ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How to Grow Sweet Stevia in a Container Garden

Updated on August 11, 2013

Sweeten Your Garden with Stevia

Stevia Rebaudiana, often called sweet stevia or simply stevia, is the plant from which several zero calorie sweeteners, including Truvia and PureVia, are made. There are also many varieties of natural stevia-based sweeteners, generally available in powdered and liquid form. These can be made at home from high quality stevia leaves.

Stevia-based sweeteners can be used to sweeten foods and beverages without adding calories. The leaves themselves can be used whole, chopped, or ground.

Photo by Cassandra Gregg

The leaves have more of a "flavor," as opposed to pure sweetness, than either commercial or homemade extracts, and will not, of course, dissolve in liquids. The leaves of a stevia plant can be up to thirty times as sweet as sugar!

Stevia grows to a height of two to three feet. Its lush, green foliage makes it an attractive plant for a patio garden. It grows well in containers. A hardy annual or tender perennial, stevia will continue to produce bountiful naturally sweet leaves for years in areas where winters are mild, or where the plants can be brought inside for particularly cold weather.

Cuttings, Live Plants, and Seeds - Starting Your Stevia Patch

Stevia can be started from seed, cuttings, or live seedlings. Of these, my personal favorite method is to use cuttings from an established plant in my own garden or that of a friend. That way, I have a chance to taste the leaves.

The sweetness of stevia leaves is due to steviol glycosides, and the levels of these delicious compounds can vary pretty widely from one plant to another. Unlike plants grown from seed, cuttings are always identical to their "parent." A cutting taken from a very sweet stevia plant will produce very sweet leaves of its own!

If you don't have an established stevia plant (or a friend with one), don't despair. As stevia-based sweeteners have become more popular, both seeds and live plants have become more reliably high-quality. Purchase either from a reputable nursery or a well-rated online vendor, and you'll be enjoying fresh, sweet stevia leaves before you know it.

Food, Water, and Loads of Sunshine!

Mix a healthy serving of compost into high quality planting mix or fertile soil. Stevia likes well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. As your stevia grows, it will benefit from regular supplementation with additional compost or a balanced commercial fertilizer.

Choose the sunniest spot you can find for your stevia. Stevia will grow in partial shade, and won't flat-out die even in near-complete shade, but thrives in full sun.

Photo by Sten Porse

It is normal for the leaves to wilt slightly during the hottest hours of the day, provided they perk up again as the day cools. so don't assume some wilting in the afternoon means your plant needs more water. In addition to causing the roots to rot, too much water can reduce the sweetness of the leaves.

Buying Containers? - Consider Smart Pots

Smart Pots are made of fabric, which allows perfect drainage for rot-prone stevia roots. They also root prune your plants, which forces the roots to branch out, creating a healthier root mass. While they're certainly not the most attractive planters available, there are ways around this drawback.

Smart Pots can be slipped inside larger decorative containers. Better yet, use side pocket planting to cover the fabric sides of your Smart Pot with attractive foliage while dramatically increasing your available planting space. Simply cut an "X" in the side of the container, and plant something in the hole! Strawberries do very well in side pockets on a 5 to 10 gallon Smart Pot, with stevia growing happily from the top.

Stevia in containers
Stevia in containers

Trim the Tops from Your Plants Regularly

Prune the tops of your growing stevia plants as necessary. Stevia will produce bushier, more attractive foliage if the top three inches are trimmed from each plant when it is about a foot tall. Treat the resulting top cuttings with rooting hormone and start them indoors for a new stevia crop. Rooted cuttings also make attractive and unique gifts.

Photo by onezzzart on Flickr

Use the trimmings from your established plants in the kitchen as a flavorful natural sweetener. Dried leaves may be steeped with tea or coffee, ground and used as a powder, or made into extracts or syrups. Fresh leaves are also excellent in tea or coffee, and delicious in fruit desserts!

Stevia does not carmelize like sugar does, though it can still replace part of the sugar in desserts where some sugar is required for texture. In desserts where sugar is used purely for sweetness, stevia or stevia extract can replace all of the sugar.

Mild Winters? - Growing Stevia as a Perennial

Midwinter stevia ain't pretty
Midwinter stevia ain't pretty

Mostly-dead stevia will bounce back fine in spring.
Photo by Cassandra Gregg

Stevia can be grown as a perennial anywhere where winters don't bring prolonged snow or heavy frost. In our home by the sea, our stevia turns pretty sad and ugly for a few months at winter's coldest, but doesn't die.




Fresh growth at the first touch of spring
Photo by Cassandra Gregg

The plant in the picture above is starting to come back to life. Though it still looks pretty pitiful, we see new, fresh, green growth right at the base of the plant. It'll be back as spring progresses, and larger and more lush this summer than last.

How to Dry and Use Homegrown Stevia

In these great videos, Zach Tato demonstrates harvesting, drying, and grinding home grown stevia for use in the kitchen. Zach's method is simple, and requires no special equipment. Easy to grow, easy to use... why doesn't every garden have a patch of stevia?

