Australian tea tree plant

Australian Tea Tree Info: Tips For Growing An Australian Tea Tree

Native to eastern Australia, Australian tea tree plant (Leptospermum laevigatum) is a graceful evergreen shrub or small tree valued for ability to grow in difficult conditions, and for its twists and curves, which give the tree a natural, sculptured appearance. Australian tea tree plant is also known as Australian myrtle, or coastal tea tree. Want to learn about growing an Australian tea tree? It’s easy; just keep reading to find out!

Australian Tea Tree Information

Australian tea tree plants are suitable for growing in USDA plant hardiness zones 9 through 11. Although mature height depends on the species, Australian tea tree plants in the garden generally reach heights of 10 to 25 feet. Australian tea tree displays small, leathery, bluish-grey leaves and grey bark that adds to its textural appearance. Lovely apple blossom-like flowers bloom in early spring.

Australian tea tree plants are drought tolerant once established, withstanding wind and poor, sandy soil. Australian tea tree is a great choice for a seaside environment.

How to Grow Australian Tea Trees

Australian tea tree plants thrive in either full or partial sunlight. Although the tree adapts to most soil types, it prefers fast-draining sandy or loamy, somewhat acidic soil. Hard-packed or heavy clay soil are best avoided. Smaller varieties, which work well for hedges, can be planted as close as 3 to 6 feet; however, large varieties need 15 to 20 feet of spreading-out space but responds well to trimming.

Australian tea tree care is easy enough. When growing an Australian tea tree, it benefits from a deep watering every week during the first summer – as a general rule, saturate the soil to a depth of 6 to 15 inches. Once the tree is established, it requires no supplemental water, although it benefits from an occasional irrigation during extended periods of hot, dry weather.

Don’t worry about feeding your Australian tea tree, as too much fertilizer can damage the tree. If growth seems slow or you think the tree needs fertilizer, apply a light application of a water-soluble fertilizer every month during the growing season, using a solution of no more than ½ teaspoon of fertilizer per gallon of water. Never feed the tree after late summer.

Note: Some Australian tea tree varieties can become invasive in certain areas. If you live in California, for example, check with your local cooperative extension office before planting. If you want to limit spreading growth in your garden, rake up seed pods that fall on the ground. If the tree is small, remove flowers before they go to seed.

Australian Tea Tree

Looking after your Australian Tea Tree

This unusual tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) is surprisingly hardy and will do well in a sunny spot in the garden.

These trees can live for decades and in the right spot can grow to a sizeable tree over 20 feet tall. Like most trees they don’t need a lot of pruning or care but pick a spot where they have room to grow and where they can be protected from hard frosts. As their name suggests they originate in Australia so, unless your garden is particularly sheltered, they will need to be moved into a cold greenhouse or room in the house in the winter months.

Whilst your plant is in a small pot it will need regular watering. Aim to water it heavily and then allow the top of the compost to dry out before watering heavily again. As soon as practical your Australian tea tree will benefit from being potted up in a much larger pot (or planted out if you don’t get frost in your garden). Add a top dressing of well rotted manure or other rich compost to help your plant settle in.

There fragrant leaves are prized for their fragrant oils and antiseptic properties.

Problem solving Your plant shouldn’t need much feeding but if you are keeping it in the small pot for a while or the leaves start to appear yellow then a good general purpose feed will always give it a good boost.

Australian tea trees are reasonably hardy but if we do have particularly cold spells (below freezing) then a fleece or heavy straw mulch will give your plant a bit more protection or alternatively you may consider moving it inside in the winter months. If some of the leaves do get damaged in frost just prune them off and your tree will put on new growth in the spring.

