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Growing a Lilly Pilly Hedge (Complete Guide)

Lilly Pillies are popular Australian natives that grow in a variety of conditions and soil types. They’re commonly grown as hedges and make perfect screening plants.

Not only do these plants have dense, lush foliage, but you can also look forward to fragrant flowers and delicious berries.

There are around 60 different Lilly Pilly varieties that are native to Australia and Southeast Asia.

Somewhat confusingly, there are three genera of plants commonly called Lilly Pillies: Acmena, Syzygium and Waterhousea.

In addition, there are also quite a few different cultivars and hybrids that have become popular across the country.

Choosing a Lilly Pilly Variety

Syzygium Australe Lilly Pilly | Plant care
Syzygium Australe Lilly Pilly

There are many varieties of Lilly Pilly to choose from, and the best one for you will be determined by your specific requirements.

Because they are sub-tropical rainforest plants, they do tend to prefer a warmer climate. If you live in a cooler part of the country you may want to speak with your local nursery to determine whether there is a variety that would suit your garden.

Another key consideration is whether you want a smaller or larger plant. Larger Lilly Pilly varieties can grow up to 5 metres or more and are better suited for tall screening hedges. Some full-grown Lilly Pillies can reach up to 30 metres!

Lilly Pilly Tree | Plant care
A Lilly Pilly tree that has been left to grow

There are also dwarf varieties that are better suited to smaller hedges.

Common Lilly Pilly problems result from an attack by the Lilly Pilly Psyllid (Trioza Eugeniae). These small sap-sucking insects can cause bumps, blisters, and curling leaves.

Therefore, many people choose to go with a variety that is resistant to psyllids.

According to Burke’s Backyard, the Acmena smithii and Syzygium luehmannii varieties are the most resistant to psyllid. They also state that “those that most readily show signs of attack are Syzygium paniculatum types including Lillyput” and that “Waterhousea floribunda is also susceptible”.

Many other varieties are marketed as being resistant to psyllids, including:

Lilly Pilly Resilience (Syzygium australe cultivar)

This variety is called Lilly Pilly ‘Resilience’ because of its resistance to psyllid attack. It grows to a height of around 3 metres and makes a great hedging or screening plant.

Lilly Pilly Backyard Bliss (Syzygium paniculata cultivar)

This is a dense and fast-growing cultivar that is absolutely perfect for screening. It can grow to a height of around 6 metres but doesn’t mind heavy pruning to keep it at a more manageable height.

It features pretty red growth in the new leaves and is psyllid-resistant. Once well-established, this variety is relatively drought-hardy. This Lilly Pilly does not produce a lot of fruit.

Lilly Pilly Straight and Narrow (Syzygium australe cultivar)

This variety is one of the best for hedging because it has a narrow, upright growth habit.

This Syzygium australe cultivar can reach a maximum height of around 8 metres but will only spread to a width of 1.5 metres.

Goodbye Neighbours Lilly Pilly (Acmena smithii cultivar)

As you would imagine, this variety forms an excellent screening plant. It will grow to a height of 6 metres and a width of 2 metres. The new growth is a lovely bronze golden colour which adds to its appeal.

Being quite a hardy plant, Goodbye Neighbours Lilly Pilly is both drought and light-frost tolerant. In addition, it can live quite happily in coastal areas. It’s also psyllid-resistant.

Planting your Lilly Pilly Hedge

Lilly Pilly hedge spacing

When it comes to establishing a new garden hedge, you need to get the spacing right so that you end up with a fairly solid structure of densely growing plants.

To grow a nice thick Lilly Pilly hedge, it’s recommended that you space your plants from 50 cm to 1 metre apart. The exact spacing will vary slightly depending on the variety and how tall you want your hedge to be.

Syzygium Australe Lilly Pilly small | Plant care
Young Lilly Pilly plants

As with many hedge plants, it’s best to apply the 3 to 1 ratio. This ratio relies on how tall you want the hedge to be to determine how far you need to space the plants.

For example, if you want a 2-metre tall hedge, you should space your plants around 65 cm apart.

Soil and Positioning

Lilly Pillies like rich, deep, well-drained soil, but they will grow in a wide variety of conditions.

They prefer full sun to partial shade, so are fairly adaptable in terms of sunlight requirements.

Some Lilly Pilly varieties can survive frost when they have become established, but young trees should be protected.

Planting your Lilly Pilly

To plant a Lilly Pilly, first dig a hole that is twice the size of its root ball. It can be beneficial to add some compost, composted manure, or slow-release fertiliser to the soil.

Next, tease apart the roots before placing the plant in its new home. Backfill with dirt and water well to set everything in place.

Finally, add an organic mulch such as sugar cane, lucerne, or pea straw and give it another good watering. Mulch reduces the amount of water that evaporates from the soil, providing a more consistent moisture level for your plant.

Mulch is also a good soil temperature regulator. It will keep the soil warmer during cold weather and cooler during the hotter months.

