Eugenia is a very large genus of evergreen, flowering shrubs with over a thousand recognized species. Native to South America, the most commonly grown eugenia species, Eugenia uniflora is often used to create privacy screens and garden hedges.
This perennial, a member of the myrtle family, is distributed widely in both the Tropics and sub-Tropics, where it grows as a hedging and ornamental plant.
Several species of eugenia are also cultivated for their edible fruit.
The eugenia was considered to be a valuable fruit tree and quickly spread from its native range in South America, where it was introduced into parts of Africa, Asia, and the Pacific.
There are reports that a common species of eugenia was grown in Bermuda in the mid-1800s. The shrub was quick to naturalize, although its seeds could only be dispersed by larger birds, such as starlings, due to their large size.
A hundred years ago, in parts of South America, eugenia trees were felled in the belief that their elimination would eradicate the fruit fly. Subsequent studies however showed that this was unsuccessful.
Since the 1900s, the eugenia has been considered more and more to be an invasive and weedy plant. It will adapt to new locations and can grow almost anywhere in its hardiness zones.
|Scientific name||Eugenia, Syzygium|
|Common names||Eugenia, Brush cherry|
|Height||Up to 20 feet (6.m) but usually less than 10 feet (3 m)|
|Width||6 to 8 feet (1.83 – 2.5 m)|
|USDA Plant Hardiness Zone||Zones 10 to 11|
|Native to||Parts of Asia, Africa, and South America|
|Flower colors||Creamy white|
|Plant specific features||Glossy, evergreen foliage|
How to Plant and Grow Eugenia Bushes
Eugenia is a great choice if you are looking for an attractive and fast-growing hedging plant. It is hardy in its cold hardiness zones. With a dense and compact habit, eugenia makes an excellent privacy screen.
Where to Plant
Because it is so easy to trim to shape, a eugenia shrub is often used as a specimen plant for topiary work. If you don’t want to spend the time, the eugenia works equally well as a shrub that is very low-maintenance.
If you want to hide an ugly building or neighbor’s wall, then the eugenia makes a great living hedge or fence. Because it is fast-growing and so dense in foliage, it will hide whatever is behind it, very quickly. You can then keep it trimmed to whatever height you wish.
Ideally, and for the best results, try to plant the eugenia somewhere that is protected from strong winds.
If you are planting eugenia as a hedging plant, you will be using multiple plants. Space the plants around 4 to 5 feet (1.52 m) apart. And leave about the same distance from an existing wall.
Similarly, if you are lining a path or walkway with eugenia, leave around 4 to 5 feet (1.52 m) between the shrubs. Also, remember to allow sufficient space in front of the plant, so the plant will not block the walkway as it grows.
Another possibility for growing eugenia, particularly if you are in a colder region, is to plant it in a large container. The eugenia shrub will thrive providing the pot is sufficiently large. You can trim the eugenia to keep it to a manageable size.
A pot-grown eugenia can be protected from the cold by moving it to a sheltered location for the winter months. When grown in a container, a eugenia makes a great choice of plant for topiary.
Use a clay or similar pot, as this material retains water better than a plastic pot, and it will not dry out as quickly.
When to Plant
The best time to plant a eugenia shrub or tree is in the Spring. During the Spring, the plant will grow vigorously and establish a robust root network during the growing season.
Just make sure that as the Summer approaches and the soil starts to dry out, you provide the newly planted eugenia with supplementary water as required.
Eugenia Shrubs Care and Maintenance
The most important soil requirement for a eugenia is that it needs to be well-draining. It is imperative that the shrub doesn’t sit in water. Soggy soil will rot the eugenia’s roots and the shrub will quickly die.
Enrich the soil at planting time, with an organic-rich compost or well-rotted manure. If the soil doesn’t drain well, you can improve its drainage by adding some shale and a soil conditioner.
The best type of soil for a eugenia is slightly acidic, so if necessary, apply a soil conditioner to correct the pH value (between 6 and 6.5).
