Tea Tree

shmooey(7B Seattle)March 31, 2010

Does anyone know how to prune a Melaleuca Alternifolia properly?

Mine has grown about 3 feet tall and i am going to put it back outside soon, after i prune the branches and the roots.

is there a certain way to do this? Will they grow new shoots on only new or old wood?

Very hard to find any information- so thanks in advance if anyone knows!

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I realise you want to keep the plant small, but you're up against it, you know. That plant will be wanting to get to about 8 metres tall, which very roughly translates to something like 30ft. It IS a tree, not a shrub.

Australian natives in general don't take too kindly to heavy pruning. It's my experience that they can be temperamental about it. They might take it calmly a couple of times, and then you do it again, and then go into the sulks and die just to spite you. Melaleucas can take a gentle pruning, and new growth will emerge from 2-3yo wood, but I would not suggest taking more than one-third of total growth.

I've had a mature melaleuca come back from near death after an attack by some bug or other which ate all the leaves, but I never, ever pruned it. Of course, it was in a garden in its home-land.

I think you should ask your question on the Bonsai Forum. Perhaps also remember that many Australian natives do not have a long life-span - perhaps 15-20 years or so. Most are fast-growers (mine got to mature size in about 5 years), but the older they get, the woodier they get and the less likely it is that new growth will regenerate, and when it does it will be ratty.

You can see some (not very good) pix of my melaleuca at the link below (it's on the far right of both photos):


Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   April 1, 2010 at 4:41AM
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shmooey(7B Seattle)

I actually do want it to get big- just not yet! Hopefully next year i will be able to put it in a much larger container and not worry about its height. The only reason im pruning it now is because of all the leggy growth from being indoors, and its in a smallish container.

Went ahead and pruned off a lot of the little stems, and cut the tops off the really tall leggy ones- so hopefully it wont hate me when i put it back out in the sun!

Your tree looks amazing!

    Bookmark   April 1, 2010 at 6:15PM
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I trust this is somewhat relevant to the thread. I've had a small tea tree bush (Melaleuca alternifolia) for nearly two years. It's in a pot as I live in an apartment in a cold climate (Boston most recently) and done really well tripling in size. I've pruned it a few times and its filled out nicely. I've noticed that this particular bush likes water - ideally twice a week. Long story short, I was away over the holidays and came back to a dry bush. All the leaves are dry, though they haven't fallen off the branches yet. I've been watering it every few days in hopes of reviving it, but no sign of green yet.

Do you all have any experience resurrecting these bushes? Will it come back from being this dry or should i give up on it? It's been a chore to get it this far and i hate to lose it. Its on a southern window sill and gets plenty of sun, and it's warm inside.

Any tips, ideas, suggestions to rescue my tea tree would be greatly appreciated!

    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 10:49PM
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shmooey(7B Seattle)

Hey Korova-

My tea tree, almost a year later, is still alive and for the most part- thriving in its tortured condition.

It responded to pruning beautifully, putting out a lot of new growth on the previously naked bottoms of the main branches. It definitely loves the heat, and it loves water, as you have said.

Mine has dried out several times by accident, and yes, it will come back. Be sure not to over water it, in fear. It cant become swampy. In fact, my mom recently neglected it and the whole thing is now naked.... I'm trying not to worry- its bounced back many times... sometimes it just takes a while, and until it warms up.

I would say water it carefully. The dried leaves will probably not rehydrate- and you will have to wait for new growth.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 12:30AM
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While most Australian plants are drought-tolerant, Melalauca is not one of them. You'll often find them along river banks, which is a good indication of their preferences. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy.

A dried-out leaf is a dead leaf. A dead leaf cannot do the Lazarus thing!

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 9:56PM
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