Need short Australia-friendly tree that will earn its keep
April 5, 2012 6:42 PM   Subscribe

I need recommendations for small trees, or bushes or shrubs or something, that absolutely won't grow taller than two metres high, can handle dry conditions (Australian summers) and temperatures between -5 and +40 Celsius. Ideally they should either have pretty flowers or produce something edible (but not citrus, I have enough of those already). Needs to be available in Canberra.

The electric company is making me rip out two trees in my garden because they are too close to powerlines. I want to replace them with something that won't be a problem. The overhead supply is pretty low, so I think I can only get away with 2m max.

Also, do I need to wait for spring to plant the replacements?
posted by lollusc to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you have clippers? Because that's the solution to your "no more than two metres high" problem.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 7:13 PM on April 5, 2012

This fact sheet from the TAMS and the Yarralumla Nursery might help. Grevillea iaspicula looks very nice indeed - great flowers, bird-attracting, tolerates heavy frost, strikes readily from cuttings. While in theory it can reach 4m, most plants are around 1.5m - a quick prune after flowering would keep them in check if you were especially worried.

The medium shrubs on this list are probably worth checking out too; sorry, don't know much about their frost / drought-hardiness off the top of my head, but TAMS claims they're especially suited for Canberra's climate.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:29 PM on April 5, 2012

Might pomegranate fit the bill? It's a bushy shrub and handles heat and sun well. Not native to Australia, but apparently, people are starting to grow it there.
posted by Gilbert at 9:03 PM on April 5, 2012

Yeah, get thee to a nursery! Canberra's a bit of an in-between area - a bit south of the southern brigalow belt, ostensibly on the western slopes, but close enough to the central rangelands - so you get to choose from a range of the hardier shrub species from those areas. What you decide on really depends on whether you want a stereotypically straggly australian shrub, or something with a bit more body / density to it.

Pineapple guavas? Last time I was there I noticed a few in flower around the place; they've probably not long finished fruiting. They grow fairly dense, and the fruit is delightfully edible. One of the speading banksias? They'll grow to a few meters across, 2~3 high, and the smaller nectar-eating native birds & animals love them.

It's getting a bit close to winter now, and the temperatures will really start to drop off in the next few weeks, so you'd probably be best if you can wait until spring.

On a quick google: Canberra plant selector.
posted by Pinback at 10:04 PM on April 5, 2012

How about a gardenia, or a mock orange? Both only grow to about 1.5 meters, and the flowers put off fantastic perfume. Pinback's plant selector seems to indicate that both are available in your area.
posted by crunchland at 10:28 PM on April 5, 2012

Thanks for the suggestions, I'll look into them. Canberra plant selector looks very helpful, and I especially like the ideas of the pineapple guavas and pomegranate (if the latter stays small).

As for the clippers suggestion, we have tried keeping the trees we have there cut back, but they grow back too fast. The electricity company reinspected in December, we cut them back, and now they have reinspected and say they have already grown back too close. They are insisting that we remove the trees and prove that we have done so (by showing a receipt from a tree surgeon). They are also threatening to fine us. So we don't want to risk having to go through this rigmarole again in the future.
posted by lollusc at 11:17 PM on April 5, 2012

Oh, a "pineapple guava" turns out to be a feijoa! I LOVE feijoas and miss them very much since you can't buy them in Australian supermarkets. We tried to grow them when I was a kid but they were a bit picky and never really fruited. But maybe the NZ climate was not as good for them as the Australian one would be. I might well try to grow them again.
posted by lollusc at 2:27 AM on April 6, 2012

Here are some suggestions for you:

Azaleas are drought tolerant, very hardy to freezing and have showy flowers. They don't take long to establish and flower, so long as you feed them correctly, and generally don't grow taller than 1 m, but I have seen huge bushes. I have a three-season azalea 'Encore' that blooms in the spring, summer and fall.

Crape (Crepe) myrtles are also drought tolerant, love sun, OK for frost tolerance (you may have to cover them) and there are dwarf varieties that are shrub-like instead of tree-like. We planted two 'purple magic' crape myrtle dwarfs to serve as a privacy screen last fall between our property and our neighbors' when they cut down some trees.

Both of these are fairly maintenance free. Here in the Southern US, we have special varieties for our climate and there may be the same for your location.

Kumquat or loquat are good. I have seen them trained into a shrub-type presentation (or maybe it was a dwarf variety). There are pretty white flowers, plus you get the added benefit of the fruit.

A big, bushy flowering shrub is butterfly bush. It is a very hardy plant and will grow in lots of places. It grows quickly and produces flowers very quickly that attract butterflies. The flowers are cone shaped and purple. The leaves are a silvery green color.

Spring (fall in the northern hemisphere) is the best time of year to plant, so the plants can establish the root systems.
posted by FergieBelle at 6:53 AM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Feijoa sounds great, but if it doesn't work out for you, I can highly recommend taking a photo of the spot you want to plant in and taking it to a specialist native plant nursery. If you were in Perth I'd recommend Zanthorrea Nursery, but I'm sure there's something similar in Canberra. We did that for a difficult spot in our garden and got extensive practical advice from a woman who knows the local climate really well. Previously we'd been to generic nurseries and gotten recommendations that were generally accurate but not really specific to our needs.
posted by harriet vane at 4:29 AM on April 8, 2012

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