Native to Paraguay and Brazil, growing stevia is nature’s sweet secret.
Sunlight: Full sun to partial shade
Maturity: 40-60 days from transplant, 90-100 days from seed
Height: 12 to 36 inches
Spacing: 18 to 24 inches apart, 2 to 3 feet between rows
Used widely in South America and the orient, home gardeners started planting stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) when the safety of artificial sweeteners came into question. Stevia leaves are 10-15 times sweeter than refined sugar. Best of all, it’s extremely low in calories and all natural. Plants grow 1-3 feet tall. Perennial, sometimes grown as an annual.
Fact: Stevia is a member of the Asteraceae family which makes it closely related to daisies and marigolds.
Stevia grows best in well drained rich soil and afternoon shade, especially in hot climates. Select a site that is protected from cool winds and harsh weather. This is a sub-tropical plant that should be protected, especially when nighttime temperatures fall below 50˚F. Prior to planting, dig in a balanced organic fertilizer or composted chicken manure. Stevia grows well in containers and can be cultivated year round if given proper care.
How to Plant:
Sow seeds indoors under grow lights 6-8-weeks before last frost. When plants are large enough to handle, transplant into 3 inch pots and keep indoors until nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50˚F. Stevia can then be planted 18-24 inches apart in garden rows. Mulching with organic compost will help keep roots cool, deter weeds and prevent moisture loss. Do not over water and provide liquid organic fertilizers that are rich in phosphoric acid or potash content. Avoid high nitrogen chemical fertilizers, as they produce large leaves with little flavor.
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Cool temperatures and short days tend to intensify the sweet flavor of stevia. As a result, plants should be harvested late into the fall, providing they can be protected from the cold (see Plant Protection). Most culinary herbs are best picked early in the morning just as the dew evaporates (see Harvesting & Preserving Herbs). To dry, tie the cuttings in small bunches and hang upside down in a well-ventilated room. When dry, remove the leaves from the stems and store whole (watch How to Dry Herbs — video). Crush or grind just before use.
Insects and Disease:
Stevia is not bothered by many insect pest or diseases. In fact, plants have been found to have insect-repelling qualities.
Seed Saving Instructions: