Learning Download: How to Grow Stevia
From Seed to Harvest: A beginner’s guide to growing stevia
Stevia is commonly known as a sugar-free sweetener often use in diets. It actually is an herb that produces very sweet, green leaves that can then be used as a sugar substitute. Stevia can be used fresh, dried, powdered or as a liquid when it comes to sweetening foods or beverages. The stevia plant is bushy and has high yields. Stevia is a perennial but will die back in a hard winter.
It is best not to sow stevia directly into the garden. Plant seeds indoors up to 10 weeks before the last frost. Seedlings will emerge in up to 21 days. Replant stevia each year to ensure a good harvest. Although the plant is a perennial, its vigorous growth decreases after the first year. You can replant with cuttings from the stevia plant.
Once seedlings are big enough to handle, transplant them to pots but keep them inside until night temperatures are 50 degrees or higher. Transplant them outdoors and plant in rich soil. Stevia will grow in soil with a pH of 5.0 to 8.0, but it prefers soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. Stevia grows best in sun but place the pot in an area that receives some afternoon shade. Keep the soil consistently moist throughout the summer, but do not overwater, especially immediately after transplanting or when stevia is grown in a container. If not planting in a pot, space the stevia 18 inches apart in rows set 24 inches apart. Stevia can be grown year round indoors if planted in containers. Once stevia plants reach 8 inches in height, it needs to be trimmed back. Trimming stevia encourages it to grow out instead of growing up. If the plant grows outwards, it produces more leaves to be harvested.
Individual leaves can be harvested or entire branches of the stevia plant can be picked at once, but never remove more than one-third of the plant at a time. Stevia leaves can be dried by hanging plucked branches upside down in a dry room with the branches tied together. Harvest the stevia just prior to it flowering. If the stevia plant flowers, it can create an unpleasant flavor in the leaves. Stevia leaves will be sweetest during an autumn harvest, when the temperatures are cooler. Once the winter arrives, bring stevia plants indoors.
What stevia craves:
Upon transplanting stevia outdoors, amend soil with organic fertilizer and compost. Fertilize the plant regularly. If using store-bought fertilizer, follow the instructions on how often to fertilize stevia. If using compost, apply a fresh layer around the base of the plant at least once a month.
Where to buy stevia seeds:
You can find stevia seeds at Urban Farmer.