Stevia, also known as “sweet leaf” or “sweet herb,” has no calories and has no effect on blood sugar levels. Also, the stevia plant is easy to grow. It is endemic to the South American highlands of Paraguay and Brazil, and has been used as a sweetener for hundreds of years. It was traditionally used to sweeten drinks and for therapeutic purposes. Although refined stevia products are available for a more standardized sugar alternative, dried leaves or extracts can be used in a variety of dishes with a little imagination.
The sweetest type, Stevia rebaudiana, is the most often farmed as a natural sweetener, though there are over 100 species of stevia in North and South America. Up to 5% of the dry weight of the leaves is stevioside, a sweetener that is 200 – 300 times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose). The sweetness of the 11 primary steviol glycosides found in whole sweet leaf ranges from 50 to 400 times that of sucrose. Stevia’s sweetness is constant at high temperatures, unlike certain artificial sweeteners.
Growing stevia is not an easy task, it’s taken lot of practice. So, in this article we will give you a proper guideline about how to grow stevia.
How to Grow Stevia?
Stevia is a very easy plant to grow. It’s available for purchase online or at a local garden center. In the late winter, you can also start stevia from seed. After the threat of the last frost has passed, stevia is ready to plant outside in any case.
Best time for growing stevia is February to March of the year.
In full sunlight, stevia plants thrive. It thrives in semi-humid regions with acidic, well-draining soil, particularly in hotter temperatures. It can be cultivated in a range of soils, but it thrives in sandy to loamy soil with a well-draining system and high organic content. Stevia does not thrive in saline soils because it inhibits its growth. For stevia plant growth, a pH range of 6.0 to 7.5 is ideal.
Plantation Land Preparation
The farmer should plow his area at least 2-3 times before growing stevia to bring the soil to a fine tilth. He should mix Trichoderma with the soil in his first plowing, and FYM with the soil in his last plowing.
Stevia plants are transplanted into raised beds. The raised beds should be 12 to 15 centimeters height and 50 to 60 centimeters wide. Plant-to-plant separation should be roughly 30 cm and row-to-row spacing should be 40 to 45 cm. Stevia plant thickness is estimated to be 20,000 to 25,000 plants per acre of land based on this count.
Population of Plants
When seedlings are transplanted into the main fields, the plant density in Stevia Cultivation should be 25,000 to 30,000 per acre.
Hand weeding is the most frequent method for getting rid of weeds in the field. Following one month of planting, weeding is done, and then weeding is done at regular intervals after that.
Irrigation is the most important aspect of stevia farming; water is applied to the plants by a sprinkler system or a drip irrigation system. Because the plant does not require abundant water, the light water system is provided at appropriate intervals. In the summer, apply the water every eight days. Overwatering the plants and allowing water to stagnate in the field will ruin the harvest.
Fertilizers for Stevia Plant
Mulching with organic compost and chemical fertilizer will keep roots cool, keep weeds at bay, and preserve moisture in the soil. Avoid overwatering and use liquid organic fertilizers high in phosphoric acid or potassium. High nitrogen fertilizers should be avoided because they result in big leaves with minimal flavor. Using a proper number of fertilizers for stevia plant is crucial so, be careful while doing that.
How Often Should Stevia Plants Be Watered?
You must water your plants on a regular basis. Stevia does not enjoy wet or standing water, but it also does not like dry soil.
So, stick your finger into the soil to see if the top one inch is dry. It’s time to water your plant if this is the case. If not, come back the next day to double-check.
One thing to keep in mind is that stevia plants’ leaves wilt easily, especially when the soil is dry. The good news is that if you give the plant a drink of water, it quickly recovers. Wilting, on the other hand, causes stress to the plant, therefore avoid it as much as possible.
Growing Stevia: Common Issues and Solutions
When it comes to growing stevia, most people run into one of two issues. What they observe is as follows:
Frost Kills the Stevia Plant
If you reside in a colder climate, don’t be surprised if your stevia becomes entirely frozen and dies. This happens from time to time. That’s why we suggest bringing the plant inside for the winter or covering it from frost until it goes dormant.
Then, hopefully, it will return the next year. If not, stevia can be grown as an annual. You can save money by starting it from seed every year.
Stevia Dies as a Result of Wet Soil
It is critical to plant stevia in well-drained soil. The reason for this is that too much water will rot the plant’s roots.
Your plant will die if this happens. To avoid this, make sure you choose a good quality soil that is loose and well-drained.
Diseases and Pests
There aren’t many illnesses or pests that affect stevia, but there are a few to be aware of.
Leaf Spot on Alternaria
On the leaves and midrib, this disease creates reddish, circular, tiny dots with white or grey centers. The lesions might ring the stems and cause the plant to wilt. When it’s hot or humid outside, it’s even worse.
Make sure there is no wetness on the leaves and that any sick plant pieces are removed. To allow for air circulation, keep the plants apart.
This fungus causes grey mold to grow on the stems, leaves, flowers, and other elements of the plant. It thrives in chilly, rainy weather.
Remove any infected sections of the plant and don’t water at night if you spot this fungus developing. It’s critical to keep seedlings moist, but don’t overwater them. To minimize overcrowding, never overfertilize your seedlings and trim them down as soon as possible. Also, before reusing containers, wash them and add a few drops of bleach to eliminate any lingering fungus.
Aphids are microscopic insects that come in a variety of colors, including red, black, green, yellow, brown, gray, and peach. They feed on the leaves, clinging to the undersides of the leaves in most cases. They then leave an ant-attractive sticky residue.
With a stream of water from your hose, you may knock aphids off the leaves. Another alternative is to spray the leaves with insecticidal soap.
Slugs are probably something you’ve seen before. They consume the entire leaf or leave large holes in the foliage. Slime trails can be found in the morning, although slugs are more energetic at night, when they eat.
Go into your garden at night and try to handpick them off your plant. Try luring them in with cornmeal or beer-based traps.
When Should Harvest Stevia Plant?
About 40 days after transplanting, stevia is ready to harvest. It’s preferable to do it right before the flowers bloom. Picking the leaves before the small white flowers develop is the most crucial step for harvesting your stevia plant. The leaves become less delicious as the plant devotes more energy to blossoms. (Most garden plants, such as other herbs and lettuce, have this trait.) Flowers = bitter lettuce and herbs that aren’t as fragrant.)
Leaves can be picked as needed, or the plant can be trimmed back by half in midsummer and early fall. Leave at least 6 inches of plant intact to encourage regrowth if you wish to retain your plants over the winter.