HOW TO GROW STEVIA
Stevia is a tender perennial that is native to the subtropical regions of Paraguay and Brazil. In most areas in New Zealand the plant will die back in winter, but each spring it will shoot off again. In colder areas, plants will need shelter, or you may be best to grow them as annuals.
• Stevia is easy to start from seed. This plant likes it hot so seedlings won’t truly take off until around mid-summer.
• Plant seeds in a rich, loamy, free-draining soil in sun.
• Keep plants watered – not overly so, as the roots can be adversely affected, and not so little that plants droop. A layer of compost or mulch around plants will keep the shallow feeder roots from drying out.
• Stevia responds well to fertilisers that have more potassium and phosphorus than nitrogen – organic fertilisers are ideal, as they release nitrogen slowly.
• Pinch off the growing tips as plants grow so they branch out. If you don’t, they will simply produce one stem that grows straight up.
• For sweetness, harvesting is ideally done just before flowering in autumn as this is when the leaves are at their sweetest. While two or three harvests can be made throughout the year, I prefer to harvest all at once in autumn. Cuttings can also be taken for next year’s crop if required. For optimal growth and taste, plants should be replaced every three years.
• The leaves can be dried and stored, or packaged and sold.
• Fresh leaves can be harvested throughout the season.