Stevia is a plant whose leaves are used as a natural substitute for sugar. Stevia rebaudiana is native to Brazil and Paraguay. This tender perennial plant is considered to be 200 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar.
Stevia Plants Appearance
Stevia looks somewhat similar to the Mint Plant. This natural sweetener grows on long stalks with bunches of green leaves growing opposite each other. The foliage features serrated edges. Blooms appear in early to mid-fall as small, white flowers. Pinch the blooms off as they develop to redirect the plant’s energy into leaf and flavor production.
Growing Stevia: Light Requirements
Provide a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight from a South or West-facing window. Between 8 to 10 hours of sunlight is even better. For other window exposures, or in the winter when there is less daylight, supplement light with an LED grow light.
Watering Your Stevia Plants
Growing Stevia in pots requires you keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Water your Stevia plant when the top 1 inch of soil feels dry when you insert a finger into the pot. When watering, avoid pouring water directly onto the leaves as this leads to fungal issues. Instead, direct the water to pour on the soil only.
Soil and Fertilizer Requirements
Regular potting soil is acceptable as long as it is well-draining. For denser soils, mix equal parts potting soil and perlite to improve drainage. Fertilize the Stevia plant once every 4 to 6 weeks with a low-nitrogen fertilizer diluted to half strength. Too much fertilizer results in large leaves with little flavor, so only fertilize enough to encourage healthy growth.
Temperature and Humidity Levels
Proper Stevia plant care requires temperatures between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 29 Celsius) during the day, and above 50 F (10 C) at night. Maintain a humidity level between 40 and 60 percent to keep leaves hydrated and flavorful. Stevia requires good air circulation to inhibit disease and pests.
Harvesting Your Stevia Plant
Use sharp shears to trim the stems right above a node to encourage new growth and create a bushier plant. Harvest regularly whenever possible to keep the plant healthy and discourage premature flowering. Use fresh leaves or dry excess leaves for later use.
To dry Stevia leaves, tie bunches of stems with leaves attached. Place the tied bunches into a paper bag with holes punched into the bag for air circulation. Hang the stems upside down in a warm, dry, and dark place. Store dried leaves in an airtight container.
For easy use in baking or beverages, create an extract using Stevia leaves and vodka. Chop a handful of Stevia leaves and place them into a medium-sized jar. Fill the jar with vodka and place a lid on the jar. Let the jar sit for 2 to 3 days, shaking or stirring the contents once per day. Strain the extract through a coffee filter to remove the chopped leaves. Pour the strained extract into a pot and cook on low heat for 30 minutes to cook off the vodka and thicken the extract. Pour into a clean jar and store in the refrigerator.
Propagating Stevia Plants
Cuttings are the best way to propagate Stevia plants. Snip a 4-inch stem and remove the bottom leaves. Dip the cut end into a rooting hormone and plant the stem into a small pot filled with sand or perlite. Keep the growing medium moist. The cutting is ready to transplant once it grows an established root system–usually within 3 to 4 weeks.
Common Pests and Diseases
Spider mites are the most common pests to infest Stevia plants. You will notice small, spider-like insects on your plant, as well as small webs on the foliage. Remove the spider mites by using a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. A followup spray in the kitchen sink or shower will remove any leftover residue or insects.
Root rot is a common disease caused by either overwatering your plant or using soil with poor drainage. Correct one, or both, of these leading causes to prevent further damage. Remove any affected foliage. For advanced cases of rot, inspect the root system and trim away any dark and mushy roots. Repot the Stevia plant in a clean pot with fresh soil to eliminate the soil bacteria causing the rot.
Stevia is a handy, edible plant that works as a low-calorie sweetener. For those who want to reduce their use of refined sugar, this plant allows you to do that at little cost. Stevia grows well in pots, making it an easy-care houseplant with a sweet surprise.
Stevia Plant FAQ
No, Stevia is not considered toxic to pets.
Stevia does well in USDA zones 9 to 11, or 8 if covered well during the cooler months.
Yellow leaves, followed by leaf drop, are often signs of excess heat. Place the plant in temperatures no higher than 85 F (29 C).
Too much sun exposure is often the cause of bleached or scorched leaves or wrinkled foliage. Move your plant to a spot that receives less direct sunlight per day.
Use Stevia in place of sugar to sweeten baking, beverages, or other recipes.