Growing Stevia

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growing stevia in the garden

In the Garden

Although stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) looks like an average green plant, it is an exciting choice for the herb garden because of the natural, calorie-free sweetness found in its leaves. Appreciated by diabetics and dieters, stevia is a tender perennial that loves the warm sun and dies back in a freeze. However, in zones 9 and warmer, the roots usually survive the winter and will come back in the spring. It can overwinter in zone 8, too, with protection. Gardeners in frost-free areas can grow it year-round, allowing it to grow into a small shrub. However, vigor declines after the second year, so if you want to harvest the maximum amount of foliage, it pays to replant.

If you garden in containers, give your stevia plant at least a 12-inch pot with a quality potting mix. Place it in full sun, and water whenever the top inch of potting soil feels dry.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Grow stevia for its sweet leaves and for the green color it brings to your herb garden.

Stevia is a pretty, green plant that looks a little like some of the flowering salvias.

Plant your stevia so that it has about 18 inches of room to call its own. In the loose, loamy, well-drained soil that the plant prefers, it will grow 1 to 3 feet in height, depending on the length of your growing season. Wait until after all danger of frost has passed before planting. Feed with compost or Bonnie Herb and Vegetable Plant Food as directed on the label. Mulch to prevent the plant from drying out on hot summer days. Container-grown plants will benefit from the same plant food and mulch.

Troubleshooting

Stevia doesn’t like soggy soil, so make sure that it has good drainage, or the roots could rot. A sure sign of rot is wilting from which the plant doesn’t recover after watering. Fortunately, few insects bother stevia plants.

Harvest and Storage

When your stevia plant blooms in fall, trim off the flowers and the plant will make more leaves.

Stevia bears small white flowers in the fall. At this point, the plant stretches out and offers fewer good leaves for harvest. Trim off the blooms to keep the plant producing leaves as long as possible.

Leaves are sweetest in the cool temperatures of autumn. They also taste best prior to the plant blooming.

To preserve summer’s plenty and to make stevia convenient to use, dry it. Cut whole stems and then strip the leaves and tender stem tips. Place these on loosely woven fabric or non-metal screening outdoors on a dry, sunny day. One day should be long enough to dry the leaves; be sure to bring them in before the dew dampens them again. You can also use a food dehydrator if you have one. Once the leaves are crisp, crush them by hand or powder them with a food processor. Store in an airtight container. While the powdered leaves will not dissolve, they are a wonderful way to sweeten your beverages and foods.

Uses

Stevia leaves can be used to sweeten tea and other drinks.

Stevia is grown for its leaves that give food and beverages sweet taste without the calories of sugar.

Use the fresh leaves during the growing season to sweeten tea. The sweetness in the leaves is approximately one-fourth as concentrated as the white, powdered stevia sold at the store.

When sweetening with powdered leaves, use about 1/8 teaspoon of dried stevia to equal the sweetness of 1 teaspoon of sugar. Remember, while stevia will withstand the heat of cooking, it will not caramelize like sugar or feed yeast for breads.

Download our How to Grow Herbs instructions. They are in .PDF format.

FAQs

I tried packets of stevia from the grocery store. Do the fresh leaves taste better?

The fresh leaves of stevia are not as intensely sweet as the concentrated version sold at the store. Consequently, it is more difficult to overdo it, leaving food with a bitter taste. Many people seem to like fresh stevia (or the powdered dried leaves) better than the concentrate, but you should try it for yourself.

Can I simply put a leaf of stevia into my glass of tea to sweeten it?

Actually, you need to steep your tea with fresh stevia leaves. Heat releases the sweetness. If you use an instant tea or like to sweeten lemonade, make an extract by chopping about a cup of fresh leaves and pouring warm water over them. Let them steep overnight. Then strain and refrigerate. Your extract can be used to sweeten tea, coffee, fruit drinks, chopped fruit, and desserts. It will last about a month in the refrigerator – if you don’t use it all first.

Where did stevia come from?

For hundreds of years, stevia has been a staple of the indigenous people of Paraguay, where it is native. Early settlers began to use it, and it came to be known as yerba dulce, which is “sweet herb” in Spanish. It is widely used in Japan in lieu of artificial sweeteners. For many people, it is healthier than sugar because it has little impact on blood glucose levels.

How many plants do I need for a family of four?

That depends on how much your family uses and whether you plan to dry it for use during the winter. For sweetening an occasional pitcher of iced tea, 1 plant should be enough. However, you may want as many as 6 if you plan to cut and dry the leaves. Even then, you won’t need as much powdered stevia as you would sugar. For example, 1/8 teaspoon powdered, dried stevia is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar.

22 thoughts on “Growing Stevia

  1. I have a Stevia plant, however it has produced fruit? a bit strange as I can find nothing online mentioning the plant producing fruit. I have read that there is many different types of Stevia plant, however was wondering if anyone had experienced this and if they know if the fruit is edible?

    • Hi Stephen,
      I am unfamiliar with a stevia plant fruiting. You are welcome to post a picture to the Bonnie Plants facebook page. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  2. This is my first year trying to grow herbs, I have in a large container basil, cilantro and stevia. The basil and cilantro seem to be pretty healthy ey lurked up after I planted them( got them from Home Depot) but my stevia is browning at the base leaves. We drilled extra wholes in the bottom of the container so it def has drainage and I’ve watered it 2 x since I planted them, once right after planting and once 2 days after planting, the soil was still moist the days before. Can I save my stevia? I’m also not sure when I can harvest off of it. Should I trim it? It’s still so little!

