in.

            Kind regards, Kerry.

          • HI Kerry,

            I purchased the fertiliser direct from the Eco Organic Garden website. If you google you can enquire from there. They make a variety of organic products to suit and also have a stockist list. Bunnings do stock some of their range, however my local store didn’t have the fertiliser.

            My native garden (which includes the flowering gum) was planted in February of last year. Upon my observation I have seen a wonderful mini Eco environment developing. I now get the native blue banded bees and other beneficial insects which I don’t want to lose, that is why I have chosen to go the organic way.

            I do agree with Jeff when mentioned, that you really shouldn’t put any more fertiliser down for the time being and water only, hopefully you will see some new growth happening. When I need to water I insert the hose in the soil and leave for over an hour to really get some moisture down to the roots. I have been known to walk off and leave the hose running, forgetting it’s there and returning 2 hours later.

            The reason I use seaweed soil conditioner – my garden site was originally where an above ground pool was built by the previous owners. The pool was approx. 20 or so years old, as you can image, the soil was pretty starved and in need of some TLC. Although the landscaper brought in some more soil and dug over the area with manure, it still needed some help.

            Gardening requires us to have patience, to investigate, to observe and gain knowledge. I tell myself this all the time and say if it’s meant to be, it will happen.

            Good luck with your gum.

            Kind Regards

  32. Thanks Jennifer, I’ll get on to that site and order some. Sounds like it will be of use for all of my plants and something that doesn’t affect the native wild life is important. Kind regards and thanks again, Kerry.

    • Hi Lee again got a new phone wondered if you’d be interested in seeing a few snaps old time last suppose finally getting up to date I’ll try and enclose regards lee

      • I have just dug out my E. Summer Glory (pink flower). Over the last few months the leaves were becoming paler and there were at least 20 new shoots from the graft stock appearing each week. They kept regrowing even though I removed them all by hand. The plant was telling me that the plant on top was dying.

        So what have I learnt. — not to buy another one as my soil and local conditions must cause the plants root stock and graft to become incompatible.

        BUT I have one grafted flowering gum remaining out of four plants. It is 10 years old an doing very well. It was marketed as E. Inferno, one of Phil Keanes (of Oz Plants) early grafted plants.

        For those that still have faith in these plants, there is a 10 year plus example growing in what was the NSW State Forestry Commissions nursery at Pennant Hills. Very healthy.


        • Hi Jeff,

          Must be disappointing and frustrating for you.

          Gardening sure does test us in every way.

          My gum is still young and over a year old now, I will keep a close eye on it.
          I have learnt a lot from reading different experiences everyone has had.

          After all the rain and humidity we are having in Sydney I expected to find my Hakea Laurina dying off, but instead is thriving. I do know the soil where I planted it, is extremely free draining, however I have been told it doesn’t like humidity.

          I have lost (although not as significant as your gum) two native plants. Curl grub had completely eaten all the root system. These were pretty hardy plants a Lomandra Tanika and Leptospermum shore tuff – pesky things. They were growing into really nice specimens.

          Someone who lives just down the road from me is also growing the dwarf orange – would be about 3 years old now. I had a look today and theirs is doing well, even though it gets a lot of shade.

          I took a holiday down the coast after Christmas and noticed there are a lot of flowering gums being grown in front gardens and flowering well. Mostly were orange, red.

          Jeff if you ever get the urge to try again and you can get to a local native nursery I recommend you have a look at Tarrawood Native Nursery website – they do all their own grafting – my orange gum was grafted by them.


  33. Sounds about right, makes me feel a bit less useless although not at good for you. I’m now watching my new babies growing, 9 little gums quite satisfying but very experimental. Im hoping they get put up on this website as I’m proud regards Lee

  34. Love the apricot one. Thanks for the advice. Years ago we had two beautiful trees but later one died and the rootstock took over the other. Now 15+ years later we are trying again with 3 bright hot pink ones that are surviving. One flowered in Dec and another one beside it is flowering beautifully now in March-April 2017 in Sydney. These are only young plants so i’ll prune the gum nuts off after flowering. Thanks


  35. Hi, I have a 10 year old red flowing gum located in the eastern suburbs of Sydney which has become very spindly. It has new buds but is not as compact as years in the past. Have pruned it when branches overlap the council footpath, nothing else of note.

