The Bottlebrush plant, which has the Latin name Myrtaceae Callistemon, gets its common name from the long, bright-red flower-spikes that is sets in abundance every spring and summer. These flowers look amazingly like the bottle brush you use when you’re washing your dishes. An appealing plant for gardeners, the Bottlebrush will not only contribute its own bright splash of color to your landscaping, but will attract hummingbirds and butterflies as well.
Native to Australia, the Bottlebrush is now a popular garden plant worldwide. In temperate areas, it can be grown outside. Where harsh winters make that impossible, it can be grown indoors as a houseplant. It can tolerate wet conditions, but it is also somewhat drought tolerant, making it a versatile addition to flower gardens as well as a good choice for xeriscaping.
A little know fact about the Bottlebrush is that, since the plant makes a natural herbicide, it is now being used as the main ingredient in a commercial herbicide called Callisto. This natural herbicide effect can be useful in a garden as well, since it cuts down on weed growth near the plant. Keep in mind, however, that under-planting the Bottlebrush with flowers or grasses will be difficult since this plant will try to kill any competitors that grow too close to it.
Planting a Bottlebrush
The Bottlebrush plant is easy to propagate at home. It can be grown from seeds and also from cuttings taken from an established plant.
If you want to start with seeds, gather the unopened fruits and allow them to ripen fully in a paper bag kept in a warm place until the fine seeds are released. The seeds can be sown directly into a prepared garden-bed, though you may have better luck with starting them indoors. Either way, sprinkle the seeds over soil that is part growing-mix and part sand, and then cover them with a fine layer of earth. Keep them moist but not over-wet. Germination usually takes about two weeks.
If you started your plants indoors, move them outside when they are about 10 cm tall. Give each plant plenty of space as they can grow, depending on the species, from .5 m to 4 m tall.
Another way to start growing the Bottlebrush plant is to use a cutting from an established plant. Cut a 10 cm to 15 cm length from a semi-mature branch, being careful to preserve the growing tip. Sink the branch about half its length into moist soil and prop it up so that it won’t move while the new roots are starting. Keep the soil moist until your cutting is well established.
Bottlebrush Plant Maintenance
Once established, the Bottlebrush plant is relatively carefree. All that it will require is direct sunlight, a moderate amount of water and an occasional light application of fertilizer. In areas that experience little or no winter rain or snowfall, one or two mid-winter waterings may be needed.
Since these plants are relatively slow-growing, they will need little pruning. Usually, dead-heading the spent flowers is all that is required. If you are trying to develop its shape, the plant will tolerate some heavier pruning. Just be sure not to take too much of the older, interior wood as this will stress the plant.
Remember, too, that the Bottlebrush plant will take care of some of its own weeding. The natural herbicide it produces will do that one chore for you.
Now that you have incorporated the Bottlebrush into your garden or landscaping, there is nothing more you need to do but sit back and enjoy it. With a lifespan of over 20 years, it will be with you for a long, long time. With little more effort on your part, every spring and summer the flowers will grace your yard with their bright tones of red and pink, and their interesting and exotic shape.