New Zealand Tea Tree/Leptospermum Scoparium
The New Zealand Tea Tree gained its common name when Captain Cook and his sailors brewed the aromatic leaves with water and found that the resulting ‘tea’ was effective against scurvy. The Maori name is Manuka, and the plant is found in Australia and Tasmania as well as New Zealand. The leaves are tiny and evergreen; closely related to Myrtle, this pretty plant can be grown against a warm, sheltered wall outdoors in mild regions. It also makes a good conservatory plant and house-plant. In general, the numerous, small flowers are white with conspicuous pink stamens, but this may vary. The plant flowers in May and June. Outdoors, it can grow to 4m (13ft), but the restrictions of tub culture help to keep indoor plants at a far more manageable size.
L. scoparium is the hardiest species of all, and wall-grown plants can tolerate temperatures to freezing; indoors, keep plants cool, but frost-free, from late November to early March, then gradually increase the growing temperature to 13-16°C (55-60°F). This plant will perform best indoors if kept cool.
Place the plant where it receives plenty of direct light. In Summer, light shade is tolerated, and preferred, during very hot weather.
Water well, then allow the top 1cm (1/2in) ofto dry before watering again; during Winter, keep the compost just moist enough for the plant to tick over, so that the leaves don’t shrivel and drop.
If temperatures exceed 18°C (65°F), the leaves will benefit from a daily misting; do this in the morning so that the foliage has a chance to dry before nightfall, and use lime-fee water. Keep the plant out of direct sunlight until all the moisture has dried off the leaves.
If repotted each Spring, this plant needs no extra feed; if the plant is too large to repot, top-dress it in Spring using a slow-release fertilizer. Avoid those containing large amounts of nitrogen.
Repot small plants each Spring in a free-draining, lime-free compost. If necessary, add up to a quarter by volume of horticultural grit to improve the drainage qualities. Otherwise, use an ericaceous compost.
Many cultivars of the New Zealand Tea Tree have been developed: look for the double pink L. s. ‘Ballerina’ and L. s. ‘Nanum’ which, at 30cm (12in) tall, is ideal for a windowsill.
Hot and dry: If kept cool and well ventilated, the New Zealand Tea Tree should give few problems; excessive heat and dry air will result in the leaves shrivelling and dropping.