Caring For Little John Bottlebrush

Little John Bottlebrush is the common name for Callistemon citrinus [kal-lis-STEE-mon] [sit-REE-nus]. It’s a compact evergreen shrub requiring little care or pruning and enjoys full sun. 

Callistemon citrinus “Little John” is a dwarf variety of the plant, native to New South Wales and Victoria in Australia.

Little John Bottle BrushPin
blood red bloom of Little John Dwarf Bottlebrush | image

Callistemon citrinus is now classified as Melaleuca citrina. 

It’s a member of the myrtle family and was one of the first Australian plants cultivated outside of the country. In 1986 it was Shrub of the Year in Australia.

Little John Bottlebrush Care

Size and Growth

Little John is a dwarf bottle brush plant, reaching a height of just 3′ feet. It spreads up to 5′ feet and has narrow, blue-green leaves. 

The blue-green leaves are evergreen, remaining on the plant throughout the year and perfect for today’s smaller gardens.

The plant has dense growth, covered in stems with multiple sets of leaves. 

The leaves are egg-shaped and narrower near the base with a pointed end. When crushed the leaves give off a citrus scent.

Flowering and Fragrance

The flowers are bright red and grow from bottlebrush-like flower spikes at the ends of the branches. 

The flower spikes measure 2″ to 3″ inches in diameter and grow 2″ to 4″ inches long. 

Each spike contains up to 80 bristle-like stamens.

tiny flowers of bottlebrush little johnPin
Blood red flowers of the bottlebrush callistemon

The petals are small, measuring just ¼-inch. 

They fall off throughout the season as the flower ages.

The elongated flower spikes give bottlebrush plants their common name, as they resemble bottle brushes.

The plant flowers throughout the year, but most of the blooms arrive in November and December. 

After flowering, cup-shaped fruit capsules appear.

The tiny fruit capsules grow in clusters along the stems.

Light and Temperature

The dwarf evergreen shrub grows best in full sun. It grows outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 8a and higher. 

In North America, the plant is suitable for outdoor cultivation in Florida, California, and other parts of the South.

In cooler climates, the plant is cultivated in pots and brought indoors for the winter. 

When grown as a houseplant, it may achieve the same height and spread.

Watering and Feeding

The plant needs moderate watering, with soil kept moist throughout most of the year. 

Once established Little John dwarf Bottlebrush has good drought tolerance, but still needs good drainage to prevent root rot and other plant problems.

Young plants and potted plants may require water once or twice per week, especially during the warmer months. 

Established outdoor plants should only require water during extended periods without rain.

While fertilizer isn’t needed, adding slow-release fertilizer granules in the spring may encourage fuller growth in younger plants.

Soil and Transplanting

The plant grows well in slightly acidic, moist soil with good drainage. 

Silt, loam, and clay soil are suitable environments for dwarf Little John Bottlebrush.

Transplant potted plants as needed at the start of spring. 

Replace the soil when transplanting and move to a larger pot if the roots become compacted.


Dwarf Little John Bottlebrush is a slow-growing plant. 

It may require occasional trimming to manage its shape and size. 

While it’s possible to prune the plant at any time of the year, deep pruning should occur before spring growth arrives.

How To Propagate Callistemon Citrinus ‘Little John’

Propagate Little John Bottle Brush using semi-hardwood cuttings. 

  • Select cuttings measuring 6″ to 12″ inches long. 
  • Cut the stem and dip the end in a hormone rooting powder.
  • To propagate outdoors, prepare a section of soil by amending the existing soil with organic matter. 
  • Stick the cutting into the soil, ensuring several leaf nodes remain above the ground.
  • When growing the plants indoors, use large pots filled with moist, well-drained soil. 
  • The cuttings should take root during the summer, but shouldn’t be transplanted until spring the following year.

Callistemon Citrinus ‘Little John’ Pest or Disease Problems

Little John dwarf Bottlebrush is deer-resistant and virtually disease-free and pest-free. 

The main threats include scale insects, mealybugs, and spider mites. 

These pests are more common when the plant is grown indoors.

If scale insects appear, try to remove them manually. 

Scrape them off the plant.

For spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects not coming off easily, spray the plant with cool water. 

Allow the plant to dry before repeating this step.

After several sprayings, if the pests remain, treat the plant with a homemade insecticide or a commercial Neem Oil pesticide

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To try a homemade solution, combine several teaspoons of dish soap with water and spray the plant.

While many species of bottlebrush plants contain toxic substances in the fruits, seeds, or foliage, Little John is not a threat. 

It’s nontoxic and safe to grow around pets and children. 

However, people with sensitive stomachs may experience minor digestive issues after ingesting the fruits or parts of the plant.

Suggested Uses For Dwarf Little John Bottlebrush

In warm regions, use the deer resistant, Little John Bottle Brush to bring winter interest to any area of the landscape. 

little john dwarf bottlebrush planted around a mailbox in Palm Coast FloridaPin

The blue-green leaves and bright-red flowers stand out during the colder months. 

It’s versatile compact size allows it to grow as a low hedge or foundation plant.

In cool regions, grow Little John dwarf Bottlebrush in three-gallon or larger containers. 

Keep the plant outdoors during the summer and bring it indoors for the winter.

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