Growing Stevia
Answered by: Richters Staff
Question from: Shirley Mcdonald
Posted: Before April 1998

Can you give me some growing information on stevia, including type of soil, light, and watering requirements. Is it a perennial? Do I need to bring it in for the winter? Can it be propagated?

Stevia, the sugar substitute plant from South America, is a tender perennial. It needs sandy, well-drained soil and full sun exposure. During the growing season from spring to fall, it needs watering whenever the soil dries. During the winter months the plant is very sensitive to overwatering, and it is easy to lose plants during this time. Checking the soil moisture with your finger before watering will help avoid overwatering.

Even under the best indoor conditions, it is common to lose 90% of plants over winter. The leaves can drop suddenly and the plant will appear to be dead, only later to regrow from the roots.

During the summer outdoors in the garden the plant grows very well. It is somewhat slow to get established in our fields in Goodwood (zone 5) but it always reaches a good height by September, up to 60 centimetres (2 feet).

Yes, it can be propagated from seeds and cuttings. Cuttings are easy but seeds are difficult. Pollination of flowers is a problem for stevia so not many seeds are formed in the flowers. And of those seeds that mature, only a small percentage will germinate.

Stevia is under investigation as a potential field crop in Ontario. A subsidiary of Monsanto, the Nutrasweet company, is exploring stevia as a sugar substitute. Mike Columbus who has been working with six Ontario farmers growing stevia is going to speak on stevia as a commercial crop at the 1997 Richters Commercial Herb Growing Conference, October 25-26. For more details about the conference, check the Conference section of the website (www.richters.com).

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