Common myrtle is a small, original, flower-bearing and very ornamental garden shrub.
Basic common myrtle facts
Name – Myrtus communis
Family – Myrtaceae
Type – shrub
Height – 10 to 16 feet (3-5 meters)
Exposure – rather sunny
Soil: well drained – Foliage: evergreen – Flowering: early summer → mid-fall
Many find myrtle appealing all year round for its blooming, fragrance and edible pepper-flavored berries.
Planting common myrtle
Myrtle is a plant native to the Mediterranean area. It finds cold weather unbearable, especially over long periods of time.
It’s preferable to plant common myrtle in fall to favor root development and renewed growth in spring.
It is also possible to plant common myrtle in spring provided you diligently water it all summer long for the first year.
- Common myrtle prefers locations with high exposure to sunlight.
- It likes rich, well-drained soil: that is where it flowers best.
- Adding soil conditioner when planting enhances settling in and root development.
- Water well during the first 2 years after planting.
Common myrtle in pots and containers
Also try planting common myrtle in pots outside: just avoid both below-freezing temperatures and hot weather.
Potted common myrtle is ideal wherever winters are harsh. Pots are easier to move around and bring indoors during winter (greenhouse or unheated lean-in).
- Choose your pot so that it drains well
- Make sure to add a layer of gravel or clay pebbles to guide excess water to the exit hole
- If need be, add sand, gravel or leca balls to the soil mix so that it doesn’t block water from flowing out
Growing myrtle indoors
In a pot, myrtle will do just fine indoors. Provide it with enough moisture that the leaf tips don’t dry out (brown tips). This will reduce risks of scale and whitefly, too. Don’t place in direct sunlight.
Propagation: seed or prepare myrtle cuttings
Myrtle bears incredible amounts of seeds. Each season, new waves of sprouts emerge throughout the garden. Usually, birds spread seeds around when eating the berries.
- Keep a few seeds from ripe berries. Dry them and store in a paper envelope in a cool, dry spot.
- Sow in spring.
New plants may come out different from the mother plant because of cross-pollination.
Cuttings, the way to get an exact same myrtle plant
A myrtle plant is quite easily multiplied through cuttings from semi-hardened sprigs. It’s the simplest propagation method.
Prepare your myrtle cuttings in spring or at the end of summer, on soft-wood growth, that is, wood that is not hard yet, nor has grown brown bark, but is in the process of hardening.
- Collect stems about 6-inches (15 cm) long.
- Remove lower leaves, leaving only the topmost one or two pairs.
- Plant the cuttings in special cutting soil mix or a blend of peat and river sand.
- Keep the substrate a little moist.
Protect your cuttings before winter
- Protect your common myrtle cuttings with a tunnel greenhouse or any other solution that maintains a temperature of at least 40°F (5°C).
Transplant in spring
- When the last frosts are past, towards mid-May, transplant in nursery pots one size larger.
- Transfer your myrtle cuttings to the ground in the following fall.
Read also: understanding the technique for cuttings
Pruning and caring for common myrtle
Although not pruning at all will suite the shrub fine since it rarely exceeds 16 feet (5 m) tall, you can balance or reduce the breadth of your common myrtle at the beginning of spring. Prune delicately.
To keep a compact appearance, trim the year’s new shoots back to half their length after the blooming.
Increase blooming by often adding liquid organic fertilizer. This is especially true for indoor plants since potted soil quickly loses nutrients.
Pests and diseases on common myrtle
Myrtus communis isn’t a favorite of many animals, so you will rarely have problems. For example, larger animals such as deer don’t like it. Insects (aphids, spider mite, scale…), if they appear, quickly move on to other hosts.
Myrtle resists diseases well, including honey fungus.
Types and varieties of myrtle
Dwarf common myrtle is great for growing in pots and for hedges both low and medium-high. The name to ask for in garden stores is ‘Compacta’.
Other common myrtle varieties and cultivars include:
- ‘Buxifolia’: grows very short with tiny leaves
- ‘Flore pleno’: bears beautiful double flowers
- ‘Microphylla’: small-leaved variety for a dense look
- ‘Variegata’ or ‘Variegatus’: leaves have creamy white markings
- Tarentum variety (tarentina) and ‘Leucocarpa’: both bear white berries
Myrtle, together with its “Tarentum” (or “Tarantina”) variety, won the Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society (United Kingdom) in 1993.
Learn more about common myrtle
Other names for this plant include “Sweet myrtle”, “Nerte” and “Lagui herb”. Common myrtle is often confused with other plants also called myrtle:
Myrtle’s cute summer blooming usually lasts from June to October, releasing a delicate fragrance. Each flower has wispy stamens jutting out from 5-6 pearly white petals (violet, more rarely). Leaves, when rumpled, are also fragrant.
Afterwards, flowers turn into edible dark berries perfect for making liquor, especially in Corsica and Sardinia. They’re also deliciously tart in sauces to pair with poultry and meats (prepare as you would cranberries). They have a pepper-like taste when dried: that’s what flavors some Italian sausages so deliciously!
Common myrtle has health benefits that have long been known, specifically as a tonic and antiseptic. Infusions (leaves) treat wounds and ulcers as well as urinary and digestive disorders. Why all these benefits? It’s a relative of Eucalyptus!
Smart tip about common myrtle
You must water regularly in summer but not too much. Water in the evening to reduce evaporation.
We have a Common Myrtle of about 20 feet.
In the autumn last year my husband decided to hack about at it because it was touching the windows.
Now after the cold and very high winds it is shedding green leaves. I am worried it might die.
