Chilean Myrtle Care: Tips On Growing Chilean Myrtle Plants
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By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
The Chilean myrtle tree is native to Chile and western Argentina. Ancient groves exist in these areas with trees that are up to 600 years old. These plants have little cold tolerance and should be grown only in United States Department of Agriculture zone 8 and above. Other regions will have to utilize a greenhouse to enjoy the plant. Among the interesting tidbits of Chilean myrtle information is its use as a medicinal and its inclusion as a bonsai species of note.
Chilean Myrtle Information
Chilean myrtle trees go by many other names. Among these are Arrayan, Palo Colorado, Temu, Collimamul (kellumamul-orange wood), Short Leaf Stopper and its scientific designation, Luma apiculata. It is a lovely evergreen tree with glossy green leaves and edible fruits. In its wild habitat, the plant is protected in large forests situated along major water bodies. Trees can reach 60 feet or more in the wild, but in the home landscape, the plants tend to be large shrubs to small trees.
Chilean myrtle is an evergreen tree with cinnamon sloughing bark that reveals a creamy orange pith. The shiny leaves are oval to elliptical, waxy and bear a faint lemon scent. Plants in cultivation reach 10 to 20 feet in height. The flowers are an inch across, white and have prominent anthers, giving the bloom a tasseled appearance. They are attractive to bees, which make a tasty honey from the nectar.
The berries are deeply purple black, rounded and very sweet. Fruits are made into beverages and used in baking. The tree is also popular as a bonsai. Interestingly, the inner bark foams much like soap.
Growing Chilean Myrtle Plants
This is a very adaptive plant which does well in full to partial sun and can even thrive in shade, but flower and fruit production may be compromised.
Chilean myrtles preferred soil that is acidic and well drained. Organic rich soil develops the healthiest trees. A key to Chilean myrtle care is plenty of water but they cannot support themselves in boggy soil.
It makes an excellent stand-alone specimen or produces a lovely hedge. These trees can also withstand a great deal of abuse, which is why they make such excellent bonsai selections. Luma apiculata can be a difficult tree to source but many online vendors have young trees available. California has been commercially growing Chilean myrtle plants successfully since the late 1800’s.
Chilean Myrtle Care
Provided the plant is kept moist and in a high humidity area, care for Chilean myrtle is easy. Young plants benefit from fertilizer in spring during the first few years. In containers, fertilize the plant every month.
A thick layer of mulch around the root zone prevents competitive weeds and grass, and slowly enhances the soil. Keep the tree well watered, especially in summer. Prune young trees to promote a healthy canopy and dense growth.
If you are growing in an area that will experience frost, container growth is preferred. Bring in plants before freezes are expected. During winter, reduce watering by half and keep the plant in a brightly lit area. Container grown plants and bonsai should be repotted every few years.
Chilean myrtle has no listed pests and few disease issues.
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Ugni molinae, commonly known as Chilean guava,  or strawberry myrtle,  is a shrub native to Chile and adjacent regions of southern Argentina. The local Spanish name is murta, and the Mapuche Native American name is "Uñi" or Uñiberry. It is in the same botanical family as the guava.
The fruit is sometimes marketed as "Ugniberry", as "New Zealand cranberry" in New Zealand,  and the name "Tazziberry" has been trademarked in Australia,  but it is not a native plant to these countries.
Myrtle: How to grow
Val Bourne's tips on on growing a vibrant evergreen
Evergreens come into their own in winter, but some are more vibrant than others. Myrtle (Myrtus communis) is one of the most luminescent of all, with glossy, emerald green foliage that resembles a miniature bay in form.
In midwinter, many of the shoots are crowned by a series of radiating pink stems that are themselves topped with small heather-pink stars. These are immature fruits that eventually berry into purple-black, but in their unformed state they brighten the foliage and give this ancient, egg-shaped evergreen extra sparkle.
In the wild, myrtle is found in dry, warm areas of southern Europe and western Asia. It arrived in Britain from Spain in 1585, imported by Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Carew, who are also said to have introduced orange trees to Britain.
In our cooler climate, myrtle needs to be tucked against a sheltered wall, grown in a seaside garden with a maritime climate, or planted in a container if it's to avoid being browned by frost.
However, our recent warmer winters, which have encouraged us to embrace the olive, should also encourage us to plant more myrtle outdoors, particularly as it is the hardier of the two Mediterranean trees. If the winter is wet, you will need to protect it from heavy rain by fleecing it.
