By Rosie Lerner
Looking for a fun gardening project for chasing away your winter blues? Why not try growing Stevia in your windowsill garden. It may not be the most ornamental of plants, but hopefully will present a sweet reward for your efforts.
Stevia rebaudiana, also known as sweetleaf and sugarleaf, is a low-growing, tender, perennial herb grown for the high levels of stevioside, which can be 30-300 times sweeter than cane sugar yet has zero calories. The plant originally hails from humid, subtropical regions of South America and is a member of the Aster family.
While Stevia will not overwinter in Indiana’s outdoor gardens, it can be grown as an annual outdoors during the frost-free season or indoors in containers. The plants prefer full sun and well-drained soil, so give it as bright a location as you can. Supplemental lighting would be helpful indoors. Keep the plant away from hot and cold drafts.
Like many culinary herbs, flavor will be at its peak just before blooming, but Stevia may not bloom much when grown exclusively indoors. Foliage can be snipped as needed.
Stevia does vary in sweetness and quality of flavor when grown by seed and is known for having a low germination rate. Plants of known quality can be propagated by cuttings for best results, but they may be difficult to find in local garden centers.
Some garden suppliers offer improved cultivars, either by seed or rooted cuttings such as Honey Dip, Sweetie Sixteen or Crazy Sweet. Check your local garden center or retail herb farm for availability of plants.
Indiana Retail Herb Farms
Carolee’s Herb Farm
Stream Cliff Herb Farm
Herb Farms outside Indiana
Johnny’s Selected Seed
Well-Sweep Herb Farm
Gurney’s Seed & Nursery
Nichols Garden Nursery
Rosie Lerner is the Purdue Extension consumer horticulturist and a consumer of Tipmont REMC. Have a question about gardening? Use the form to send it to us. Or, questions about gardening issues may be sent to: “Ask Rosie,” Electric Consumer, P.O. Box 24517, Indianapolis, IN 46224, or ec@ElectricConsumer.org.