How To Grow and Care for The Bottlebrush Plant (Melaleuca/Callistemon spp.)

Bottlebrush plants are stunning, hailing from the myrtle plant family, and are native to Australia, but are grown across the world for their beauty.

As you might imagine from the common name, these shrubs and trees produce very unusual flowers that look like brushes.

Not sure if the bottlebrush is right for your garden? Here’s everything you should know.

At A Glance: What You Should Know About The Bottlebrush Plant

Bottlebrush plants can refer to those which fall under the callistemon species, and those that fall under the melaleuca species. 

There isn’t a huge difference between the two, but you can explore that a little further down.

They are a magnificent sight when in flower, adding lots of colors to any garden. Being native to Australia, the bottlebrush plant cannot tolerate low temperatures and requires a warm climate to thrive.

The flowers appear in dense clusters, forming cylindrical forms of color, with prominent filaments, usually in shades of red or white.

These flowers are soon followed by fruit, which are long-lasting. Bottlebrush plants thrive in USDA zones 9 and above, as anything below that has winter temperatures that are too much for these plants to cope with all year round.

However, you might try keeping a smaller bottlebrush in a container, moving it to a sheltered spot or greenhouse for winter protection, away from any frosts.

What’s The Difference Between Melaleuca And Callistemon?

Up until 1998, there were many plants that were classified under the callistemon genus, and the melaleuca group was treated as an entirely different species.

The majority of species that were classified as callistemon have been moved to the melaleuca genus, but this hasn’t been accepted officially by everyone, it depends on what horticultural body you speak to.

You can tell the difference in the appearance of the species if you look closely enough at the flowers. 

In both species, the flowers that make up each brush shape are tiny and have long and visible stamens. 

In those that belong to the melaleuca genus, the stamens form into bundles of five, which are fused.

In the plants that fall under the callistemon genus, the stamens are only attached to the flowers at the base.

Many nurseries and sellers still use the name callistemon for plants that have been reclassified under the melaleuca genus, so do be aware of this when you are looking for a specific variety.

How To Grow A Bottlebrush Plant

Sunlight And Position

Bottlebrush plants require full sunlight for as long as possible, as a general rule. 

Some species will adapt to partial shade if that is what you have, but you won’t see as many flowers, and you might have to be on the lookout for diseases that thrive with too much moisture.

Preferably keep a bottlebrush plant in a sheltered area if you live somewhere windy, as they don’t do well with cold temperatures. 

Soil

Bottlebrush plants love well-drained soil. Neutral to slightly acidic soil is best.

Caring For A Bottlebrush Plant

As long as you give the bottlebrush plant the right conditions, it will be easy to care for. The hard part is caring for these plants in the wrong environment, where you will need to give them a lot more attention.

There are some things you can do to make sure your bottlebrush plant thrives, however.

Should You Cut Back A Bottlebrush Plant?

Bottlebrush plants don’t usually need cutting back, but if yours is having a huge growth spurt, and you want to keep it neat and tidy, make sure you prune it after the flowers have finished.

The reason for this is that the flowers appear on the tips of the new growth, so if you prune it at the wrong time, you’ll stop the flowers from forming.

You can cut them back harder, but to stop the plants from not flowering at all, do this gradually over a couple of years.

Can You Feed A Bottlebrush Plant?

Unless the soil is particularly poor in nutrients, you don’t really need to feed a bottlebrush plant. 

If you do want to give it a boost, however, you can use a general-purpose fertilizer, preferably low in phosphorus, once in spring, and once in fall.

Landscaping With The Bottlebrush Plant

If you live in a warm area, a bottlebrush plant can be a striking privacy screen or hedge, attracting hummingbirds and other pollinators in droves. 

Otherwise, they make a great statement in a large area with their architectural blooms and bright colors. 

Just make sure that you have enough room in between a bottlebrush plant and its neighbors so that the air circulation flows properly, preventing disease. 

If you pick compact species, you may be able to grow these in pots. 

Bottlebrush Species To Consider Growing

Callistemon citrinus

Boasting fragrant leaves in deep green, and beautiful crimson flower spikes, this plant is grown across the world for its beauty.

If you live somewhere temperate, you could grow this species in a container, and bring it indoors in the fall to overwinter it. It can reach 1.5 meters high, spreading about the same.

Callistemon pityoides ‘Alpine Bottlebrush’

If you do live somewhere colder, the alpine bottlebrush is your best bet. As it has adapted to grow at high altitudes, it’s used to cooler temperatures than others within the same genus.

Instead of red flower spikes, this species features petite yellow spikes that appear in summer.

Final Thoughts

Bottlebrush plants are an instant statement in any garden. To get the best out of them, make sure you plant them in full sunlight, even against a wall where the sun’s heat can radiate back to these plants, and you’ll see the most flowers possible.

If you live in a colder climate, it’s worth being choosy about what species of bottlebrush you pick, as some are hardier than others and will withstand cooler temperatures.

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