The burst of colour that many of the flowering native plants bring to the garden in late winter seems to be happening earlier this year, perhaps because it’s been so mild. Grevilleas are starting, as well as wattles and kangaroo paw. But one of my absolute favourites is the flowering tea trees, Leptospermums.
These small to medium shrubs are so covered in masses of white, pink or red flowers that it’s almost impossible to see any of the delicate, fine foliage. I think they look like miniature cherry blossom trees.
Leptospermums are native to Australia, South East Asia, and New Zealand. There are over 80 species of Leptospermum in Australia, and many cultivars.
The common name ‘tea tree’ was given by the early settlers, who soaked the leaves of several species in boiling water to make a tea substitutes. But tea tree oil, so widely used for its antiseptic and healing properties, does not come from Leptospermum; it is distilled from plantations of Melaleuca alternifolia.
The ‘Aussie Blossom’ series of Leptospermum are hybrid forms, bred for superior growth habit and profuse flowering. They are small shrubs with fine foliage and masses of cherry blossom style flowers in late winter/spring. ‘Martin’ has pale pink flowers and grow to about 1.5m, whereas ‘Stephen Rose’ is a similar colour on a slighter smaller shrub. If you prefer darker tones, ‘Joy’ and ‘Naoko’ grow to about 1.5m with rich deep pink flowers, and ‘Alicia Rose’ is a similar colour but is slightly shorter at about 1m. Leptospermum Nana Rubrum is one of the ancestors of this series, and is worth growing for its beautiful rich burgundy foliage and masses of bright red flowers.
Leptospermum liversidgeii is another form that sometimes goes by the name of lemon-scented tea tree, but this one has high concentrations of citronella oil in the foliage. There is a form called ‘Mozzie Blocker’ which is said to vaporise citronella into the atmosphere to repel mosquitoes and other insects, so it’s a good one to plant near outdoor living areas.
Leptospermums are easy plants to grow in sunny, well-drained garden beds or containers. Sandy is soil is fine, but heavy clay soils that don’t drain freely are not really suitable for most varieties. Prune after flowering to maintain a tidy, healthy bush, feed a couple of times a year with a complete fertiliser, and protect the root zone with a layer of mulch.
These plants are pretty trouble-free. Occasionally, you might find small scale insects, particularly if the plant has got a bit stressed, but they can be controlled with Eco-Oil.
Leptospermums are extraordinary versatile, teaming well with other flowering natives such as grevilleas, kangaroo paw, hardenbergia, scaevola or grasses. They also look perfectly at home in a cottage style garden, planted with roses and other flowering plants.