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Tree Racing with Leptospermum Dark Shadows

leptospermum 'dark shadows'

Leptospermum 'dark shadows'

These are two Leptospermum “Dark Shadows” that we’ve been racing. They have both been in the ground for almost two and a half years. The one on the left we planted as a 1 gallon, the one on the right as a 5 gallon. The race happened by accident (we originally planted three fives, but I messed up on the irrigation and one of them died, to be replaced two months later with a one gallon; so, technically, the one on the right had a head start) but we’ve been watching the two plants grow with about as much excitement as a race between two immobile objects can generate. 

Supposedly, the one gallon tree will catch up after three years, and be the larger, healthier, more drought-tolerant specimen after five. That’s a bit of garden lore we’ve been repeating to clients, and this was our accidental test case. As you can see, the one gallon has caught up in height, after only two and a half years, though the five gallon is much fuller and has a significantly thicker trunk.

Sadly, the race has now concluded. The client moved to a new site and decided to try to take his tea trees with him. One tree has been moved already, and the others have been severely root pruned in an unfinished or aborted transplant attempt. We’re pretty sure they’re all going to die. I wish I had a better photo of them.

ryan 1/3/09

— Update 9/20/09 — The client left the largest specimen behind, probably because it was too big to transplant. It survived the root pruning and looks healthy. One of the transplanted trees is dead, but the other one — the one gallon — was is still alive, though with very little foliage.

— Update 6/15/10 — The race is back on. The one gallon tree survived its transplant. I guess it was still young enough and I should never doubt the resilience of young plants.

Leptospermum Dark Shadows, 5 gallon

Leptospermum Dark Shadows, original location

The five gallon tree that was root-pruned but not transplanted is still healthy. The one gallon is smaller but has more foliage.

Leptospermum Dark Shadows, transplanted

Leptospermum Dark Shadows, transplanted

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5 Responses to “Tree Racing with Leptospermum Dark Shadows”

  1. July 16th, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    Luisa says:

    Hi,
    Sorry about the loss of the Leptospermum ‘dark shadow’ trees. i have been admiring them & think to use them to screen us from a neighbor here in Berkeley. The trees would be planted along the back north-western corner of the property (on the west fence. Not all that much sun in the winter, but nice the rest of the year. I wonder about the width though. Back yard isn’t very big. Plant about 5′ on center?
    Thanks for any comments.
    Luisa

  2. April 25th, 2012 at 6:15 am

    Rachele says:

    Thanks for the great story. I’m a bit shocked at my myself; I was mesmerized reading about the “race.”

  3. February 9th, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    Bridget Grealis says:

    We purchased two of these in Dec 2014, and they look now if they are dead. The leaves are all dry an fall off.

  4. February 11th, 2015 at 10:37 am

    ryan says:

    Sorry to hear about that. In my experience, they don’t like to dry out when they’re first planted. After they’re established they are tough and reliable, so it might be worth trying again. Good luck.

  5. August 4th, 2019 at 6:53 pm

    Beryl says:

    Thank you for your excellent information and photos. I am about to perform an extremely risky experiment. I’ve had a ‘Dark Shadows’ in a 15 gallon container for many years. I now want to plant it. I submerged the container for a day or two in a bucket of water because the plant was completely root-bound and the little soil that was still in the container was hydrophobic. I am too lazy too dig a deep enough hole and I am planning to saw off the bottom third of the root mass. I think I was told that Leptospermums do not like to have their roots disturbed. I probably will kill the plant. I’ll let you know. I am in Richmond, Ca.

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