Agonis flexuosa ‘After Dark’

Question from Gail:
Hi Pat, I enjoy your books and website very much–what a wealth of information and inspiration!

My question is about Agonis flexuosa. I’ve planted three of the ‘After Dark’ dark foliaged trees in full sun (Sunset 23) from 3 gallon containers. They are now about 12′ tall.

They’re becoming beautiful small trees, but so far are slim and lanky. Do they require any corrective pruning in their youth? Can I tip back for greater bushiness? So far I’ve done nothing to them but let them grow. Thank you!

Answer from Pat:
I have seen Agonis flexuosa ‘Jervis Bay After Dark’ in nursery cans and display gardens at the county fair and elsewhere. Monrovia Nursery website has a very pretty photo of one growing in a raised bed with wide foliage and looks like a skinny trunk. I have seen other photos that make it look like more of a shrub than a tree. Monrovia says you have to water deeply and often the first year to develop a large root system. After that it’s drought resistant. They also say it’s slow growing to 15 or 25 feet and 10 to 15 feet wide. I have yet to see a full grown one and I have wondered if it is mainly a screen plant or novelty item. But my guess is that only time will tell how well this tree grows in California long term. Meanwhile I would leave the lower branches on as long as possible to encourage the trunk to grow strong. Also don’t stake too tightly. Let it sway in the wind to grow a strong trunk. Also, yes I would pinch back the sides, especially the lower branches take off a foot at least to encourage strength and branching, and do not cut back the top leader or you will dwarf it and make it grow wide instead of tall. Follow the usual guidelines for developing a good branch structure in trees.


  1. I have just purchased 2 agonis ‘After Dark’ that i plan to keep in pots, I am trying to block out a neighbors window. They are about 15 feet high, which is fine I just want them fuller. And I would like it as quickly as possible…..any suggestions?

    • Black peppermint willow (Agonis flexuosa ‘After Dark’) is usually fast growing to about fifteen feet tall but it is not likely to grow as rapidly in a container as it would in the ground. The best way to insure rapid growth, however, would be to plant it into a very large container making sure that drainage is good and filling the container with good-quality potting soil. Be sure to loosen the roots when planting.

      Fertilize your trees with organic fertilizer beginning in March and continuing throughout summer. Fish emulsion would be a good choice because, though it is mild, it is mainly nitrogen and it stimulates growth and does not burn. Australian plants do not like or need phosphorus. I would feed your trees this way every two weeks throughout summer and that should ensure good and fast growth despite the restriction on the roots of being grown in a container.

      Another thing I would do is cut back the top of each tree at planting time. Since the trees are already tall enough, and since you wish them to become bushier, the correct thing is to pinch back (clip off) the top, removing the lead bud on top of the tree. This action is called “heading back”. By heading back your trees, you will stop them from growing taller and encourage them to grow wider. When I say “pinch back” I mean to cut off 2 or 3 inches of growth including the leading bud from the leader of the tree. By removing that bud you force the side branches to grow longer further down on the tree. If you want the side branches to grow longer don’t pinch off the lead bud on the side branches until the branches are long enough. Then pinch them back also removing their leading bud and that will make them branch sideways further back on the branch and become bushier. Later, if any part is too thin, pinch back the laterals (side branches) growing from the main branch structure and these will then grow bushier.

      Think what happens when we shear a plant to make a hedge: The growth becomes so twiggy and thick we can’t see through it. You don’t want that to happen with these trees but you want them to become dense throughout. You can bring that about by heading back and pinching back here and there as necessary.

  2. Nancy Sinclair

    Nancy Sinclair

    I have a Agonis Flexuosa-Jervis bay afterdark that was planted about three years ago. It gets plenty of sun and regular watering. While it seemed to be doing well, this spring I noticed that the leaves are brown and brittle. My husband thinks it’s dead, my gardener doesn’t. Do you think fertilizing would help or is it a goner? I was reading that it is suppose to flower, this tree has never flowered! HELP!

    • I cannot tell for sure if your tree is dead or not. I could be dropping some leaves to make way for others. Are you sure it has good drainage? This is an Australian tree and therefore you should not feed it with phosphorus. Your tree might be too young to bear flowers. In general, the flowers are not an important consideration in growing this tree.

  3. Hi Pat. I’m hoping you can help me. My burgandy agonis after dark snapped off at the base during last nights storm. Is there any way to save the trunk?? Also, will any new growth develop from the root base still in the ground?

    Many thanks

    • I am so very sorry to hear that the trunk of your Agonis flexuosa snapped off during a windstorm. You did not mention where you live, but I am guessing Southern California and that the culprit was a strong gust of Santa Ana wind. I live closer to the coast and there was no storm here last night.

      My guess regarding the roots of your tree is that they may indeed sprout with new growth, but if that happens what you will get is more likely to be a multi-trunk shrub instead of a standard tree. If this would be fun for you, then water the roots and fertilize them and see what happens. Right now global warming is making plants grow like mad even in autumn. I cut a bougainvillea to the ground that had overgrown and was taking away a neighbor’s view. Now it is already sprouting with new growth even though it was only cut down 2 weeks ago and it is late October. On the other hand, if you really want a tree standing there in the same spot, it would be wiser to dig out the roots and begin over again by re-placing the tree now in fall. Incidentally, when staking trees, always use three stakes with supports fixed in such a way so the tree can flex back and forth in wind and thus develop a strong trunk.

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