Australian tea tree, Melaleuca alternafolia, is native to New South Wales, Australia, where it is grown on plantations for the valuable oil extract of its leaves. It can also thrive as a landscape feature and produces fragrant white flowers in summer. Melaleuca alternifolia can grow to a height of 15 feet or more when given the proper light, moisture, temperature and soil. It is not winter-hardy, but can be brought indoors and kept in a large container. Though it is mainly used as an ornamental planting, the intrepid gardener may also try to make a tea-tree oil infusion from its leaves.
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Things you need
- Melaleuca alternifolia
- Organic garden soil
- Large container
- Potting soil
- Liquid fertiliser
- Pruning shears
Grow Melaleuca alternifolia in the ground if you live in a tropical or subtropical climate. It is hardy to USDA zones 8 through 11. Plant it in large containers if you live where frost can occur. Amend poor soil with equal parts peat, sand and organic garden soil to improve nutrients and drainage. Make sure drainage holes in containers are open and functioning.
Keep Malaleuca alternifolia in bright light, indoors or out. Full sun is best outdoors, while a sunny window is best for indoor growing.
Water Melaleuca alternifolia frequently, whenever the soil is dry to the touch. This plant can grow 2 feet in a season and needs a great deal of water. Do not water to the point where the soil is always soggy, because tea trees will develop root rot if left in standing water.
Watch for leaf drop in Melaleuca alternifolia. If temperatures are too cold or dry, this condition will occur. Keep the tree in warm, humid conditions for best results. If you are growing the tree indoors, place the container on a tray of pebbles and pour water in the tray to create more humidity.
Fertilise Melaleuca alternifolia once a month with liquid fertiliser. Follow package instructions for the correct proportions for the size and age of the tree.
Prune Melaleuca alternifolia with pruning shears to control its shape and size in the fall, when the tree is dormant, or in the spring, before new buds pop. Cut back dead or broken branches at any time of year.
Tips and warnings
- With its papery bark and gnarled trunk, Melaleuca alternifolia can make an attractive bonsai tree, especially if you wish to keep it small.
- Do not plant Melaleuca alternifolia in acidic soils. Even though they are technically evergreens, they prefer slightly alkaline conditions.
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