Story and Photos by Yvonne Lelong Bordelon

There are several species of Callistemon that will grow in Louisiana, but in my opinion the eye-catching lemon bottlebrush is the most tolerant of temperature extremes and poor soil. The large, red, bottlebrush-shaped flowers attract bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and nectar-feeding songbirds such as orioles and prothonotary warblers.

Bottlebrush is an excellent specimen shrub in hummingbird and pollinator gardens, especially in the Coastal South. In North Louisiana, it should be given some winter protection. Callistemon will not tolerate heavy, poorly drained soils. Propagate by stem cuttings of semi-ripe wood in summer. Seed culture often produces variable plants.

Beginning in late winter, this 12-15 foot tall bottlebrush shrub growing in Covington is covered with showy, bright red nectar-rich flowers. Honeybees are one of the many pollinators that eagerly drink the bountiful supply of nectar.

Good companion plants include coral bean (Erythrina herbacea), Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), Indian shot canna (Canna indica), butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium), and various Salvia.

Nectar-feeding songbirds such as this female oriole enthusiastically probe the flowers for nourishment.

Quick Facts and Keys to Success
Common Name: Lemon bottlebrush, red bottlebrush
Botanical Name: Callistemon citrinus 
Varieties/Cultivars to Look For: ‘Splendens’, ‘Little John’ (dwarf), and ‘Scarlet Compacta’ (4 ft. mound)
Zone(s): 8-10
Color: Bright red
Blooming Period: Early spring to summer and intermittently throughout the year.
Type: Tender evergreen shrub
Mature Size: 6-12 feet tall
Exposure: Full sun
When to Plant: Spring
How to Plant: Plant in well-drained, sandy, or clay acidic soil 4-5 feet apart to allow good air circulation. Avoid heavy, wet soils. Pick a sheltered spot or grow in containers in North Louisiana.
Watering: Regular watering, drought tolerant when established.
When to Prune: In spring prune off winterkill
When to Fertilize: In late winter use an organic all-purpose fertilizer if needed.
In Your Landscape: The striking, nectar-rich flowers and dark green foliage of bottlebrush make it a welcome addition to pollinator and hummingbird gardens.

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