Bottle Brush Tree Care: How To Grow The Callistemon

The Bottle Brush tree (Callistemon), belongs to the Myrtaceae family. Bottlebrush trees are quite similar (and closest) to the Paperbark melaleucas, who also have flower spikes shaped like a bottlebrush.

Native to Eastern and Southeastern Australia, you’ll find the bottle brush in abundance along Australia’s tropical north up to the temperate south.

bottle brush tree
Beautiful bright red flowers of the bottlebrush tree

New Caledonia gives us four species and two from the southern part of Western Australia. Located in wet or damp areas within flood-prone areas or along creek beds.

The proliferation of this cheery plant started in 1789 when the Crimson Bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus) was imported by Joseph Banks into Britain.

This woody shrub/tree, the Callistemon grows from .5 to 18 foot tall. It’s striking; colorful red flowers make them one of Australia’s best species of flora, and a favorite among plant growers.

The Bottle Brush Tree Flowers

The “brush” is a collection of individual blooms; its long filaments are colored by the pollen that forms the tip. The filaments provide the Bottle Brushes’ distinctive shape, and usually, fall into the color range of either red or yellow.

A Bottlebrush plant can have red flower spikes accentuated with bright, yellow pollen.

The flower’s nectar are favorites among nectar-feeding insects and birds like the hummingbird. They make nice additions from butterfly gardening.

The red bottlebrush flowers aren’t just for show – they produce tiny fruits that contain hundreds of seeds inside. The woody fruits form along the stem in clusters. The seeds aren’t immediately released and only fall when the fruits open up after one year.

New Bottle Brush bush leaves make excellent ornamental accessories, colored brightly and covered with fine, felt-like hair.

There are different weeping bottlebrush tree and red Bottlebrush plant varieties:

  • Willow
  • Alpine
  • Lemon Bottlebrush Tree
  • Kingaroy
  • Crimson
  • Prickly Bottlebrush – the dwarf

Bottle Brush Plant Care

The Bottle Brush plant rewards its owners when properly cared for with full, healthy growth and very bright red, colorful blooms.

The evergreen Callistemon can grow in containers, as a stand-alone small tree like a hibiscus or as bottlebrush hedges, a large shrub or as border plants.

It’s a resilient plant growing in USDA hardiness zone maps of 9 to 11. It’s popular for homeowners gardening in Florida. The Bottle Brush flower resists most types of plant diseases and pests.

To get the most beautiful blooms, Callistemons need the power of the full sun.

As for the soil, bottle brush trees and shrubs need a well-drained soil that maintains a consistently damp condition. Bottle Brush can tolerate occasional periods of drought. Make sure your potting soil doesn’t have high levels of alkaline.

When using Bottle Brush as a hedge leave 3 to 4 feet of breathing space between each plant.

Allow 4′ to 6′ feet of space if planting right outside the house. From the driveway or walkway design, allow 5 feet to keep the nectar-hunting bees from making contact with visitors.

Fertilizer with a low-phosphorous, granular fertilizer in the autumn, summer, and spring. Mulching helps keep away unwanted garden weeds and assist in retaining soil moisture.

Add a supplemental feeding if your Bottle Brush shrub is behind on growth and produces pale flowers. Liquid fertilizer or some bone meal will promote better, more colorful blooms in season.

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Pruning Bottlebrush

To keep Bottle Brush plants in great shape prune plants lightly after flowering. Prune, young plants after each flowering period, to remove the spent flower spikes. Cut back interior branches where less foliage exists.

During spring, prune old woody parts, and apply a general purpose complete fertilizer to encourage growth.

To encourage growth, tip prune just behind the blooms before the winter season arrives to minimize the frost damage on the new flowers.

You might ask if pruning is needed. Would you need to sacrifice the first growth of flowers for the sake of shaping them according to your preference?

The short answer is yes, for a number of reasons.

The Bottlebrush tree benefits from early pruning, especially in the establishment stage. It encourages regenerative growth from basal pruning as it revitalizes the plant from the ground up.

Basal pruning eliminates all branches from ground level and adding fertilizer will encourage vigorous growth.

Propagating The Callistemon Tree

Bottle Brush propagates easily from seed. Take one of its unopened fruit and put it in a dry paper bag.

Keep the paper bag in a warm place, until seeds release. Sow seed into a freely draining seed-mix during spring and summer.

To propagate bottle brush from cuttings using clean, sterilized pruners to take 6-inch cuttings of semi-mature wood in summer.

On the lower half of the cuttings pinch off the leaves and also remove any flower buds.

Dip the cutting into a rooting hormone powder and stick the cutting into the rooting soil. Cuttings root better when placed in a mini-greenhouse using a plastic bag or plastic box.

How fast do bottlebrush trees grow?

Roots form in about 10-12 weeks and can then be potted and moved outdoors in the spring.

In Closing

The bottle brush is an evergreen tree or shrub with light drooping grace, height to twenty feet.

Tiny creamy white flowers are borne on drooping spikes to eight inches long, composed of rich, dense tufts of red stamens. Flowers at branch ends resemble a bottle brush. Blooms periodically but heaviest in the spring. Fruit is capsular.

An excellent tree as a specimen in the yard or patio, suitable for near a water feature or background object.

Not particular as to soil and has fair salt tolerance. Grows moderately fast in a frost-free area, full sun.

Prune (check out our favorite pruners and the review here!) to shape. Propagated by seeds or cuttings.

A hardy tree that withstands heavy winds and one of our best evergreen flowering trees with a weeping habit.