Stevia, Sweet Leaf
Natural sugar-free sweetener.
Days To Maturity null
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Additional Uses null
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Stevia may be grown from seed sown early indoors and transplanted outside after frost, or sown directly in the garden, or planted as a potted plant.
Sowing Seed Indoors:
- Sow seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before the last frost in spring
- Sow seeds ¼ inches deep in seed-starting formula. Sow double or triple the amount of seed you usually would for other plants as the germination rate can be lower than for other seed varieties.
- Seedlings emerge in 14-21 days.
- As soon as seedlings emerge, provide plenty of light on a sunny windowsill or grow seedlings 3-4 inches beneath fluorescent plant lights turned on 16 hours per day, off for 8 hours at night. Raise the lights as the plants grow taller. Incandescent bulbs will not work for this process because they will get too hot. Most plants require a dark period to grow, do not leave lights on for 24 hours.
- Seedlings do not need much fertilizer, feed when they are 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution (half strength of a complete indoor houseplant food) according to manufacturer’s directions.
- Be sure not to overwater, water when the soil surface is dry.
- If you are growing in small cells, you may need to transplant the seedlings to 3 or 4 inch pots when seedlings have at least 3 pairs of leaves before transplanting to the garden so they have enough room to develop strong roots.
- Before planting in the garden, seedling plants need to be “hardened off”. Accustom young plants to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week. Be sure to protect them from wind and hot sun at first. If frost threatens at night, cover or bring containers indoors, then take them out again in the morning. This hardening off process toughens the plant’s cell structure and reduces transplant shock and scalding.
Planting in the Garden:
- Select a location in full sun with average soil.
- Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 8 inches. Level with a rake to remove clumps of grass and stones.
- Dig a hole for each plant large enough to amply accommodate the root ball. Space plants 18 inches apart.
- Carefully remove the plant from its pot and gently loosen the root ball with your hands to encourage good root development.
- Place the top of the root ball even with the level of the surrounding soil. Fill with soil to the top of the root ball. Press soil down firmly with your hand.
- Use the plant tag as a location marker.
- Thoroughly water and apply a light mulch layer on top of the soil (1-2 inches) to conserve water and reduce weeds.
How to Grow
- Keep weeds under control during the growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their seeds from germinating.
- Mulches also help retain soil moisture and maintain even soil temperatures. For herbs, an organic mulch of aged bark or shredded leaves lends a natural look to the bed and will improve the soil as it breaks down in time. Always keep mulches off a plant’s stems to prevent possible rot.
- Keep plants well-watered during the growing season, especially during dry spells, but take care not to overwater. Plants need about 1 inch of rain per week during the growing season. Use a rain gauge to check to see if you need to add water. It’s best to water with a drip or trickle system that delivers water at low pressure at the soil level. If you water with overhead sprinklers, water early in the day so the foliage has time to dry off before evening, to minimize disease problems. Keep the soil moist but not saturated.
- Monitor for pests and diseases. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls recommended for your area.
Harvest and Preserving Tips
- Stevia is ready to harvest about 40 days after transplanting. It is best just before flowers form.
- Stevia leaves are sweeter than the stem so usually only the leaves are used. They may be used fresh to flavor drinks or used as a garnish.
- To make stevia powder, dry the leaves. To dry, cut whole stems on a sunny morning. Tie the stems loosely in small bunches and hang in a dry, airy location out of the sun. Strip the leaves off the stems. Or, spread on a cheesecloth or a window screen in a dry, shady location. Or, dry herbs in an oven for 2-3 hours on a cookie sheet at the lowest heat, leaving the oven door open. Or, use a dehydrator following the manufacturer’s instructions. Crush thoroughly leaves before storing. Store in a tightly sealed container in a dry, dark location, such as a cupboard.
SunFull SunDays To Maturity40-60 daysLife CycleAnnualHeight12-20 inchesSpread6-8 inchesAdditional UsesContainer PlantSow MethodIndoor SowPlanting TimeSpring, SummerThin10 inches