I’ve loved (and wanted!) ‘Little John’ dwarf bottlebrush plant for several years. That’s saying a lot considering that most of the time I change my mind on my favorite plants and usually end up changing things out in a year or two. I’ve been waiting to find a place to plant this sun loving shrub in our mostly shady yard and the time has finally come! I bring this up because I think I deserve credit for not actually buying this plant that I’ve been lusting for without having a good place to plant it (quick confession: that is probably only due to the fact that these ‘Little Johns’ are not really cheap).
My first experience with this variety of bottlebrush was about three years ago. There was a mass of ‘Little John’ dwarf bottlebrush, Callistemon citrinus, already planted at the Orange County Extension Office when I started taking care of their Exploration Gardens and I was blown away with how profuse the plant bloomed and how compact it grew. No matter the season there were dozens of red blooms just covered with bees and butterflies. You can see in the photograph on the left just how beautiful this planting is when it is in full flower. There are 15 or so of these plants and they have been growing here for approximately five years.
While many plants in Florida grow like crazy and have to be trimmed at least once a year I think that there is something to be said for a plant that is slow growing and compact in nature! After five years these plants are still only about 3 feet tall and just as wide. The leaves on the plant are very tight, so the smaller space between leaves is a good indicator that the overall growth habit will be fairly small and slow. This is one of those things that is kind of a double edged sword: while it is great that they stay compact once you have them the size you desire, it also means that large plants are going to be expensive to purchase because they are slow growing and will take longer to produce. See what I mean about the good and the bad?
This is one of the plants that I just purchased on the right. As you can see, I went cheap. Well, not really, but I didn’t get the big plants that I would have loved because Mike would absolutely kill me. They are expensive as is. I would expect to pay $20-30 for each plant, so think carefully where you want to plant. This little guy will probably take a few years to get the size of the Extension office’s, but it made more sense for us. It is nice to see the blueish-silver new growth on the ends of the branches too. This shows that the plants are starting to grow and we should start to see some flowers soon too.
The flowers on ‘Little John’ bottlebrush are shorter than the more standard forms of bottlebrush. The compact nature of the plant is reflected in the bright red compact flowers at the end of each branch. I like that these flower on and off throughout the year rather than just once or twice for a few short weeks. I really can’t remember a time when the plants shown didn’t have at least a few flowers on them. These shrubs are evergreen so even when they aren’t covered in flowers they will still provide a nice green border and background to our house.
Dwarf bottlebrush are drought tolerant once established. Most of the time this means that in 3-4 months you will not have to water them anymore, although considering your investment I would continue to keep an eye on them for any signs of wilting. In addition to bees and butterflies I’ve read that these will also attract hummingbirds although I haven’t seen them yet myself.
‘Little John’ dwarf bottlebrush is one of my favorite underused plants in Florida landscapes. When I help friends with their landscapes I usually try to “sneak” a few of these on to the plant order because I think they are well worth the expense. While other plants go into and out of bloom, or grow out of their space, these tough plants will continue to perform and delight with clusters of red flowers throughout the year.