  3. I am new to gardening and am headed to my local Bonnie plant suppliers this week. In order to plan for my Stevia plants, I wanted to know what you mean by “over winter” which you state I can since I am in zone *8. Very excited about growing Stevia and want to keep it ongoing in my garden.
    Thanks,
    Sue

    • Hi Sue. Welcome to the most fun and addicting activity! We’re glad to hear that you are just beginning. Know that we are here to help. “Overwintering” plants means that they will survive the cold winter temperatures without freezing (to death). (To put it simply). If you are in the zone we mention for overwintering with winter care, it means that with mulch for protection and warmth and in typical winter temps for your area, the stevia will survive and grow again in spring. In many places stevia is considered an annual, where you replace each year. You might like our newest page on the site, developed as a one-stop-shop for New Gardeners: http://bonnieplants.com/new-gardeners. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

    • Hi Paul,
      Stevia leaves are what are used for sweeteners, as you know. It is best/recommended to harvest the leaves BEFORE blooms or buds appear, as that is when the flavor is best. I do not personally know of any use for the flower, except for enjoyment in a vase or allowing them to set seed and collect that for another generation of plants. Does anyone else here have an idea for flower usage? ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

    • uses for the stevia flower well you could let it seed out and keep the seeds after its made the flower and then you’ll have you more plants.

  4. can herbs and/or veggies be grown nearby the stevia plant, or does it need to be grown away from other plants?

    • You are fine to grow these plants near one another. For stevia usage, be sure to read the “Harvest and Use” tab of this article for handy tips. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  5. I purchased a stevia plant in May at Home Depot/Little Rock. It is doing great and has grown to 3 feet. I want to use the leaves to make ‘sugar water’ for my tea, coffee, etc… I read the information under FAQs tab but it had a question for the amount of leaves needed to make the extract. Are the larger, more mature leaves stronger in flavor? Can you put the leaves in the boiling water instead of pouring the hot water over the leaves?

    I have a sunroom on the south side of the house. Can I bring the stevia plant in for the winter? Temperature in this room during the winter is 60. Of course if we have a mild winter this year perhaps I will leave it out. Thanks for the information.

    • Hi Lynne,
      Sounds like you have a lot of homemade sweetener in your future. The sweetness of the leaves will vary plant to plant depending on the growing conditions and health of the plant. However, you should be fine to use both small and larger leaves together; it’s the stem that is not as sweet and you want to avoid using this part. Try 1/4 cup chopped fresh leaves to 1 cup hot water. I have heard of people using boiling water, but much like making tea, I think you should try simply steeping it in the hot water first — boiling it for too long may create a bitterness and the higher heat isn’t necessary. You can also dry the leaves and powder them for steeping later; just be sure to strain your extract well. As for bringing it in for winter, it’s worth a try. Just make sure if you cut it back to transplant into a pot that you leave about 6″ of top growth and keep it in a sunny, warm spot. Let us know how it goes! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  6. Hi, from CO! I purchased a healthy stevia plant from King Soopers in the spring and the plant is still doing great. I was just wondering if my little plant will come back next year after winter or if I will have to replant? I saw that replanting is good anyway, but I was just wondering to see if I needed to start harvesting soon. Also, what month (approximately) does stevia start flowering?

    • Hi Tyler,

      In your area where you receive frost and I am assuming snow (lots of it?!), your stevia probably won’t make it through the winter. Read above in the Harvest and Storage tab to know more about when and how to pick the sweet leaves. Early fall is the best time to pick the leaves, right before the plant starts to flower. It’s hard to say what month exactly, but it will flower sometime in autumn. I think the info in the tab above will help you. Happy growing!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

      • my mom bought 3 stevia plants and they all came from up north anyhow i don’t think she knows that they are closely related to ragweed so i will have to tell her…

        I’ve had good Bonnie plants but i mostly stick with Burgess i have just bought 2 strawberry plants thats from bonnie nice looking ones, i can’t find any blueberry plants i don’t mind what the price is as long as i get one i don’t want a twig of a blueberry plant to start from im looking to buy one with either buds or leaves already on them.

        • Hi Mike,
          Bonnie Plants does not sell blueberry plants at this time :( I bet you could find them in the local garden departments or local nursery in your area. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

    • probably when other asteraceae aster flowers do
      last year mine did in august.

  7. Hi,
    I’m from GA, and I bought a stevia plant this spring. The leaves have started turning dark brown to black, starting from the lower leaves. Now, almost all of them have black tips and the bottom ones are almost completely black. What could be the problem? It is in a trough style pot, and I’m pretty sure the soil has good drainage. I don’t think I’ve over-watered it either.

    • Hi Adrienne,

      You’re right to consider overwatering as the possible source of this problem with your stevia plant. Overwatering and watering from above can create conditions ripe for fungus. High humidity (which you have in Georgia) could also contribute. Check again and make sure your pot has good drainage and maybe back off on the water to see if this helps. Let the soil dry between waterings. You can also mulch with pebbles to help with drainage at the soil line. If this doesn’t help, try sending your question, preferably with a photo of the problem, to our Ask an Expert service. I hope this helps!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

    • I’ve had that problem with other plants before
      and all it was, was i gave it to much plant food
      and to much light and the soil was to acidic
      and the pH was off and not balanced out.

  8. I purchased 2 stevia plants, sweet mint and an early girl tomato plants recently at Lowes in Indinapolis. the Stevia has died and I would like to try again, but can not find it at Lowes at 86th Street and Shadeland Ave, Noblesville, nor Carmel. Help!

    • Hi Elio,

      Sorry about your stevia plant. Let your store’s garden center manager know that you’re looking for stevia and ask him or her to let the Bonnie Plant salesperson know. Hopefully, if we still have some in our greenhouses, we’ll be able to get you some stevia soon.

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

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