the myrtle ( Myrtus communis ) is a bushy plant typical of Mediterranean vegetation, widespread in Italy, especially on the southern coasts, in Sicily and Sardinia, and present for centuries in the culinary and herbal tradition of many Italian regions. Its balsamic and anti-inflammatory properties have been known since the Middle Ages.
This shrub is often mentioned in literature and poetry, from Archilochus to Virgil, passing through Gabriele D’annunzio, and has always had a symbolic value, although each culture has attributed different meanings to the myrtle: erotic, auspicious, funeral.
From the myrtle today we know practically only the typical Sardinian liquor, in fact the berries of this officinal plant have different uses and even the leaves and the youngest branches are rich in aroma. In addition, the evergreen shrub can have ornamental value in the garden or as a balcony plant. Being a spontaneous shrub, it is very easy to grow and can also be kept in a pot without requiring excessive attention.
Myrtle is an evergreen shrub and is part of the Myrtaceae family. The bush grows with a fairly upright posture and can reach a wide variety of sizes, even reaching a height of three meters. It is characterized by fairly thin branches, oval leaves with thick tissue and a shiny emerald green surface. The vegetative activity of the small tree is intense, although it is slow pruned: it produces shoots and small branches in quantity. For this reason, if left unpruned, it becomes a complex tangle within a few years.
In early summer, the myrtle plant produces beautiful white flowers with a characteristic scent, the same scent is found in the younger leaves and branches when you squeeze them between your fingers rubbing them together. The flowers then form the fruit, small purple berries, which are those used for the famous liqueur, typical of Sardinia. They measure about a centimeter, with a waxy outer shell and a kind of crown formed by the remains of the dried cut. There are also white myrtle berries, which are paler in color.
The fruit ripens in the fall, myrtle berries are popular with birds such as blackbirds and thrushes, which eat them and spread the seeds by spreading the plant in the environment. However, growers generally prefer to propagate myrtle by cuttings, as we will see better later.
Myrtle as an ornamental plant in the garden or hedge
Myrtle is a good ornamental shrub, perfect for Mediterranean gardens. If the bush is kept tight, it looks great all year round, being an evergreen, thanks to its glossy leaves and deep emerald color.
At the time of flowering then with the black berries it adds more colors and is even more beautiful. In addition to the pleasant aesthetic presence, it enriches the garden with its aroma. You can also put more plants to form a hedge.
It must be taken into account that the myrtle has an intense sucking activity and if it is placed for aesthetic reasons in a context of ordered beds, it must be adjusted with periodic pruning, leaving it to itself is a mess.
Myrtle grown in the field or in the garden
One can decide to cultivate myrtle not only as an ornament but also for its aromatic and medicinal qualities, starting with the production of berries. The cultivation of myrtle has a decent income potential and is interesting from the point of view of quality agriculture. For professional planting, rows of myrtle seedlings should be made, while in the vegetable garden, even a single bush can provide enough to produce a few bottles of liquor. The presence of myrtle during the flowering period is also valuable in attracting bees and other insects useful to the ecosystem in which it is grown.
Myrtle can also be kept in pots, animating and flavoring terraces and balconies. For cultivation in northern Italy, keeping the myrtle in a pot is a good solution, as it allows the shrub to be moved to a sheltered area during the winter, protecting it from excessive cold.
To grow myrtle in a container, it is recommended to choose a large pot and prepare a drainage at the bottom to avoid stagnation.
Greenland and climate suitable for the plant
Stage . Myrtle likes neutral or subacid soils, it does not demand much from the soil in terms of organic matter and nutrients, and it is also resistant to aridity. It fears stagnant water which is often a carrier of rot and disease.
Climate . Climatically, it is a hardy bush, which adapts very well to wind and sun, like all Mediterranean plants. On the contrary, it can suffer from excessive cold, it is also for this reason that it usually lives below 800 meters of altitude and is rarely found in northern Italy, where it must take refuge if necessary to be cultivated.
Despite its great adaptability, for best results it is preferable to cultivate it in plots protected from strong winds, fertilizing it with particular attention to the organic substance, therefore humus, mature manure or compost. The ideal soil should have good water-holding capacity, even without forming stagnation.
To start growing myrtle you must first obtain the plant, you can choose to buy it from a nursery ready to transplant, propagate it from seed or, as a third alternative, if you have a existing myrtle plant, to propagate it by cuttings.
Reproduction of myrtle from seeds
Planting myrtle seeds is not very practical: germination is never acquired and it takes a few years to obtain a good-sized plant. For this reason, cutting propagation is often preferred. However, with patience and sub-acid soil, myrtle seeds can germinate and seedbeds can be made.
Myrtle seeds are contained in the berries and can be planted in suitable pots or black nursery trays. The right time is late winter or early spring. The seed does not always germinate, especially if it is old, so it is recommended to put more than one seed in each pot. You can also choose to plant the whole berry. The planting depth should be about 15 mm.
Play Myrtle Cutting
Cutting is undoubtedly the best method of getting new myrtle plants and it’s quite simple, the concept is to take small parts of an existing plant which will be used to propagate daughter plants. Young branches about 20 cm long should be taken from the starter plant, the right time to do this is early spring, as this is when the vegetative activity is in full fermentation.
The branch detached to make the cut should be placed in a pot filled half with sand and half with sub-acid soil. At this stage, the small branch should be treated like a seedling, watering often.
Transplantation: period and sixth of implantation
A good time to transplant myrtle is spring or early fall, so September. It is better to avoid, on the contrary, placing the seedling in periods that are too cold or too hot, when the climate can disturb the young bush.
If you want to make a myrtle plant for income, it is better to keep at least one meter between plants and three meters between rows, to be comfortable for harvesting. Those who want to make a hedge, on the other hand, will have to bring the plants closer together, about 40 cm, so that they form a continuous barrier.
how to grow
The cultivation of myrtle is extremely simple, if it is planted in an area with a favorable climate. In cold regions, however, it is important to take care to protect the plants from the cold by covering them with leaves or tunnels. A mulch that keeps the root system warm is also helpful in this regard.
Irrigation is very important for young plants, later when the root system develops the plants are able to withstand dry periods. However, irrigating the soil when needed improves productivity.
As with all perennials, it is useful to provide nutrients once a year, it is better to use organic substances, well-matured compost is suitable.
Field myrtle does not suffer much from weed competition, but the soil around the crop should be kept clean with periodic mowing.
The thing to do to keep a myrtle bush in order is to prune it once a year maintaining the size of the bush and adjusting the shape. Also during the annual pruning phase, a periodic renewal of the branches is useful, carried out by removing some old branches, while the cleaning of the foliage is useful to prevent possible diseases of the plants. As with all pruning plants, it is also important to remove broken or dry branches.
Myrtle is almost always free-range, so no special precautions are necessary.
Harvesting and using berries
The right time to pick myrtle berries is between November and January, usually December is the best month. If you want to make a good quality liqueur, it is important to know how to recognize ready berries and not to pick them too early, but not too late either. Fortunately, myrtle berries are coated with a dull patina that indicates their ripeness and makes it easier for those who have to pick them.
The harvest of myrtle is ideally done by hand, to do it quickly you can use combs which make a massacre of leaves.
Once the berries are harvested, they should be processed within a day or two, so the liqueur should be put to work immediately.
In addition to the berries, the younger leaves and branches are also rich in essential oil and can be used in herbal teas which can be helpful in soothing colds and other seasonal ailments.