Tea Tree – Leptospermum scoparium

The genus leptospermum consists of about 50 species native to Australia and New Zealand. They are actually flowering shrubs which have long been a favourite for growing outdoors in mild climates and are new to this country as house plants.

During Captain Cook’s exploration of the South Pacific in the late eighteenth century, the ship’s crew were given a tea-like infusion of leptospermum leaves as a preventative against scurvy. This is how the plants got their name.

The Tea Tree plant grows at a medium pace to become a dense bush about 90cm (3ft) in height. Its foliage is rather elegant and graceful with small, heath-like leaves of a greyish-green colour.

The plant flowers profusely from January to May, bearing small blooms each with five petals. The colours are white and shades of pinks and reds with dark centres. The flowers are extremely long-lasting.Tea Tree - Leptospermum scoparium

Many varieties of leptospermum are available, with either single or double flowers. The flowers have almost no fragrance. ‘Chapmanii’ has bright rose-red single flowers; L. flore pleno is a double white; ‘Nichollsii’ is crimson and ‘Keatleyii’ has large pink flowers which are paler at the edges.

Display ideas

Display Tea Tree as a specimen plant to show off its attractive foliage and plentiful flowers. Stand it in a jardinière or copper planter on a low table for maximum impact.

Through The Year

January—May

This is the flowering season. Water generously and feed every 14 days. Place in a light position at 15°-20°C (60°-68°F).

June—September Continue feeding and move the plant outdoors when night temperatures are above 7°C (45°F). Stop feeding, reduce watering and take the plant inside when the temperatures begin to drop. It needs a light, cool position until the next spring.

October—December

The first flowerbuds begin to appear in November and will open out after Christmas. Water regularly during this period.

Propagation

Propagate from cuttings to ensure the same flower colour as the parent plant.

Softwood cuttings Summer softwood cuttings will take about 1— 2 months to root. Use a hormone rooting powder and cover with perforated polythene.

Woody cuttings

In September, take hardwood cuttings.

Pests And Diseases

In the right conditions, diseases and insect attacks will seldom occur.

Whitefly can appear in cool conditions.

Treatment: Spray with’ insecticide and move plant outside in summer.

Aphids may attack. Treatment: Spray with lukewarm soapy water or a suitable insecticide.

Round, red patches on the leaves can be the result of a fungus attack. Treatment: Spray with copper-based fungicide.

Sudden leaf drop occurs when plant is dry. Prevention: Ensure an even supply of war.

PLANT CARE

Not one of the easiest plants to grow in ordinary room conditions, as it likes plenty of light and fairly cool, humid conditions. Trim the plant to a good compact shape after flowering.

  • Potting: This plant likes a well-drained, acid soil so use a peat-based compost and repot each spring after flowering.
  • Water generously about every 7 days during the spring and summer. Reduce watering as soon as temperatures start to drop in autumn.
  • Feeding: Feed with a liquid fertilizer at every second watering during the growing and flowering periods. Do not feed in winter.

BEST GROWTH ENVIRONMENT

  • Light: Good light is needed, but the plant likes to be fairly cool. It will flourish outside during the summer providing it is not too hot.
  • Temperature: Keep the plant at temperatures no higher than 15°-20°C (60°-68°F) in summer and not below 7°-10°C (45°-50°F) in winter.

Buying Tips

  • The Tea Tree is available from most large garden centres and shrub nurseries. Buy when in bloom during January to May to get the desired flower colour.
  • Choose a bushy, well-shaped plant with a few open flowers and plenty of buds. Avoid plants that have withered or damaged foliage and check for insect infestation.
  • Given some care, this plant can live for many years.

The Tea Tree, from New Zealand, is an attractive member of the myrtle family now being grown as a house plant. The tiny flowers are white, or in shades of pink and red.

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