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 seven
months a year; in colder regions, flowers start in spring and last about
Up close, the flowers resemble miniature wild roses, with delicate
petals 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 moderate
summers– 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 system
that makes it quite drought tolerant, but young plants must have regular
watering. During the first summer, water at least once a week during
hot weather, more often during intense heat or in sandy soil. As the
plant matures, gradually cut back summer watering to about once a month
near the coast, roughly every other week inland. In coastal areas,
plants several years old may thrive with no additional watering during
years of normal rainfall.
Although plants grow vigorously in nursery cans, container growing
is risky for the home gardener. Confined to pots, they soon become
rootbound and tend to dry out too fast. If they get dry enough to lose
their leaves, plants rarely recover.
In the ground, plants need little care. Amend soid as needed, or
plant in raised beds or on a slope to provide good drainage. Full sun
gives best bloom.
Choose a site with ample space. Leptospermum grows slowly the
first few years, then most kinds take off to reach 15 feet tall and 5
feet or more wide. Use several plants as a screen or unpruned hedge, or
gradually clip off lower limbs to train one into a small tree that
eventually may reach 15 to 25 feet.
Prune only as needed to shape the plant or for bouquets. Always
leave plenty of foliage on each limb–otherwise, it won’t resprout.
Cut branches stay fresh three or four days in water, longer if kept
under glass without any water–displayed inside a jar or under a cake
cover. Flowers hold some color after they dry.
To further limit size and encourage flowering, pinch or clip branch
tips in early spring and summer; buds form on the hardened wood of this
season’s growth. Avoid heavy shearing: it’s seldom
attractive and removes most of the flowering wood.
Some popular varieties
Red to rose. “Ruby Glow’, with double wine-colored
flowers, is the most widely sold. Its bloom season is exceptionally
long–November into late spring near the coast. “Red Damask’
is similar, but with larger, lighter red flowers and a slightly shorter
White. “Snow Flurry’ has double flowers with a green
center that usually appear about midspring. “Snow White’ has
similar flowers but blooms earlier, usually by December, and stays 2 to
4 feet tall.
Pink. Full-size varieties include “Helene Strybing’,
with light pink single petals around a deep rose center, and “Pink
Pearl’, with pink buds that open white. “Gaiety Girl’ has
double rose flowers and grows slowly to 5 feet. “Pink
Cascade’, the trailing plant shown opposite, stays about a foot
tall 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 comes
in many sizes and shapea, costing $3 for smallest sizes to $25 or so for
large tree forms