Growing Leptospermum (Manuka)

The New Zealand tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium)is an evergreen shrub that features small, prickly, needle-like leaves, which are aromatic when crushed. In the early summer, the plant sports showy white, pink, or red blossoms. These flowers are attractive to bees and other pollinators. In fact, manuka honey, a popular honey for culinary uses and alternative medicine, is produced from nectar that bees gather from this plant. Furthermore, essential oil from the plant’s leaves and various preparations of its bark also are used for medicinal purposes. New Zealand tea tree is fairly easy to grow and resistant to most pests and diseases.

How to Grow Manuka

Leptospermum varieties average around 1-2.5m tall and wide, but that will vary depending on the growing conditions and cultivar. Plant your shrub either in the Spring or early Autumn in a location that will allow it enough room to spread. Mix some compost or peat moss into the soil to add nutrients and improve drainage. Set your plant in a hole that’s as deep as its root ball and around three times as wide, and firmly pack soil around the roots. Water the area well. Then, add a layer of mulch to the top, keeping it at least a few inches away from the trunk of the plant. Water your plant deeply as it grows to encourage root development.

Light

This plant prefers a location with full sun, though it can tolerate a little shade. However, flowering will typically be better if it grows in a sunny position

Soil

New Zealand tea tree readily grows in fertile, slightly acidic soil. Its planting site also needs good drainage. The plant is fairly tolerant of poor soil, though it doesn’t like heavy soil. You can amend heavy soil with some peat moss or sand to improve its drainage.

Water

Water young New Zealand tea tree plants regularly, so the soil remains consistently moist. However, do not let your plant sit in soggy soil. Established plants like a more moderate moisture level, and they have some drought tolerance. You typically only have to water them if the soil begins to dry out from a lack of rainfall.

Fertilizer

Manuka typically don’t require regular feeding unless you have poor soil. However, it can benefit from a layer of compost or mulch in the spring, as well as a balanced fertilizer for blooming plants every two to three years. In containers, Manuka will deplete its soil nutrients faster and will likely need feeding every year with a balanced fertilizer. 

Pruning

Manuka don’t need much in the way of pruning beyond removing portions that are dead, damaged, or diseased. Right after the plant has finished flowering, you can prune it to maintain its shape, encourage bushier growth, and promote more blooms. But don’t cut back more than a third of the plant at a time.

Common Pests and Diseases

This plant typically doesn’t have problems with pests and diseases. It infrequently might acquire webbing caterpillars, borers, and scales. And it can develop root rot if it’s sitting in overly moist soil that doesn’t drain well. The best defense against any problems is to provide the correct growing conditions for the plant.