How to Grow and Care for 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

The New Zealand tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium) is an evergreen shrub or small tree that features small, prickly, needle-like leaves, which are aromatic when crushed. In early summer, the plant sports showy single or double white, pink, or red blossoms that 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. .

This shrub is normally planted as a nursery container-grown or ball-and-burlap specimen in the fall or spring. It has a moderately slow growth rate tree, making it an excellent potted plant.

Common Name New Zealand tea tree, tea tree, broom tea tree, manuka
Botanical Name Leptospermum scoparium
Family Myrtaceae
Plant Type Evergreen shrub or small tree
Mature Size 6– 10 ft. tall and wide (smaller cultivars also available)
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Rich, medium moisture, well-draining
Soil pH Acidic
Bloom Time June to July
Flower Color White, pink, red
Hardiness Zones 9–10 (USDA)
Native Area New Zealand, Australia

New Zealand Tea Tree Care

Plant your shrub either in the spring or early fall in a location that provides enough room to spread. New Zealand tea tree averages around 6 to 10 feet tall and wide, but that will vary depending on the growing conditions and cultivar. A spacing of at least 10 feet apart is usually recommended for full-sized cultivars.

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 2- to 3-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.

Warning

In some tropical regions—especially Hawaii—this species has escaped cultivation and naturalized in the wild. In these areas, it may be officially considered an invasive species, so check with local authorities before planting it in your garden.

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 is hardy in zones 9 to 10. It grows best in warm climates and doesn't do well once the outdoor temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. 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 and giving it as much sunlight as possible. Move it outside again in the spring once the temperature is consistently above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. 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. 

Types of New Zealand Tea Tree

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

  • 'Apple Blossom': The variety has an upright habit and reaches about 8 feet tall and wide with double light pink flowers
  • 'Burgundy Queen': This is an upright, dense-growing (to 12 feet tall and about 10 feet wide) evergreen shrub with dark burgundy double flowers
  • 'Snow White': This cultivar grows to just 4 to 5 feet tall and wide. It has profuse white blossoms.
  • 'Red Damask': This variety has full double flowers of deep red. It grows 6 to 8 feet tall.
  • 'Red Ensign': This type grows 8 to 10 feet tall and has dark red single-petal flowers.
  • 'Ruby Glow': This cultivar is a very dense, 6- to 8-foot shrub with dark red double flowers
  • 'Silver and Rose': This cultivar, which grows just 4 to 5 feet tall, has pink flowers with greenish enters.

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.

Propagating New Zealand Tea Tree

The purse species can be propagated by collecting and planting seeds, but named cultivars must be propagated by rooting semi-hardwood cuttings, as the seeds will be either infertile or will produce offspring that don't share the parent's characteristics. To propagate by cuttings:

  1. In early summer, use sharp pruners to clip off a segment of stem containing mostly new growth, with slightly hardened older wood at the base.
  2. Dip the cut end of the stem in rooting hormone.
  3. Plant the cutting in a mixture of perlite and peat moss or commercial potting mix.
  4. Keep the plant in a sunny window and water it whenever the soil fully dries out.
  5. Once new leaves begin to appear, you can move the cutting outdoors and continue to grow it until of sufficient size to plant in the garden. This may take several years, and you may need to repot occasionally as the plant grows larger.

How to Grow New Zealand Tea Tree From Seed

If you happen to have a pure species plant, you can collect seeds from matured seed pods. Sow them in spring in trays filled with seed starter, just barely covering the seeds. . Transplant each seedling into its own small pot when they are large enough to handle. Grow in a greenhouse or indoors for the first winter, tehn plant outdoors late the following spring or early summer. They will need protection from cold in their first two years outdoors.

Potting and Repotting New Zealand Tea Tree

Smaller varieties of this plant will do very well in large, well-draining patio pots filled with ordinary potting mix blended with sand to improve drainage. They prefer not to have their roots disturbed, so choose a large pot that gives the plant room to grow. When repotting becomes necessary, choose a larger pot and move the plant carefully, using additional fresh soil around the existing root ball. Repotting is best done in spring.

Overwintering

New Zealand tea tree generally requires no winter protection if grown in its established hardeness zone, but outdoor potted plants should be shifted to a sheltered position if winter temperatures dip toward 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If grown as a container plant in cold-winter regions, make sure to move it indoors to a sunny window as colder weather approaches.

Take care with in-ground trees not to allow them to soak in cold, wet soil, as this can easily lead to fatal root rot. With both in-ground and potted trees, reduce watering somewhat during the winter months.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

This plant typically doesn't have problems with pests and diseases. Occasionally it may acquire webbing caterpillars, borers, and scales. A horticultural oil such as neem oil is a good treatment for pest problems.

This plant can be proneto 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.

How to Get New Zealand Tea Tree to Bloom

This plant generally blooms reliably and profusely in June to July provided it gets plenty of sunlight and enjoys well-draining soil. Failure to bloom usually is due to bad drainage or lack of sunlight.

These trees are relatively heavy feeders that require monthly feeding with a balanced fertilizer to support their heavy flowering.

Common Problems With New Zealand Tea Tree

Generally trouble-free, New Zealand tea tree sometimes develops a condition in which the leaves develop a light yellow color with darker skeletal veins. This condition is called chlorosis and develops when alkaline soil prevents the plant from properly taking up soil nutrients. This plant prefers acidic soil, and when your soil is too alkaline, it may require amendment with agricultural sulfur, or using an acidifying fertilizer.

A plant that begins to wilt and collapse is probably suffering from root rot due to overly moist conditions. It can be difficult to balance water needs with this plant, as too much moisture can easily kill the plant, while too little moisture will cause it to dry out and die.

FAQ
  • How is this plant best used in the landscape?

    This plant makes a good flowing specimen shrub or small tree, and is frequently used as a container specimen on a sunny deck or patio.

  • How long does a New Zealand tea tree live?

    Lifespans of 60 years are recorded, but named cultivars are often sacrificed after 20 or 30 years because the tree's growth habit becomes ungainly with age.

  • Can I use the leaves for tea?

    This plant gets its name because Captain Cook's crew used its leaves to brew tea during his travels to the south seas. Making tea is an easy matter of stripping off leaves from young, lower branches and adding them to a teapot with boiling water. They need a somewhat longer steeping period—at least 10 minutes—to fully impart their flavor to the water. The tea is very high in vitamin C.


Article Sources
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  1. Leptospermum scoparium. Missouri Botanical Garden.

  2. Hawaii's Most Invasive Horticultural Plants. Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources.

  3. Leptospermum scoparium. Gardenia.

  4. Leptospermum scoparium. Plant Care Today.

  5. Leptospermum scoparium. Plant Care Today.