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You grow Australian tea for its structure.

Most leptospermums are grown for their flowers, but you grow Australian tea tree (L. laevigatum) mainly for its structure. Gracefully weeping limbs covered with fine-textured gray-green foliage form a canopy of light shade. The sinewy trunk creates a conversation piece and eventually a playground for children or grandchildren. Small white flowers appear along the branches in spring.

A rugged native of Australia's coastal dunes, this tea tree tolerates heat, moderate drought, and wind (even salty ocean wind), as long as it has good drainage and slightly acid to neutral soil. It grows best in mild coastal climates, from San Diego To San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. When grown out of strong winds and encouraged by staking and pruning, the tree can reach 20 feet (rarely 30), forming a wide canopy of stiff, twisting branches and drooping branchlets. To prune, cut unwanted branches back to the next larger branch or to the trunk.

Unstaked and unpruned, the trunk may lean or lie picturesquely on the ground.

Planted close enough to crowd (up to 6 feet apart), trees will grow reasonably erect and dense, making a hedge or tall screen. With minimal guidance, tea tree can be induced to grow as an espalier along a low rail fence. (To trim as a hedge, prune young trees often so you won't have to cut back into bare wood.)

Look for plants in nurseries in 1- and 5-gallon cans. Plant in full sun; water regularly until roots are established.
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jul 1, 1985
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