bottlebrush plants

How To Grow and Care for Bottlebrush (Melaleuca spp.)

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Bottlebrush trees are large showy evergreen shrubs or small trees that hummingbirds and other pollinators just love. 

If you live in a warm enough area and have the space to grow one or more of these, they would certainly make a valuable contribution to the look and feel of your landscape. 

What Is A Bottlebrush Plant?

Bottlebrush plants are from the Myrtaceae family and take their names from their interesting, bottlebrush-like flowers. These plants are of the genus Melaleuca, although they are still sometimes referred to by their old name, Callistemon.

There are nearly 300 species known in the genus and growth forms vary betweenausshrubs and tall trees. In this article, we’ll cover two of the most popular gardening options. 

bottle brush bush

Bottlebrush Species

Crimson Bottlebrush (Melaleuca citrina)

This plant, which is also often called the lemon bottlebrush, and was previously known as Callistemon citrinus, is an Australian shrub that can reach up to 15 ft (4.5 m) tall and wide. These plants can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11. 

They have elongated leaves that grow to about 4 inches (10 cm) long and have a lovely lemon fragrance. Crimson bottlebrush flowers in spring and occasionally in the fall, and develops small round and woody fruits. 

Weeping Bottlebrush (Melaleuca viminalis)

This species, which was previously known as Callistemon viminalis is also commonly known as the creek bottlebrush. This is a taller plant that can reach heights of over 20 ft (6 m), and is also an Australian native

The plant gets its name for its graceful, willow-like hanging branches. Grow these plants in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11.

Popular Bottlebrush Varieties

  • ‘White Anzac’ is a low but wide growing variety of M. citrina that reaches heights of around 5 ft (1.5 m) and produces white flowers.
  • ‘Burgundy’ is a purple-flowering form of M. citrina. These plants stay at a manageable size and don’t grow taller than about 10 ft (3 m).
  • ‘Reeves Pink’ is a pink-flowered form of M. citrina that grows to about 10 ft (3 m) tall.
  • ‘Mauve Mist’ is a hardy variety of M. citrina that has light purple flowers and grows to 12 ft tall (3.5 m).
  • ‘Captain Cook’ is a dwarf variety of M. viminalis that stays at a very manageable size of 6 ft (1.8 m) tall or less and about 5 ft (1.5 m) wide. 
  • ‘Little John’ is a very popular dwarf variety that stays compact at around 3 ft (0.9 m) tall and 5 ft (1.5 m) wide.

Bottlebrush Flowers

bottlebrush flower

Bottlebrush flowers occur in dense, cylindrical spikes with small, inconspicuous petals and long, well-developed filaments and styles. Bottlebrush flowers are usually red in appearance although yellow, pink, purple, and white flowers also occur.

After flowering, small rounded woody fruits are produced containing many seeds. These fruits persist on the plants for many years and seeds are usually not released until after a few years. 

How To Grow A Bottlebrush Tree

These plants are easily grown from greenwood or semi-ripe cuttings taken in the summer or fall. You can also grow bottlebrush plants from seeds sown on the soil’s surface in spring. (1)

These drought-tolerant plants should ideally be grown in full sun. They can be grown in partial shade, but they probably won’t flower as profusely as those grown in full sun.

While they don’t require frequent watering, the occasional deep soaking is recommended in hot, dry periods. Bottlebrush plants can be grown in a variety of soils. Fertile, well-drained, and neutral to slightly acidic soils are preferred, however.

Bottlebrushes do best when grown in warmer areas, such as zones 9 and above. If you live in frost-prone areas, these plants are probably not the best choice, unless you plan on growing them in a greenhouse or otherwise protecting them in cold spells.

bottle brush tree care

Care and Maintenance

Bottlebrushes need little pruning but when necessary, should be pruned in summer after the main flowering season since flowers occur on the ends of new shoots. Harder pruning of old-growth is very possible with these plants but should be done over a period of two or 3 years ideally.

Although not necessary if grown in a fairly fertile, loamy soil, an application of a low-phosphorous fertilizer in spring and fall will be beneficial to these plants and may increase flowering. (2)

These plants are generally pest and disease resistant. Chlorosis of the leaves can affect plants grown in alkaline soils. Root rot can affect plants grown in soil with inadequate drainage.

callistemon

Uses

Horticultural Uses

More upright growing species of Melaleuca can be grown as an attractive and colorful informal hedge, or screen. The weeping bottlebrush is a great small tree for Mediterranean gardens.

Human Uses

Aboriginal Australians make use of the timber of these plants for a variety of applications. 

Wildlife Uses

Bottlebrush plant flowers attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees, but are not attractive to deer.


FAQs

Conclusion

Bottlebrush trees lend a graceful but exotic look to any space. Their showy blossoms attract plenty of wildlife and their low maintenance needs mean you’ll have more time to relax and enjoy them. Remember to consider the size of these plants when selecting a suitable planting site.

For more shrubs to grow, check our list of bushes.

References

Reference List:

(1) Toogood, A. Propagation: The Fully Illustrated Plant-By-Plant Manual Of Practical Techniques. 

(2)  Harvey, R. Bottlebrush- Genus Callistemon.

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