Especially for the first growing season, water the eugenia regularly. Don’t let the eugenia shrub’s roots dry out whilst it is getting settled into its new growing environment. It is at this time that the eugenia will be establishing its root network.
A thorough and deep watering at this time will encourage the eugenia to grow deep roots. This will assist the plant, later on, to absorb water and nutrients from deep in the ground.
The soil should be allowed to dry out between watering, rather than watering the eugenia more frequently but only superficially.
The watering needs of an established in-ground eugenia are easy. Eugenia shrubs can survive a short period of drought. But it will perform best, even when established if you provide some supplementary water during prolonged hot, dry spells.
The soil must dry out in between watering, and never stand in waterlogged soil.
A container-grown plant, even when established, will require more frequent watering. The growing medium in a pot dries out much more quickly than in-ground soil.
Don’t feed the eugenia late in the year. An autumn feed will encourage tender new shoots to grow just before the onset of winter. The eugenia’s new growth may not have sufficient time to harden sufficiently to withstand the cold weather.
In addition, the eugenia flowers form on the previous season’s growth, so you don’t want to be encouraging tender new growth that may not survive the winter.
In the early Spring, feed the eugenia with a slow-release balanced fertilizer. A granular product will encourage new growth and flower production. You can then feed again in the early or mid-summer.
The eugenia or brush cherry will do best if planted in full sun. The new foliage will be more colorful and the flowers more abundant. However, it will still tolerate a more shady site.
Pruning and Repotting
You can prune a eugenia regularly, and this is frequently done to maintain a eugenia shrub as a topiary object. Similarly, you can trim it frequently in order to keep a hedge tidy and in shape.
The only downside of regularly trimming is that there is a risk you will be removing the following season’s flowers with the tips of the branches.
Propagation can occur by seed. Be aware that if sowing seed, you must sow immediately. Seeds of eugenia remain viable for less than a month, after which germination rates fall dramatically.
The seeds should germinate in under a month, and the seedlings can they grow on and overwinter in a sheltered spot.
The eugenia seedlings can start to flower and fruit from their second year. However, this is unusual and depends on the seedlings having optimum growing conditions. Normally, the shrubs will be between 6 and 10 years old before they produce flowers and fruit.
Alternatively, with many varieties of eugenia, it is possible to take cuttings to reproduce the plants. This can additionally include layering, or grafting, both of which methods have a high success rate.
If taking stem cuttings, use the current season’s soft growth before it turns woody. The best time to propagate eugenia from cuttings is during the spring when the plant is producing vigorous new growth.
Once the eugenia has started to flower, it is too late to take cuttings, or if you do, be prepared for a lower success rate.
The pots or trays for the cuttings should be filled with well-draining potting compost that has been mixed with sand. The use of hormone rooting powder will assist and improve the rooting process. However, eugenia cuttings will root readily without additional help.
Never use any part of a plant for propagation, unless it is healthy and showing no sign of insect or other disease or damage.
Removing the lower leaf pairs will conserve moisture in the stem. Similarly, covering the pot with a plastic bag for the first few weeks will also help with moisture retention. This will help the cutting whilst it is developing its roots.
Keep the cuttings somewhere that is well-lit, but out of direct sunlight. Keep them in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame and make sure the compost does not dry out.
Once little roots start to form, in about a month, you can remove the plastic bag. Continue to keep the pots damp, but not wet, and mist the leaves weekly.
Prepare the cuttings for the winter by planting them in a nursery bed. Apply a thick layer of mulch all around the plant’s base, taking care not to get any mulch on the stems.
This will help to keep the eugenia shrubs warm during the colder weather. They can be planted in their final positions the following Spring.
Pests and diseases
Eugenia species are lovely shrubs and in good health can be a show-stopper. However, there are a number of pests that can spoil the health and appearance of the plant.
Most commonly, aphids, scale, and psyllid insects. The eugenia psyllid commonly attacks the eugenia shrub and sucks the sap from the plant’s stem and leaves.
These insects are tiny and lay eggs on the edges of the leaves. As the eggs hatch, the resulting insects forage on the leaf tissue. This can result in discoloration of the leaves and adversely affect the health of the eugenia.
