Name: lemon myrtle, lemon-scented myrtle, lemon ironwood, sweet verbena tree (Backhousia citriodora).
Plant type: large shrub or small tree.
Climate: frost-free temperate zones, sub-tropical.
Soil: moist and well drained, enriched with plenty of organic matter.
Position: full sun to part shade.
Foliage: evergreen, glossy green, strongly lemon-scented when crushed or after rain.
Flowering and fruiting: masses of lightly perfumed, creamy-white, fluffy flowers appear in summer and autumn, followed by small, nut-like capsules.
Feeding: feed after flowering with a native-specific fertiliser.
Watering: water regularly when young. Once established, it is fairly drought tolerant but will benefit from a deep watering in hot, dry weather.
Lemon myrtle is a beautiful, evergreen shrub or tree with a dense growth habit. It naturally forms a narrow, cone-shaped crown, but regular tip pruning will encourage it to spread and become more rounded. Its leaves are oval, glossy-green, and strongly lemon-scented. As such, it’s a popular cooking ingredient in the kitchen – in both savoury and sweet dishes – and many gardeners love it too, as the fragrance is quite prominent after rain, and it offers a sensory experience when pruning.
The creamy-white, fluffy flowers are prolific in summer and are highly attractive to beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies, as well as nectar-feeding birds.
Its dense, neat form makes it an ideal specimen tree, screen or hedge. Use the leaves to flavour tea, oils, glazes, baked goods or any dish that calls for a lemon twist. Citral oil is distilled from the leaves and used in aromatherapy.
Lemon myrtle prefers a spot in full sun with well-drained soil. Enrich with compost and well-aged manure and fork in well. If growing in a pot, choose a large one and use a quality potting mix. Dig a hole twice as wide and to the same depth as the existing root ball. Remove the plant from its pot, loosen the mix to free the roots and place in the centre of the planting hole. Backfill, firm the soil and water in well.
Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree – keeping it away from the trunk – to help conserve soil moisture and suppress weed growth.
Water regularly after planting and until well established. When young, tips can be regularly pinched or pruned to encourage a bushy, rounded habit – use the clippings for cooking or as propagation material.
Harvest the leaves for use as needed.
Water regularly to keep the soil moist. Reduce frequency during the cooler months but increase during summer and in hot, dry spells. Mulching will help to keep the soil moist.
Feed after flowering with a slow-release native fertiliser.
Trees can be cut back at any time of the year. Hedges and privacy screens can be lightly pruned regularly to encourage a dense habit. If a classic tree shape is desired, remove the lower branches from the main trunk.
Myrtle rust is a fungus that can attack the new growth of young plants. It causes the leaves to develop dark purple spots, which are eventually covered in bright yellow powdery spores. At present, there are no fungicides available to control myrtle rust in the home garden. However, by keeping trees healthy with regularly feeding and watering, they will be less susceptible to fungal attacks.
Lemon myrtle can be propagated via seeds or cuttings. Soak seeds overnight and sow in trays with seed-raising mix, ensuring they are only lightly covered with the mix. Position in a warm spot and mist regularly to keep the soil moist. Germination can take 3–8 weeks.
Alternatively, take softwood or semi-hardwood cuttings in autumn and strike in a pot filled with a mix of coarse sand and potting mix.
After applying fertiliser, delay harvesting for a few days and rinse well before cooking and eating. If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets.
Old man saltbush: the silvery-grey foliage is attractive and strongly salt-flavoured.
Finger lime: a small tree with distinctive finger-like fruit filled with zingy, lime-flavoured pearls.
Warrigal greens: a native substitute for spinach and silverbeet that thrives with little care.
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