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Australian Tea Tree

Australian Tea Tree

Evergreen foliage and twisted trunks clothed with shaggy, shedding bark all contribute to Australian tea tree’s unique look and texture. Also called Australian myrtle, this tree displays masses of white, roselike flowers in spring. Trim vigorous upright branches for use in mixed bouquets.

genus name
  • Leptospermum laevigatum
  • Sun
plant type
  • Shrub,
  • Tree
  • 8 to 20 feet
  • Up to 30 feet
flower color
  • White
foliage color
  • Blue/Green
season features
  • Spring Bloom
problem solvers
  • Deer Resistant,
  • Drought Tolerant,
  • Good For Privacy
special features
  • Cut Flowers
  • 9,
  • 10
  • Seed

Planting Australian Tea Tree

Australian tea tree is beloved for its twisted branches and weeping habit that develops with age. Tolerant of dry condition, this tree thrives where others struggle to survive. Plant it as a focal point in the landscape and enjoy the combination of evergreen foliage, artistic shape and texture, and spring’s showy white flowers. Plant several Australian tea trees together to create a living privacy screen.

How to Care For Australian Tea Tree

This unique tree originated in the dry coastal areas of eastern Australia, where it needed to withstand drought and salt spray to survive. In fact, this tree is regarded as an excellent plant for stabilizing beaches. For landscaping purposes, Australian tea tree grows well in full sun or part shade and loose, fast-draining acidic soil—loamy to sandy. Avoid heavy clay soil; sluggish drainage tends to cause root rot.

When planting Australian tea tree, be sure to allow enough space for it to spread and its weeping branches to develop.Give newly planted specimens 1 inch of water weekly the first summer, then continue watering it during extended dry periods for its first year. Once established, Australian tea tree can withstand extended periods of drought. Potted specimens need to be watered all year due to their restricted root systems.

Plants growing in extremely dry locations with sandy soil may benefit from deep watering in summer to keep stems hydrated and prevent pests and diseases from invading. (Happily, few pests or diseases attack Australian tea trees.) Prune its lower branches in spring after flowering to display the contorted structure.

This tree can become invasive under ideal conditions, so avoid letting them self-sow. Remove spent flowers to stop seed production (hard to do in large specimens). Or rake up the seed capsules when they drop to the ground. Cut off seedlings at soil level as a last resort.

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PHOTO: Eric Hunt/Flickrby Lynsey Grosfield March 4, 2016

Tea tree oils, extracts, lotions, shampoos, decongestants and other products are ubiquitous in the cosmetic and self-care industries. Even so, few of us living outside of Australia really stop to think about the plant from which this camphoraceous essential oil is derived.

The tea tree—aka, the narrow-leaved paperbark or snow-in-summer—is more scientifically called Melaleuca alternifolia. As mentioned, it’s an Australian native, the leaves of which have been used by indigenous peoples as an herbal medicine for thousands of years. Though toxic if ingested, the oil extracted from the leaves can be safety used on the skin surface to fight ailments such as:

  • acne
  • lice
  • warts
  • sunburn
  • dandruff
  • fungal infections, like athlete’s foot

One study even showed that tea tree oil has an inhibiting effect on the pathogenic bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause a number of infections.

For the budding herbalist, tea tree is an excellent plant to have around the house. Like an Aloe vera in the kitchen window for the treatment of burns, a tea tree plant can provide a useful home remedy for a number of skin complaints. The essential oil can easily be extracted with steam, oils and fats, or with solvents like alcohol.

In their natural range, tea trees grow in water-saturated, riparian or swampy soils. Therefore, in cultivation, they require more or less constant access to water in order to thrive. Temperature-wise, they are reportedly hardy in USDA zones 8 to 11, meaning their lower cold-hardiness limit is around 10 degrees F.

Don’t be deterred, however, if you cannot cultivate tea trees outdoors in your climate: Provided a heavy, lime-free soil that is low in nitrogen (read: lay off the fertilizer), tea trees can thrive in a large pot in a sunny window, as long as they are watered frequently.

Beyond their usefulness, they are attractive and aromatic trees. Their delicate thin leaves give the appearance of a conifer, which makes a spray of silky white blossoms all the more surprising. Often times, young trees can be found among the tropicals at a nursery. Barring that, seeds are available for purchase online.

I grow my little tea tree sapling alongside a bay laurel (Laurus nobilis). Provided frequent pruning of both foliage and roots, useful little trees like these don’t have to become larger than a bonsai in a kitchen window.

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