Gardening

Growing Stevia in the Garden step by step: Pruning, Irrigation, Harvest and more

The cultivation of Stevia has some peculiarities compared to other crops the garden, so today we will discuss how to cultivate it .

What is special about Stevia?

Stevia ( Stevia rebudiana  Bertoni) is a small herbaceous shrub about 80 cm high, evergreen, native to Brazil and Paraguay. It is the oldest known natural sweetener, since it was used to sweeten mate since time immemorial.

The leaves are the sweetest part of the plant and where its properties reside, among which the contribution of sweetness to food stands out without raising blood glucose levels and without calories, making it the ideal sweetener for diabetics and people who are following low-calorie diets.

Climate and soil requirements for stevia

The ideal climate for growing Stevia

Although stevia is native to subtropics, it is well adapted to temperate and tropical areas. The crop requires a lot of water (1400-1800 l / m2 per year) and does not withstand very long droughts, so the most normal thing is that it is necessary to apply irrigation regularly. It is also a lover of the sun and heat, with temperatures above 13 ° C (optimal between 15 ° C and 30 ° C), although it resists extreme temperatures of up to 43 ° C. It can withstand temperatures between 5 ° C and 15 ° C, although in that case its foliar development would slow down. However, with lower temperatures the plant dies, so in cold winters and frosts, it is recommended to grow it indoors, either at home or in a greenhouse.

Type of soil for growing Stevia

The optimal soils for growing Stevia are those with a pH between 5.5 and 7.5 with a sandy loam to clay loam texture. It does not tolerate soils with excess humidity or soils with a high content of organic matter, mainly due to problems of diseases caused by fungi . To solve the problem of high humidity, it can be grown on sloping land or drains can be arranged, thus avoiding waterlogging. Saline soils and highly acidic soils are not recommended. The plant needs good permeability and drainage, so it is recommended that the soil have good structure and aeration.

How to grow Stevia

Planting time

In Spain, it is recommended to plant in March, to be able to harvest at the end of the summer, although in colder areas it could be delayed until April or May, when the temperatures are somewhat higher.

Pruning

The first pruning consists of training and cleaning, and is carried out between 80 and 90 days after transplantation. This first pruning is very important for the success of subsequent cuts, and is considered a harvest.

Irrigation of stevia

The characteristics of the root, which is distributed close to the surface, must be taken into account. In addition, stevia is a plant that does not tolerate long periods of drought but requires that the soil have an adequate level of humidity to ensure its proper development, without reaching waterlogging.

In those areas where annual rainfall is scarce, the use of irrigation systems is generally recommended . The water requirement of the crop is 5 l / m2 per day applied at intervals of 3 days if the soil is sandy and every 5 days if it is slightly clayey. Irrigation should be suspended 15 days before harvest, so as not to affect the sugar content in the leaf.

The most recommended irrigation method is localized irrigation in the garden , since the water requirements are high and this system allows a very high efficiency in the application of irrigation, and the consequent saving of water.

Harvesting stevia

Depending on the location of the crop, two, three or more stevia harvests are carried out during the year (also called cuts). All of them must be carried out at a height of 5 cm from the neck of the plant, ensuring that two or three pairs of leaves remain. It is usual to do it with scissors, requiring a clean cut without bruises and that the scissors have been disinfected before use to avoid spreading diseases of other plants. The opportune moment of harvest corresponds to the beginning of the formation of flower buds in the plant, since it is at this moment when the plant has the maximum carbohydrate content.

In Spain two or three cuts are made per cycle. In the case of giving three cuts, it must be taken into account that the first cut is the least productive; however, it is critical to the success of the second and third cut. This first cut is equivalent to a formation pruning  that has been explained previously. The second cut is the most productive cut. In addition, the content of glycosides in leaves reaches its maximum level. The third cut represents 35% of the harvest. The main harvest (second and third cut) in Spain takes place from spring to autumn.

In addition, the harvest of Stevia , like the pruning, must be carried out during the hours of less radiation, which is why it is normally carried out in the morning.

In closing, I would like to thank my dear friend Gustavo Benítez who has contributed enormously to the realization of this article by providing very good information. I hope you liked it and I look forward to your comments!

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