Caring for your Lilly Pilly

Syzygium australe | Plant care
Syzygium Australe Lilly Pilly / Photo by Pseudopanax / Wikimedia

Lilly Pillies are fairly hardy once established, but extra care should be taken when they are young.

Here are the most important things to keep in mind:

Watering

Lilly Pillies like to have their roots kept moist, so make sure yours is watered well during the warm months.

However, Lilly Pillies do not respond well to overwatering and it can cause root rot. This is generally fatal for your plant, which is why good drainage is essential for Lilly Pillies.

Syzygium Australe Lilly Pilly hedge 3 | Plant care
A healthy Lilly Pilly hedge

When planting a Lilly Pilly, water it every day for the first couple of weeks and then as needed after that.

The best way to know whether your plant needs watering is by testing the soil moisture, either using your finger or a soil moisture meter.

The soil around a healthy Lilly Pilly should feel moist but not wet or soggy.

Pruning

If treated well, your Lilly Pillies will form a nice dense hedge that you can keep in check with a regular prune. To achieve a bushy look, tip prune your Lilly Pilly when it’s young. You want to do this on new growth consistently.

To tip prune, just cut off the tips of each branch down to where a set of leaves are growing with a sharp pair of secateurs. 

What will happen when you do this is that the plant will produce two new stems from where the cut was made.

Neighbours Be Gone tree Syzgium paniculata | Plant care
Syzygium Australe Lilly Pilly

When you’re trying to grow a hedge, it can be tempting to let your Lilly Pillies get to the height that you want as quickly as possible. However, you shouldn’t do this because you’ll be limiting the bushiness of the plant.

Fertiliser

When determining the best fertiliser for your Lilly Pilly, there are various factors to consider. These include the fertility of your soil and the age of the plants.

Also, keep in mind that if you added composted manure or slow-release fertiliser to your soil before planting your Lilly Pilly, it won’t need any additional fertiliser until the following spring.

Like most Australian natives, Lilly Pillies need a supply of nitrogen for good, strong growth. This is especially useful for young plants that still have a lot of growing to do.

Syzygium Australe Lilly Pilly leaves | Plant care
Nitrogen is important for Lilly Pillies to grow new foliage

Lilly Pillies also benefit from some potassium that helps keep the plants healthy and aids in fruit ripening.

You may have read that phosphorus is not good for Australian natives.

The reason it’s said that Australian natives can’t tolerate phosphorus is that, in general, our soils are deficient in this nutrient. Therefore, our native plants have adapted over time to cope with the low level of phosphorus in our soils.

However, this is not entirely the case for Lilly Pillies.

In small quantities, phosphorus can help these plants to establish strong root growth and can assist with flower and fruit formation.

Garden fertiliser 2 | Plant care
Choose a fertiliser that is mostly nitrogen and potassium

Therefore, the fertiliser that you choose should have a higher nitrogen content, a small amount of phosphorus, and a slightly larger amount of potassium. A slow-release fertiliser is best because it allows the roots of the established plants to take up the nutrients when they need them.

Depending on the nutritional content in your soil, a well-established Lilly Pilly hedge will benefit from an application of fertiliser in spring, as it comes out of its winter dormancy.

Lilly Pilly Problems, Pests, and Diseases

Although these native hedge plants are quite tough, there are certain problems, pests and diseases that you may come across.

Leaves curling or have pimples: Eugenia psyllids are sap sucking insects and the pimples that you see are a result of the newly hatched larvae feeding on the foliage. These insects also excrete tiny white pellets that can result in sooty mould.

Leaves turning yellow: This could be caused by overwatering, a nutrient deficiency or a pest infestation. Overwatering can cause root rot and this is generally fatal for your plant. However, nutrient deficiencies and pest problems can easily be fixed.

Branches dying or dropping leaves: This may result from a slow die back could be caused by a variety of pests like borers or curl grub. On the other hand, if your plants are quite young and exposed to full sun, the leaves may be sun burnt.

White scale: This type of scale has a white waxy coating and you’ll usually see it on both the stems and leaves. If your plant has been affected by white scale, you may also notice some black mould on the plant and ants crawling all over it.

Leaves being eaten: The culprit is most likely the Paropsides calypso beetle also known is the Lilly Pilly beetle. These beetles are bright green in colour and look somewhat similar to a ladybug. You might also notice the pale green larvae grubs on your plant.

Black leaves: You likely have a sooty mould problem. This is usually caused by the excretion of sap sucking insects. Spray your tree with white oil or a mixture of neem oil and water to control the insect pests that are causing the sooty mould on your foliage.

Photo of author

Steve Kropp

Based in Melbourne, Steve's passion is vegetable gardening, and he’s been writing about it for almost 5 years. He also loves all things DIY and is always looking for a new project. When not working on his own garden projects or blogging, Steve enjoys spending time with his family, cooking meals with produce harvested from his garden, and coaching his son’s footy team.

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