Hmmm. Normally, common myrtle can take severe pruning and survive without any problems. However, the season is relatively important: end of winter/beginning of spring is best. Over the winter, wounds don’t heal as easily for this shrub. What I suspect is twofold:
1/possibly a portion of the plant was damaged due to frost. Removing a lot of leafage lets cold air closer to the trunk and branches, a bit like removing insulation. In this case, there isn’t much to do but wait and see which branches survive. When it’s clear, you can remove the dead wood and the rest will be fine.
2/excess water following the pruning. If the plant is in a dip, water accumulates there. It’s worse when there isn’t much drainage. A large plant can evacuate the water through its many leaves and compensate for lack of drainage. If all of a sudden all leaves are removed, the roots are stuck with too much water around them. They might start to rot (phytophthora or other fungus). Symptoms are leaves softening and turning yellow, and falling off without really drying out. In this case, of course avoid watering; perhaps dig a shallow ditch to evacuate excess water further off if you really notice that the soil is soggy.
In both cases, there isn’t really much you can do but wait and observe. The plant will do all it can to adjust, and myrtle is pretty good at that. I don’t think it’s entirely related to the pruning, more like the pruning + stress factor (wind, cold, excess water possibly).
Many thanks for your reply. It has been a very windy winter and pretty cold too. And yes, loads of rain and we have heavy clay soil too.
As you say I will have to wait and see.
Fingers crossed for the Spring!
Bought a myrtle bush years ago have it in a pot was in bloom when I bought it but has never bloomed since
Hi Helen, that’s tough. A few things might explain why it isn’t blooming anymore:
– lack of nutrients: potted plants needs lots more care than ground-growing plants. This is because nutrients are washed out and/or quickly depleted. To solve this, there are two steps to solve this. First, repot with fresh soil mix. Mix in some compost if you can. Repot every two years, three at most. Second, give the plant fertilizer on a regular basis, like once or twice a month (not in winter). For myrtle, any balanced fertilizer will do (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium or NPK numbers should be the same, like 16-16-16). You can also make your own from local weeds (especially if it’s outdoors. Fermented weed tea smells too strong for indoor plants).
– lack of sun: though it can’t take full sun where it’s too hot, in the UK it might be required since we have less sun to begin with. Blooming is always better with more sun.
I have a beautiful Myrtle; communis, I think. It flowers prolifically but it sheds seeds all over my big garden. It takes a lot of time to weed out the seedlings. Is this usual?
Hi Eileen, yes, it’s actually pretty common. The seeds are often ejected by birds and land animals after they ate the berries, which explains the spread across the garden. Usually about one in three seeds will germinate naturally.
To try and reduce the problem, you can ruffle through the shrub and pick berries off before they’re ripe. Less berries means less seeds. Existing seeds might still sprout for the next couple years, but they don’t last very long. Indeed, the germination rate drops quickly with time and the seed doesn’t really go “dormant”.
Alternatively, wait until they ripen and pick them off before the birds do; they’re edible and quite healthy if you press them for juice (bland taste, admittedly).
Portions of my myrtle are dying weekly. Half of the plant is gone, the whole stem just suddenly withers up. What can I do to save it. It is now out in the sun and watered often. Thank you
Hi Elaine. Perhaps this is due to the soil where it’s planted. Myrtle needs very well-draining soil, meaning it mustn’t stay soggy beneath the surface. Even though it’s in the sun, if ever the soil stays wet underground then fungus might appear and kill the plant. When stems wither out suddenly, it’s often due to a fungus contaminating the plant from below. Check to see if this is the case by digging some soil up around the base of the plant. If you quickly reach a layer of wet, soggy soil, then that’s what is causing the difficulties your myrtle is experiencing. A solution would be to pull out what is left of the plant, build up a raised bed, and then plant it back higher up. Excess water would then drain away through the raised bed walls or underground. Other options are to add sand/gravel/clay pebbles/perlite/hydrogel beads to the soil.
I just got the Myrtle plant for mothers day and would like to tack good care of it. How many times a weeks should I water it.
That’s very nice of your family! Congratulations! It’s not so difficult to properly water your myrtle plant.
If it’s in a pot, then you’ll have to water two or three times a week, especially in Summer when the air is warmer and drier. In Winter, you’ll only need to water once a fortnight.
If it’s planted in the ground already, it’s even easier: over the first summer, water twice a week (unless it rains). Again, in Winter, usually you won’t need to water at all. After that, only water if ever it doesn’t rain for like, 10 days or so. The older the tree, the less you’ll have to worry about it. When it gets 5 years old, you’ll only have to water if it hasn’t rained for two-three weeks.
If you have doubts, test how dry the soil is: scrape a 2-inch hole (5cm), gather a bit of dirt there with your fingers. If it’s dry and dusty, time to water! If it’s smears, feels cool and moist, then you can put off watering for another couple days.
I bought a small myrtle shrub just before Christmas last year. However, I have not had any flowers and now all the leaves have turned brown. The compost is wet and has been watered regularly throughout the summer but the leaves feel dry. Can you advise what to do?
Hello Karen, if leaves are brown and feel dry, the shrub might already have died… Are the stems still flexible? If you cut a branch, is there sap at the cut? Can you peel the bark off, is it green underneath?
I really like the Myrtle plant. How can l get the plant, please?
Hello Agnes! Myrtle is indeed a very nice plant! In some places you can find myrtle growing naturally, like around the Mediterranean ocean, or in the USA, some places are even called after the plant, like Myrtle beach in the Carolinas.
But easiest is to check with your local garden stores, they’ll surely have nice varieties available.