Leptospermum Scoparium: Plant Care Tips For The New Zealand Tea Tree

Leptospermum scoparium [lep-toh-SPER-mum, sko-PAIR-ee-um] is a flowering evergreen shrub belonging to the Myrtaceae family along with the bottle brush tree.

It’s native to New Zealand and Australia, where it’s popularly grown outdoors for its unique, delicate flowers.

Often cultivated for mānuka honey because of its antibacterial properties, produced when honeybees gather the nectar from its flowers.

blooming New Zealand Tea Tree

In the late 1700s, Captain Cook explored the South Pacific and gave his crew tea brewed from the leaves of this plant.

This led to the common name New Zealand Tea Tree which is far easier to pronounce than its scientific name.

You may hear this plant called by other common names including:

  • Manuka
  • Manuka myrtle
  • Broom tea tree
  • Tea tree
  • Snow White

Besides using the leaves to brew tea, parts of the plant have served other uses.

New Zealanders used the wood to make handles for tools, while the sawdust provides flavor when smoking meats or fish.

While it’s not the easiest plant to grow, a few basic care tips should help increase the chance of successful cultivation.

Leptospermum Scoparium Care

Size & Growth

The New Zealand Tea Tree produces dense, bushy foliage and reaches a height of about 3’ feet.

It’s a medium grower and may take several years to achieve a height of more than a foot.

When fully mature, the plant resembles a small tree with delicate branches.

The leaves are grayish or dark green and incredibly tiny.

Flowering and Fragrance

The flowers appear with five petals or double petals with a ruffled appearance.

It produces showy white flowers to pink or red.

The plant’s bloom time begins in January.

The flowers also last a long time, remaining on the plant until May.

Due to the longevity of the flowers, they make great cuttings for vases.

Light & Temperature

L. scoparium grows best in full sun to partial shade when placed outdoors.

It should never grow outdoors in regions where temperatures drop below 40° degrees Fahrenheit (4° C).

If cultivated indoors, place the plant near a window where it can get bright sunlight throughout the morning and afternoon.

Indoor plants should still come out for the summer.

The outdoor air is good for the New Zealand Tea Tree if temperatures don’t drop below 40° degrees Fahrenheit (4° C).

When the temperatures start to drop, bring it indoors.

It can remain in a cooler spot in the house through the winter, but it should still get lots of sunshine from a south-facing or west-facing window.

Cultivated within USDA hardiness zones 9 and 11 (USDA Zone).

Watering and Feeding

Water the plant evenly throughout the entire year.

As an early bloomer, this plant remains active throughout the year.

The first buds typically start to appear in November.

After the buds appear, ensure the plant continues to get plenty of water.

Water the plant every other week using a liquid garden fertilizer until the end of summer when the flowers die.

Soil & Transplanting

The New Zealand Tea Tree grows well in regular soil with good drainage.

To improve the drainage of poor soil, add some peat moss and sand.

Transplant the plant between early spring and late spring to freshen the soil.

If the roots seem crowded after removing the plant, consider moving to a larger pot.

Root rot may occur in overly moist soils.

Grooming

After the plant flowers, trim back growth to manage the shape of the plant.

TIP: Trimming the plant back in the fall is also a good time to take cuttings for propagation.

To trim the plant, use a pair of sharp scissors or clippers.

Start with the top of the plant, and trim no more than one-third of the plant.

How to Propagate Manuka

Use cuttings to produce new plants featuring flowers with the same color as the mother plant.

When grown from seed, the plant may produce different colors of flowers.

  • Use immature wood cuttings from the plant when taking cuttings during the early summer.
  • If taking cuttings during the winter, choose slightly hardened stems.
  • Before planting the cuttings, dip them in rooting hormone. More on How To use Rooting Hormone
  • Plant the cuttings in a mixture of perlite and peat.
  • Keep the plant near a bright window and water occasionally when the soil dries out.

Within about two months, the cuttings should take root.

Covering the cutting with plastic may speed up the rooting process.

Tea Tree Main Pests or Disease Problems?

The New Zealand Tea Tree rarely suffers from pest infestations, but aphid and whiteflies occasionally take over the plant.

If aphid pests appear, spray the plant with a mixture of warm water and soap.

Treat whitefly problems with an insecticide.

Besides pest infestations, the plant may develop red patches and its leaves.

The patches are a sign of fungal growth. Use a fungicide to stop it from spreading.

If the leaves start to drop, the plant isn’t getting enough water.

Increase the frequency of watering until the plant’s health improves.

Suggested Manuka Myrtle Uses

This light, airy bush makes a great addition to a large enclosed porch or conservatory.

In the summer, move the plant to a balcony or patio where it can get fresh air and more sunshine.

Manuka essential oil is obtained from the leaves and twigs of the plant by means of steam distillation.