Australian Tea Tree Info: Tips For Growing An Australian Tea Tree
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By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
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.
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Historically, Aboriginal Australians drank an infusion from the plant species leptospermum (a different plant from the tea plant or camellia sinensis). This plant is the New Zealand native Manuka. Upon landing in Australia for the first time, Captain Cook noticed the aboriginal peoples drinking it and called it tea. Today the plant is referred to as the "tea tree".
Through colonisation by the British, tea was introduced to Australia. In fact, tea was aboard the First Fleet in 1788. Tea is a large part of modern Australian culture due to its British origins. Australians drink tea and have afternoon tea and morning tea much the way the British do. Additionally, due to Australia's climate, tea is able to be grown and produced in northern Australia. 
In 1883, Alfred Bushell opened the first tea shop in Australia in present-day Queensland. In 1884, the Cutten brothers established the first commercial tea plantation in Australia in Bingil Bay in northern Queensland.  And in 1899, Bushell's sons moved their enterprise to Sydney and began selling tea commercially, founding Australia's first commercial tea seller Bushell's Company. 
In 1958 Dr Allan Maruff started the first commercial tea plantings in Australia since 1886 in the Nerada valley, south of Cairns, Queensland, using seedlings from the former Cutten brothers plantation at Bingil Bay.  In 1969 Tea Estates of Australia (TEA) commenced tea planting adjacent to the Nerada plantation. In 1971 Nerada Tea Estates (NTE) opened Australia's first commercial tea factory. In 1973 TEA purchased NTE, ceased selling bulk tea and marketed the tea under the Nerada brand. The following year TEA opened a small packing factory in Innisfail. In 1991 TEA opened a larger tea factory in Glen Allyn, near Malanda and a larger packaging plant the next year in Brisbane. Nerada Tea is the largest supplier of Australian grown tea, with over 400 ha (990 acres) of tea planted in the Cairns Region, producing 1,500,000 kg (3,300,000 lb) of black tea. 
In 1978 Mike and Norma Grant-Cook, tea planters from Ceylon, established the Madura tea estate in Murwillumbah (Tweed River valley) in north-eastern New South Wales. Madura produces Assam tea and green tea, which is blended with Sri Lanka (Ceylon) tea. 
Other tea producers include: the Byron Bay Tea Company, which produces in Byron Bay, New South Wales  the Red Sparrow Tea Company which was established in 1988 in Coffs Harbour  the Daintree Tea Company, established in 1978 in the Daintree River valley near Mossman, Queensland  the Tinbeerwah Tea Company in the steep hills overlooking Noosa, Queensland and the Two Rivers Green Tea Company, located near the junction of the Goulburn and Acheron Rivers at Alexandra, Victoria  . 
Australian tea culture remains very similar to British tea culture. Tea is often offered to guests by the host and small food portions are often served during "morning tea" and "afternoon tea". The main evening meal can be called "tea".
Billy tea is the drink prepared by the ill-fated swagman in the popular Australian folk song Waltzing Matilda. Boiling water for tea over a camp fire and adding a gum leaf for flavouring remains an iconic traditional Australian method for preparing tea, which was a staple drink of the Australian colonial period. 
In 2000, Australia consumed 14,000 tonnes of tea annually.  Tea production in Australia remains very small and is primarily in northern New South Wales and Queensland. Most tea produced in Australia is black tea, although there are small quantities of green tea produced in the Alpine Valleys region of Victoria. 
Leptospermum - family Myrtaceae
Commonly referred to as Teatree, Leptospermum is distributed in Australia, South East Asia (i.e. the Malay peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo, Java, Philippines, Sulawesi, Thailand, Flores, Moluccas, southern Burma and New Guinea) and New Zealand. Whilst Leptospermum occupies a variety of habitats from coastal dunes to high mountain peaks, it is most commonly found in wet or periodically wet substrates that are acidic and low in nutrient content.
Leptospermum is in the sub-family Leptospermoideae of family Myrtaceae and currently comprises 86 recognized species. About 83 species occur in Australia, all but two endemic. The genus Leptospermum was first recognized by Johann Reinhold Forster and his son Johann Georg Adam Forster when they published the name L. scoparium Forst. & G.Forst. in 1776.
George Bentham was the first to treat the genus in his 1866 Flora Australiensis . Bentham recognized 20 species and his comments that the ". species are very difficult to distinguish" and that from "the dried specimens, whether of the species here admitted or of the varieties or races, I have been unable to discover any positive discriminating characters" are evidence of the problematic nature of the genus. Doubtless, some of these difficulties would have arisen from Bentham's broad concept of Leptospermum , which included species now assigned to Homalospermum Schauer, Neofabricia J.Thompson and Pericalymma (Endl.) Endl. In 1983 Thompson reinstated the genera Homalospermum and Pericalymma , described Neofabricia (based in part upon the genus Fabricia Gaertner) and then in 1989 published a revision of the genus Leptospermum . Thompson recognized 79 species with 27 of these being described as new. In 1992 Bean described another two species and clarified taxonomic problems associated with two northern Australian and Malesian taxa. In 1993 Lyne and in 1996 Lyne and Crisp published descriptions of another two new species.
The common name tea-tree derives from the practice of early settlers of soaking the leaves of several species in boiling water to make a tea substitute. Most Leptospermum species make desirable garden plants. Flowers are mostly large, up to 3 cm in diameter, and they are hardy in most soils and aspects.
They are easy to propagate from seed or cuttings. Several cultivars have been established in the trade for many years. These have originated mainly from L. scoparium , a species that Australia shares with New Zealand. Most of the cultivars have developed from New Zealand stock and have occurred as chance seedlings in nurseries of other countries that is, the United States, Ireland and the United Kingdom. With concentrated breeding effort, Australian species will produce hybrids far superior to these in terms of vigour and disease resistance. As is well known, most of the L. scoparium cultivars are prone to scale and the associated black smut. Many Leptospermum species make useful screen plants as most have a tight, compact growth. Species that flower on the new wood may be used as cut flowers.
Treat skin irritations with fresh leaves from this windowsill-grown plant.
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:
- 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.
If you don’t like caffeine try herbal tea! And here is the real opportunity to grow your own if you want to have really fresh leaves, reduce your environmental impacts (no transport, pesticides or packaging) and cost and to provide bee forage! However, many are also commercially available.
Most are easy to grow in pots or in the ground and the list is extremely long 8 . The most common ones are:
– Leaves: lemon balm, the mints, rosemary, raspberry, catnip, nettle, dandelion, lemon verbena, bee balm, thyme and coriander
– Flowers: elder, lavender, jasmine, chamomile.
– Roots: ginger
– Stalks: lemon grass
– Other: rose hips
– More for medicinal use: Horsetail, hyssop, motherwort, mugwort, Echinacea, yarrow, feverfew, calendula petals, fennel, sage.
Use fresh or air dry. To maintain plants, use only a few leaves at a time. Because some of these grow very easily, they are regarded as weeds. So watch out for those with invasive roots e.g. nettle, mints, raspberry, which are best grown in pots. Also be careful with those that establish too easily from seed e.g. nettle and lemon balm, which should be pruned before the flowers set seed.