The problem can be treated naturally by introducing ladybugs to the shrub, or by applying an organic pesticide to the leaves weekly, such as horticultural neem oil mixed with water.
Other pests such as whitefly, scale insect, aphids, and red spider mite can all pose problems for the eugenia. All these insects feed on the sap and plant tissue.
Scale insects exude a syrupy-like liquid that also attracts ants. To eliminate the issue of these pests, the use of an organic pesticide is effective.
Fungal infections such as rust can also discolor the underside of the foliage of the eugenia. It is very easy for this disease to spread to the rest of the plant, and to neighboring plants.
Rust is a fungal disease that produces orange-colored spores, which are dispersed by rain and wind. This disease naturally occurs when humidity levels are high, particularly during hot weather. It is difficult to treat against rust without resorting to the use of a fungicide.
Once commenced, treatment usually needs to be repeated every couple of weeks until humidity levels subside.
If weather conditions remain damp for long periods, other fungal infections can occur, such as leaf spots. The best way to control fungal infections taking hold is to improve airflow at the center of the eugenia.
Regular pruning can assist with this. Always remove any damaged or diseased leaves or branches as soon as you spot them.
During very hot summer weather, eugenia can also suffer from dieback. This is another fungal disease that causes branches of the eugenia to wilt, lose their leaves, and subsequently die. The treatment of a fungicide applied regularly will also control this disease.
Finally, every gardener’s nightmare – slugs and snails! These mollusks can cause havoc to the eugenia. They chew and damage the shrub’s leaves, flowers, and stems.
Make sure you remove all decaying plant tissue as during the day, this is where slugs and snails will hide. Prevention in this way is the best defense, but you may also have to resort to the use of organic granules to control slugs and snails too.
Steer clear of non-organic slug pellets though, if you have small children or domestic animals, as these are quite toxic.
Temperature and Humidity
Although the eugenia will tolerate cooler temperatures, its flower and fruit production is best in warmer regions. Similarly, don’t expose the eugenia to excessive humidity, as this may provoke the onset of rot.
However, the eugenia will tolerate both lower and higher humidity levels without harm.
Other Uses for Eugenia
Eugenia is a very large genus of shrubs with over 1000 species. Numerous species have been associated with folk medicine to treat various illnesses and ailments.
Essential oil is produced from the leaves of the Eugenia uniflora and this has antioxidant and antifungal properties. This oil has been tested on mice, as the oil also contains antibacterial properties that might inhibit certain pathogens, such as listeria and staphylococcus.
Many species produce edible fruits, that are made into food products, such as jams or jellies. Often the berries produced by eugenia shrubs are brightly colored and sweet-sour in taste.
Other species are grown into tall trees and yield quality timber.
Types of Eugenia You Can Grow
The most commonly grown eugenia is Eugenia uniflora or Surinam cherry. If provided with optimal growing conditions, this variety of evergreen shrub will flower almost continually throughout the year.
At the very least, it is likely to flower several times throughout the season, with its flowers being followed by cherry-like, deep red fruits. It is no surprise that this variety is commonly known as brush cherry.
Different types of eugenia produce plants of varying sizes, different forms of fruits and flowers, and variations in color. All eugenia shrubs can be used as outdoor or indoor plants.
Eugenia pitomba produces yellow-colored fruit that has very juicy orange flesh.
Eugenia aggregata or Cherry of the Rio Grande is evergreen, like all eugenia shrubs. This variety of eugenia can be kept small, growing no taller than 6 feet (1.83 m) with regular and thorough pruning.
Beware, though, without such work, this species is capable of reaching over 25 feet (ca. 8 m) in height! This variety provides additional interest in its unusual bark.
Once the cherry of the Rio Grande eugenia tree matures, the thin bark peels away, and the result is an attractive, mottled trunk.
The eugenia is a lovely plant to grow either individually or en masse. Providing your winter temperatures do not fall below -3° C (or you can grow it in a pot and move it indoors for the winter), then this tropical native has much to offer.
*image by aimful/depositphotos