When crushed, myrtle leaves exude a soft eucalyptus aroma reminiscent of the Australian gum. Indeed, the two are closely related. Myrtle does not appear to have a medicinal use like eucalyptus, but the leaves are dried for potpourris and used to flavour pork and game dishes.
Usefully, they keep their rich, emerald green colour when dried. On hot summer days there is often a very slight aromatic scent as you brush past the leaves, so place your plant close to a door or path whenever you can.
The Greeks and the Romans held this elegant evergreen in special regard. It was the sacred herb of Aphrodite her Roman alter ego, Venus, wore a myrtle wreath and is often depicted rising from the sea with a sprig of myrtle. As a result, all over the Mediterranean mature myrtles can be found planted close to temples dedicated to the goddess of love.
The plant is also thought to have aphrodisiac qualities and it is traditional to use myrtle in bridal bouquets. But this may be because it produces vestal-white flowers in July and August, when many brides marry. The fragrant flowers, though small, are packed with a mass of gold-tipped stamens that gleam in full sun. So it's not surprising that myrtle is associated with the Virgin Mary, or that it was a Victorian symbol of love and constancy.
The variegated form (Myrtus communis 'Variegata') has pink-tinged flowers and silver-green leaves and it shines and sparkles in winter and summer sun. A more compact form with smaller leaves, Myrtus communis subsp. tarentina, is sometimes used for low hedges there is also a cream-edged form of this.
For the best results, plant myrtle outdoors in late spring in a well-drained, sheltered position. This gives it the best chance of establishing lots of root before winter weather sets in.
You can also grow myrtle in a container in soil-based compost. Water and feed with a potash-rich tomato food during the growing season.
The potash will encourage more flower and also harden the wood. Ease off watering from late August onwards, and then dry off almost completely before over-wintering the container. The shelter of a warm wall under the eaves of the house is a perfect place.
Take semi-ripe cuttings in summer as an insurance policy against loss. Look for new growth that has started to firm up and choose non-flowering shoots if possible (otherwise remove the buds). Take off some of the lower leaves and trim below the node with a sharp knife or scissors. Plunge the cuttings into horticultural sand, or a 50 per cent mixture of sand and compost, and place out of direct sunlight.
Cuttings should root within six to 12 weeks. Pot up individually in gritty compost and overwinter in a sheltered, frost-free place until the following spring. You can either keep the young plants in pots for another year, or plant them out. But they will need both protection from winter squalls and careful nurturing through dry springs.
The black strappy grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens', also a lover of a warm spot, has dark leaves that will flatter myrtle's white flowers in summer and pick up the black berries in autumn.
Bulbous plants share the same love of well-drained, dry conditions and you could accentuate the vivid green leaves by under-planting myrtle with silver-leaved forms of spring-flowering cyclamen, Cyclamen coum Pewter Group or Silver Group. Species tulips and white muscari also work well. The curly-leaved golden marjoram (Origanum vulgare 'Aureum Crispum'), can be cut into small mounds to create a leafy contrast.
Buy Myrtus communis from the Telegraph Gardenshop.
Luma apiculata - Chilean Myrtle
An evergreen shrub that produces masses of pretty, pure white flowers in mid-summer, attracting the bees and butterflies. The flowers have a beautiful peach like scent and are the most extraordinary looking with long, curling stamens on the older flowers. The cinnamon branches are sculptural and contrast beautifully against its dark green leaves. Our Chilean Myrtle (Luma apiculata) looks great planted in the ground, placed in the conservatory or it can make a stunning patio plant.
|Plant type||Evergreen small tree/large shrub|
|Flower||White, fragrant - June to September|
|Fruit||Dark blue, edible berries|
|Soil type||Wide range, prefers more acidic|
|Rate of growth||Medium|
|Height and spread||10m x 3m|
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If you spot yellow-green insects causing damage to crepe myrtle foliage, then a pest called the crepe myrtle aphid is attacking your tree. Under normal circumstances, beneficial insects such as the lady bug keep this pest under control, but spraying pesticides on your plant might reduce the population of beneficial insects and leaves the aphids without any natural predators. You can control the aphid by reducing the use of pesticides, which increases the predator insects, washing the leaves with a spray of water or treating the plant with a horticultural soap,