Blog by Beebe Cline

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Great Design Tree: Australian Tea Tree

I'm not even going to attempt to conceal the reverence and adoration I have for the Australian Tea Tree (Leptospermum laevigatum). Wind blown and architectural, these trees appear to be molded by hand rather than grown. They sweep wildly across the landscape, and no two trees are ever alike. Growing up in San Diego, I would climb these trees at my favorite beach, only later discovering the name. As it turns out, Australian Tea Trees make for beautiful landscape design features in more than just my childhood beach.
Botanical name: Leptospermum laevigatum
Common names: Australian Tea Tree, Coast Tea Tree
USDA zones: 9 to 11
Water requirement: Little to none
Light requirement: Full sun
Mature size: 10 to 30 feet tall and wide
Tolerances: Drought; thrives in coastal conditions
Distinguishing traits. Australian Tea Tree is a showstopping specimen tree that exudes a casual and understated aesthetic. The flaky gray bark and twisting form of the tree's trunk are identifiers of the tea tree and what make it so unlike any other. The trunk and bark only become more sculptural with age.
Fine foliage and petite white flowers softly contrast the coarse trunk of the tree, creating a balanced juxtaposition. Flowering in spring, the tree produces a dazzling display of small, white flowers throughout the stems and leaves.

Photograph by Stephen Bain via Wikimedia Commons
How to use it. The picturesque appearance of the tea tree, highly ornamental and sculptural, makes it inherently a specimen tree. Given room and time to mature, its limbs will only spread and twist more, creating a living landscape sculpture and perfect shady landscape spot.
Australian Tea Tree can also be trained as a windbreak, a garden screen or a covered walk — shown here at Lotusland in Santa Barbara, California. While this treatment of the tree prevents its branching structure from taking shape, fine leaves and flowers will still blanket its branches. This use requires more labor to maintain.
Planting notes. Native to coastal climates, tea trees thrive in well-drained, slightly acidic soil. The tree is susceptible to root rot if the soil is too moist. Long living and quick growing, Australian Tea Tree requires little additional care once established. If you let it grow out completely, you can thin areas to emphasize its shape; otherwise it requires little pruning.