Growing Stevia Herb Plants in Northeast Florida Herb Gardens
Uses and Origins for Stevia Herb Plants For Northeast Florida:
Stevia herb, although relatively new to the United States, has been grown and utilized for centuries all over the world. It is a native to South America and is most commonly used as a liquid sweetener.
Stevia leaf is 20-30 times stronger than sugar cane and extracts of stevia have been said to be 200-300 times stronger sugar, with no calories, and no effect on blood sugar levels. Stevia herb extracts have been given the green light by the FDA as a food additive. And as a result, products containing Stevia sweeteners are showing up on grocery shelves everywhere.
For a natural, unprocessed sweetener, add a few leaves to your cup of tea for a no calorie natural sweet tea.
Stevia leaves can be used fresh or dried with the same results.
Growing Season for Northeast Florida Stevia:
Stevia herb plants are a short lived planting and should be replaced every 2-3 years for best results in the Jacksonville and St. Augustine area landscape. Plant them any time of the year from an S & J Nursery container
Sun Exposure for Stevia Herb Plants / Stevia rebaudiana in Northeast Florida:
Plant Stevia herb plants where they will receive at least 6 hours of sun each day for the Jacksonville and St. Augustine area gardens. Morning sun and afternoon shade or planting under tall pines that will allow filtered light through the day is ideal, as these herbs can suffer in hot afternoon sun during the heat of summer.
Soil Preference for Stevia Herb Plants in the Jacksonville and St. Augustine area gardens:
Stevia rebaudiana herb plants should be planted in to rich, moist but well draining soils. Amend your planting site generously with good quality compost at the time of planting.
CAUTION: Stevia herb plants will not tolerate standing water, so care should be taken in the placement of your plants so that your Stevia herb plants are not lost to summer rains.
In Northeast Florida, unless you have a sandy garden spot, planting Stevia into dry soils may prove to be a bit difficult during our rainy seasons. If planting your Stevia herbs into the ground, consider adding some sand to areas where water will stand after rains, or planting your Stevia herb into raised beds, elevated mounds, or containers.
Stevia herbs are ideal candidates for container garden herbs. I like to use a large clay pot (the size it takes your arms to get a good hold of, not your hands) planted half way into the ground and filled with 50 percent sand and 50 percent good quality garden compost. That way, I know I can be in control of how much water my Stevia is getting, and they never sit in water during summer rains.
NOTE: When planting Stevia into containers, add Milorganite or cow/chicken manure to the soil mix to help it contain water and give it a nice, slow release food source.
Water and Fertilizer Requirements of Stevia Herb Plants:
Water your newly planted Stevia herbs daily for the first few days to a week, then switch to twice a week for in ground plantings and three or more times per week for container plantings, depending on the soil mix used.
In general, herbs require little in the way of fertilizer. To much fertilizer with herbs can be worse than not enough. Over fertilization can lead to lush green growth with a reduced quantity of volatile oils in the leaves. Reduced oils, means reduced flavor and aroma in your herbs.
However, in Florida’s sandy soils you may find your plants in need of some help, particularly if compost wasn’t added to the soil when planting. Try fertilizing with a mixture of fish emulsions and seaweed at one ounce of each per gallon of water. Put into a sprayer and water every other week or as needed with the mixed solution.
If you find your Stevia plants struggling at any point, and your soil is not waterlogged from excess rain, make up a batch of compost tea and water generously. Repeat as needed weekly or biweekly.
Size of Stevia Herb Plants When Mature:
Stevia herb plants can grow 2-3 ft, and have a 18-24 inch spread.
Harvesting Stevia Herb Plants / Stevia rebaudiana in the Northeast Florida Landscape:
Stevia stems can be trimmed and the leaves harvested at any time of the year. Use the leaves fresh or dried.
To dry out your stevia, trim a cluster of stems and hang them upside down to dry, or lie them out in the sun on a hot but not windy day. When the leaves crinkle and fall apart when touched they are ready. Crush the dried leaves into a powder and store in an airtight container out of direct light.
Blooms of Stevia Herbs for Northeast Florida Landscape:
Stevia will have tiny white blooms on stem tips in summer.
Sowing Stevia Herb Seeds into Northeast Florida Soils:
Stevia, although difficult, can be planted from seed. Some genetic variation from the parent plant will be produced in the seedlings, including the amount of volatile oils responsible for sweetness.
For that reason, Stevia is best propagated from a mother plant by stem cuttings. Trim off the top few inches of the growing stems, strip the leaves off the lower portion of the stem, and place the cut end of the stems a few inches deep into moist sand for a few weeks.
Check your cuttings after a few weeks, if they come right out of the sand, leave them a bit longer, if they begin to resist when gently tugged, you will know roots have begun to form and are grabbing hold of the loose soil. Plant your new rooted cuttings out in the garden and you’ve got yourself some more beautiful rosemary plants!