Enjoy! - Use Your Stevia Fresh or Dried

Enjoy your stevia leaves fresh or dried throughout the year. To encourage foliage growth, pinch off the small, white flowers as soon as they appear. Plants will continue to produce well for three years or longer, provided they are brought inside if prolonged, heavy frost or snow is expected.

Stevia: Naturally Sweet Recipes for Desserts, Drinks and More
Stevia: Naturally Sweet Recipes for Desserts, Drinks and More

Stevia can replace part or all of the sugar in many of your favorite recipes.

 

Have a growing tip, recipe, or question about stevia? Share it here, or just say "Hi!"

Your Comments Sweeten this Page - Have You Grown or Used Stevia?

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image
      Author

      hntrssthmpsn 4 years ago

      @Gypzeerose: Yeah! I don't have too much of a sweet tooth from day to day, but get the occassional big chocolate craving and must, must, must have a little sweetness in my coffee in the morning. Stevia is kind of hit and miss so far for the chocolate (though the hits are awesome), but it takes care of the coffee perfectly.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 4 years ago

      Fascinating lens - I really want to grow Stevia as it is just such a nutritional powerhouse - no calories and all that sweetness.

    • RawBill1 profile image

      Bill 4 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      I love Stevia and have been growing it for a few years now. The best tip I have, which you have already mentioned, is that it will die off in winter and then come back again in spring. I freaked when it died off the first winter as I had no idea!

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 5 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      i love this type of container gardening. it is really a horticultural masterpiece.

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image
      Author

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      @JenwithMisty: If your mom is successful with other herbs and veggies, the problem may be overwatering. Stevia has a surprisingly shallow root system which is rather prone to rot.

    • JenwithMisty profile image

      Jen withFlash 5 years ago

      My mom has tried growing stevia but it didn't go so well for her. I think she's still trying!

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image
      Author

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      @ae dc: Stevia really isn't hard to grow! We sweeten our coffee with extract, and fresh leaves go into our sweet tea :)

    • ae dc profile image

      ae dc 5 years ago

      oh i want to grow a stevia plant! i wrote a lens about artificial sweeteners and stevia is the best alternative! thanks for sharing this info..

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image
      Author

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      @happynutritionist: Absolutely! Stevia won't really grow much over the winter, but established plants will hang in there, and even produce enough fresh leaves for morning tea. The leaves remain sweet year round provided the little white flowers are pinched off as soon as they develop. Thanks for visiting!

    • profile image

      happynutritionist 5 years ago

      I grew this in the garden one year, and have used the extract for years...I bet it grows all year round in your climate?

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image
      Author

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      @hartworks lm: That's the loveliest image! You've inspired me to enjoy my tea with a fresh leaf from the back yard tomorrow. I'm afraid the setting's not quite as picturesque as yours, but we're close enough to the sea to hear the sea lions on a quiet morning, and that will do quite nicely! :)

    • cgbroome profile image

      cgbroome 5 years ago

      Great lens! I'm now inspired to try growing my own plants1

    • Lynda Makara profile image

      Lynda Makara 5 years ago from California

      I use a lot of PureVia and I never thought I could grow my own stevia. Very interesting.

    • hartworks lm profile image

      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      I grew stevia in a planter in my yard when I lived in Mexico, by Lake Chapala, where it didn't freeze. Loved walking a few steps out my door to pick a leaf or two to sweeten my morning tea!

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 5 years ago from Topeka, KS

      I use liquid Stevia everyday! I really want to grow my own. Thanks for reminding me to pick up a few plants at the local Farmer's Market. :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Okay, you must have one or two green thumbs. You plant articles are informative. :)

    • profile image

      Annamadagan 5 years ago

      Ooh, maybe I will put some near my window! Thanks for sharing.

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 5 years ago from So Cal

      I keep wanting to grow this and know someone where I can get a cutting to root. Very helpful information.

    • julescorriere profile image

      Jules Corriere 5 years ago from Jonesborough TN

      What a great lens! I never thought about growing it myself!

    • Einar A profile image

      Einar A 5 years ago

      I've never tried growing stevia but do like using it, so maybe I'll have to give this a try!

    • ViJuvenate profile image

      ViJuvenate 5 years ago

      I love nibbling just a tiny bit of leaf while I'm out in the herb garden. It's a bit harder to use, as we are not used to cooking with it. Maybe in another 20 years it will be easier.

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 5 years ago from So Cal

      We were introduced to this plant by a friend who told us to chew the leaves. Skeptical at first, the leaf keep getting sweeter and sweeter. Sold on this plant then, this is a great explanation.

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image
      Author

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      @JoshK47: Yes, growing your own stevia is definitely cheaper than buying supplements if you use it regularly, and even more so if you can keep the plants growing as perennials! Thanks for visiting!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Awesome info - great way to save some money if you've got a green thumb and use Stevia!