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The Tea Bush is a low-maintenance, hardy garden plant, and a real show-stopper when in full bloom.

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Leptospermum 'Burgundy Queen'Leptospermum 'Burgundy Queen'These natives of Australia and New Zealand are old time favourites for cold South African gardens because they can be depended upon to produce a show stopping abundance of flowers in winter and spring. The delicate flowers can be single or double and come in all shades of pink, red or white, and are magnets for bees. The flowers are followed by attractive, small woody capsules containing tiny seeds, hanging on for a long time after the petals have dropped.

Leptospermum scoparium is a member of the family Myrtaceae, along with the Mediterranean shrub Common Myrtle (Myrtus communis,) and well-known Australian plants such as the gum trees (Eucalyptus) and bottlebrushes (Callistemon.) The tea bush is thought to have originated in Australia and then spread to New Zealand, where it is now much commoner. In New Zealand it grows in a wide range of areas from peaty bogs to coastal and montane regions, so it is surprisingly adaptable, especially to arid sites and soils.

 

Leptospermum 'Sunraysia'Leptospermum 'Sunraysia'Leptospermum 'Sunraysia'In its native habitat it is a shrub or small tree, typically forming scrub 2 to 5 metres tall, but capable of growing up to 15 metres. It is often one of the first species to regenerate on land that has been cleared. In the garden, depending on climatic conditions, the tea bush generally grows anything from 1.5 to 3m tall with a spread of 1.5 to 2m. Delightful dwarf varieties have been bred, which only grow about 1m in height, and varieties like 'Cherry Brandy' with its gorgeous, dark plum-coloured leaves and cherry-red flowers have become immensely popular with gardeners, so no matter how large or small your garden is, you sure can have a tea bush.

The tea bush adds ornamental appeal to the landscape all year round, and the fine, needle-like foliage is highly aromatic when crushed. The name "tea bush," which persists to this day, comes from reports that Captain Cook brewed tea from the small needle-like leaves of this plant. However, this plant should not be confused with real tea which comes from Camellia sinensis.

Uses:

The fresh, pungent leaves are a fragrant and refreshing tea substitute of excellent quality. In taste trials this species has often received higher marks than the traditional China tea obtained from Camellia sinensis. It is important to brew the leaves for considerably longer than normal teas to ensure the flavour is released into the water.
 
The wood of the tea bush is red and strong and is used for inlay work, cabinet making etc. It also makes good shock resistant handles for tools and excellent firewood, even the bark is used for roofing huts.

In the Garden:

These hardy plants look beautiful a mixed shrub border and can be planted close together to form a screen. They are available as standard plants; and miniatures like 'Cherry Brandy' are perfect for growing in containers and small gardens.

Cultivation/Propagation:
 
The tea bush loves full sun, where it will flower abundantly, it will however, take light shade. This ornamental evergreen is cold hardy, tolerating frosts down to -7°C. Excluding the humid regions, the tea bush grows well in all areas of the country, and does well in cooler coastal conditions. For excellent results in the garden, plant it in a position which is sheltered from hot or cold drying winds.

Although it prefers fertile, acidic soils which drain well, the tea bush will adapt to most garden soils with excellent drainage. If you know your soil is alkaline, add copious amounts of acid compost to the planting holes, and mulching seasonally with acid compost will maintain acidity, and conserve moisture around the roots during our hot and sometimes dry summers. Water young plants regularly, but once established the tea trees will only require moderate watering to keep them looking at their best.

Because they have a shallow root system the plants hate disturbance, so avoid digging around the roots - remove weeds, etc. gently by hand. Minimal pruning is required but the plant can be clipped into shape after it has finished flowering. Plants should not be trimmed back into old wood, however, because they do not regenerate from such treatment.

Propagation is usually by cuttings and seed is also viable.

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

If it is grown correctly and in the right climate, the tea tree is virtually disease and pest free.

A prevalent pest is scale, which is usually associated with black smut, causing an unsightly blackening of the foliage. Treatment is to spray with white oil when the crawling stage of the insect is mobile, usually in early spring. Later applications should have an insecticide added to the white oil solution, to obtain effective control.

Borers may also attack tea trees and their presence is made apparent by small piles of sawdust-like frass on the branch forks or near the base of the shrub. The safest method of control is to use a small syringe containing methylated spirits and squirt it into the hole made by the borer.

Root rot may occur in overly moist soils.

Warning:

We could not find Leptospermum scoparium listed in any poisonous databases for human’s cats or dogs.

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