How to Grow and Care for a New Zealand Tea Tree

New Zealand tea tree with small white blossoms and round yellow buds on edge of stem closeup

The Spruce / K. Dave

In This Article

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 single or double 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.

Botanical Name Leptospermum scoparium
Common Name New Zealand tea tree, broom tea tree, tea tree, manuka, manuka myrtle
Plant Type Evergreen shrub
Mature Size 6 to 10 feet in height and spread
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Rich, medium moisture, well-draining
Soil pH Acidic
Bloom Time June to July
Flower Color White, pink, red
Hardiness Zones 9 to 10
Native Area New Zealand, Australia

How to Care for New Zealand Tea Tree

New Zealand tea tree averages around six to ten feet tall and wide, but that will vary depending on the growing conditions and cultivar. Plant your shrub either in the spring or early fall in a location that provides 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 about three times as wide, and firmly pack soil around the roots. Water the area well. Then, add a two- to three-inch layer of mulch, keeping it at least a few inches away from the trunk. Water your plant deeply as it grows to encourage root development.

New Zealand tea tree branches with small needle-like leaves and small white blossoms

The Spruce / K. Dave

New Zealand tea tree branch with a small white blossom next to small prickly leaves and round buds closeup

The Spruce / K. Dave

New Zealand tea tree branch with small white blossoms with red centers and round white buds with small prickly leaves

The Spruce / K. Dave

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 spot.

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, infertile soil, though it doesn't like heavy soil. You can amend heavy clay soil with peat moss, compost, or other organic material to improve 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.

Temperature and Humidity

New Zealand tea tree grows best in warm climates and doesn't do well once the outdoor temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (four degrees Celsius). However, if you live in a cooler USDA growing zone, you still might be able to grow this plant in your garden by planting it in a container, and bringing the container indoors each winter. Once indoors, place the container by your brightest window where it will receive as much sunlight as possible. Move it outside again in the spring once the temperature is consistently above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Furthermore, New Zealand tea tree grows well in high humidity, but it can tolerate dry climates as long as you are watering it regularly.

Fertilizer

New Zealand tea tree typically doesn’t require regular feeding when planted outdoors unless the soil is infertile. However, it can benefit from a layer of compost or mulch in the spring as well as a balanced fertilizer every two to three years. In containers, New Zealand tea tree will deplete its soil nutrients faster and will likely need feeding every year with a balanced fertilizer. 

Pruning

New Zealand tea tree doesn't need much in the way of pruning beyond removing dead, damaged, or diseased wood. 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 one third of the plant at one 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 planted in overly-moist soil that doesn't drain well. The best defense against any problems is to provide the correct growing conditions.

Varieties of New Zealand Tea Tree

Several cultivars of New Zealand tea tree have been developed for the garden, including:

  • 'Apple Blossom': has an upright habit and reaches about eight feet tall and wide with double light pink flowers
  • 'Burgundy Queen': Is an upright, dense growing (to 12 feet tall and about 10 feet wide) evergreen shrub with dark burgundy double flowers
  • 'Snow White': grows to a compact four to five feet tall and wide and features profuse white blooms