  36. Hi Angus. I am a keen gardener who has had no luck with Flowering Gums. I am in Castle Hill, Sydney & I am on the 2nd ‘Gum’ in as many months. The first time, I put too strong fertiliser in the hole that the plant went in. The 2nd one is a little more mysterious. I cored & top dressed the lawn then I dug a hole one meter deep & a good half meter around then filled with Native Mix from A.N.L. I watered the plant in & maintained daily watering for the first 2 weeks. Everything was fine, it flowered and then about 2 weeks ago, after being in the ground for 4 weeks, it is dying from the bottom up. For fear of watering it to death, I stopped daily watering after 2 weeks, then watered as required. The plant was supported with hessian straps & lightly mulched. There has been no other additives I am aware of, and the plant is at the top of a slight slope getting all day sun. I have dropped $180 on these babies so far, plant size is 1200 to 1500mm height with good colour & graft union. Could the top dressing soil be leaching phosphorous perhaps? If I go again, if I dig a really big hole & fill with more Native mix, will it be safe or do I need to wait? Appreciate any help please, regards Cameron.

  37. What method of grafting has been used in the 2 photos. ficifolia scion to maculata and gummifera.
    They look to be straight across cuts.How is this possible

  38. Very interesting article! I bought 2 Summer Reds and both died – one more or less immediately after planting, the other a few weeks later. I watered them but obviously not enough. I was wondering if I would be able to grow them in a pot instead so I can keep the water up for them? I’m in Rockhampton, QLD.

  39. Help… In Morayfield just north of Brisbane. I have had a Eucalyptus “Summer Glory” Growing very well for the about 12 years now. Yes it has had the problem with the shoots growing but I have always removed them when they are new. It had a decent flowering around Christmas and I very rarely water it. We have had a fair bit of rain on and off since then and now today the weather is very hot again 30degrees I notice that all the leaves are shrivelled up and it looks very sick. Am I going to lose the whole big tree or is there anyway I can try and save it please? But reading the above posts it does not look hopeful.

  40. Hi Angus
    We have two red gums we planted early this year in NZ.
    One is looking really healthy, the other not so; it has been a time of learning.

    First of all the healthy one went from one stake to two, but now I see three should be used, and that would be correct (viewing comment above) as I’ve just noticed that the tree (which is about 2m high With a not very thick trunk) is really, really bendy when pushed in the direction of no stake.
    It’s also top heavy with a lot of leaf growth.
    One site said “Staking to correct this seldom works, since it causes the development of a weak trunk – in fact, staking is often largely the culprit for trees that blow down.
    If I remove the two stakes and put in three equally spaced with three hessian ties, how close do I put the stakes to the tree to enable movement?
    Also should the Hessian loops be placed in a number eight style, or just straight (each loop being on top of the other going up the tree)?
    I’m fearing it has a weak root system because of my ignorance.

    Number two tree is about two metres, spindly, lacking thick growth on top, trunk thin, bark coming off, leaves have rustiness, yet new growth (buds/leaves?), top is constantly bent over having to stake to keep straight. All in all, very weak tree.

    They are both mounded, same process of soil and mulch, about 20-25m apart.

    Your help will be welcomed.

  41. We are from north Brisbane and were gifted a Graftmasters Baby orange a year ago in Feb 2018. It is planted in a native garden in full sun. [All other native grevillias and callistemons are doing fine] with a neighbour’s shed about a metre away which receives the western sun. Plant was doing really well growing well but hadn’t flowered.Mild weather but little rain over christmas for Brisbane, then hot and humid but still almost no rain for the last couple of weeks recently around 33 degrees. Suddenly it looks like the leaves have all completely dried out..about to die but some tiny end shoots remain. I am waiting for all the leaves to drop off! I have been applying seaweed and watering well in the hope to save it but wondering if when label says full sun it doesn’t mean full Brisbane sun! Also wondering if it is being affected by radiant heat from shed

    • Hi Rosie, how is your tree doing? Did the leaves change colour at all? I recently got a summer beauty and a summer red, and within days many of the summer beauty’s leaves have turned white on the tip and edges. I watered her for the first few days (still in the pot she arrived in) and then we have had a lot of rain so can’t imagine she is too dry!

  42. Hi my two year old grafted summer beauty has suddenly developed torched old leaves while the new green growing tips still look viable. We have had a dry winter here in Brisbane and the plant is in a part shade position on the western side of our garden. A scrub turkey has taken upon itself to shift all of our mulch around the garden and I have noticed an increased pile of it under the tree. It seem unlikely to be from being too dry given the new shoots, but equally how could it be fungal if it’s been quite dry? Do you have any advice about how I could save the tree? All the best.

  43. I have Summer Red. After nearly dying from frost the first winter it really took off. Last year it had one umbel of flowers- very beautiful. This year it is completely covered with buds and is about to flower. We have noticed some branches are falling and one large one is splitting away from the main trunk. To prevent it breaking we have tied it up in several places. My feeling is that its rapid growth under irrigation has made it more gangly and less compact than other ones I see around the streets in my area. The heaviness of the buds are then dragging the branches down

  44. I have a grafted eucalypt that I planted about 6 years ago. It had been doing ok… flowering occasionally but had shoots from the graft that I would remove when I noticed them. It has now suddenly died. As much as I love the colour and bird life it bought to the garden, I don’t think I will risk another one.

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