For six months this shrub nearly covers itself with flowers For a long bloom season, few shrubs can beat New Zealand tea tree(Leptospermum scoparium). In mild coastal areas, it blooms six to sevenmonths a year; in colder regions, flowers start in spring and last aboutthree months. Up close, the flowers resemble miniature wild roses, with delicatepetals and a cupped center of pollen-tipped anthers. From a distance,they bloom in such profusion that the bush becomes a mass of white,pink, rose, or dark red.
The plants grow best in climates with mild winters and moderatesummers– desert heat or winters below about 15| are too much for them. Growing is easy: steady moisture is the key to success An established New Zealand tea tree has an extensive root systemthat makes it quite drought tolerant, but young plants must have regularwatering. During the first summer, water at least once a week duringhot weather, more often during intense heat or in sandy soil. As theplant matures, gradually cut back summer watering to about once a monthnear the coast, roughly every other week inland. In coastal areas,plants several years old may thrive with no additional watering duringyears of normal rainfall. Although plants grow vigorously in nursery cans, container growingis risky for the home gardener. Confined to pots, they soon becomerootbound and tend to dry out too fast.
If they get dry enough to losetheir leaves, plants rarely recover. In the ground, plants need little care. Amend soid as needed, orplant in raised beds or on a slope to provide good drainage. Full sungives best bloom. Choose a site with ample space. Leptospermum grows slowly thefirst few years, then most kinds take off to reach 15 feet tall and 5feet or more wide.
Use several plants as a screen or unpruned hedge, orgradually clip off lower limbs to train one into a small tree thateventually may reach 15 to 25 feet. Prune only as needed to shape the plant or for bouquets. Alwaysleave plenty of foliage on each limb–otherwise, it won’t resprout.Cut branches stay fresh three or four days in water, longer if keptunder glass without any water–displayed inside a jar or under a cakecover.
Flowers hold some color after they dry. To further limit size and encourage flowering, pinch or clip branchtips in early spring and summer; buds form on the hardened wood of thisseason’s growth. Avoid heavy shearing: it’s seldomattractive and removes most of the flowering wood.
Some popular varieties Red to rose. “Ruby Glow’, with double wine-coloredflowers, is the most widely sold. Its bloom season is exceptionallylong–November into late spring near the coast.
“Red Damask’is similar, but with larger, lighter red flowers and a slightly shorterbloom season. White. “Snow Flurry’ has double flowers with a greencenter that usually appear about midspring. “Snow White’ hassimilar flowers but blooms earlier, usually by December, and stays 2 to4 feet tall. Pink.
Full-size varieties include “Helene Strybing’,with light pink single petals around a deep rose center, and “PinkPearl’, with pink buds that open white. “Gaiety Girl’ hasdouble rose flowers and grows slowly to 5 feet. “PinkCascade’, the trailing plant shown opposite, stays about a foottall and spreads to 3 feet or more.
Photo: From now into spring, masses of miniature flowers in white,pink, or rose cover fine-textured leaves of Leptospermum scoparium.Among choices are inch-wide single “Pink Pearl’ on the left,half-inch reffied double “GaietyGirl’ on right Photo: Tree-form, compact, or trailing? New Zealand tea tree comesin many sizes and shapea, costing $3 for smallest sizes to $25 or so forlarge tree forms