Growing stevia is easy in well-drained beds or large containers. It likes full sun but if does benefit from afternoon shade in the heat of the day. Stevia grows best in warm conditions similar to those preferred by basil. Plants grown in warm climates will grow to 24 inches tall and wide. Plant 3 -5 plants for a year’s supply of dried stevia leaves. This is considered a tender perennial, (zone 8+) but I had the same plant come back for several years. I planted it right into the garden and harvested the leaves before the first killing frost in the fall. I then mulch the area with about 4 inches of oak leaves. It always made it thru the winter, but it's late to come back to life in the spring so don't give up on it.
If you plan on harvesting the leaves you will want to plant it where you can access it often to harvest the leaves. In order to maximize the leaf production you must trim back the plant several time to induce branching. Make your first trimming when the plant is about 8 inches tall in the early spring and then again in early summer cut back the plant in about half. Stevia can be grown from cuttings and I think it's easier than from seed. So use your cuttings to root new plants to give as gifts.
Left unpruned, stevia will grow into a lanky, upright plant that produces tiny white flowers in late summer. To maximize leaf production, you must trim back the plants several times to induce branching, first when plants are about 8 inches tall, and again in early summer. You can use the leaves from the stem tips, or root them in moist potting soil to increase your supply of stevia plants. Stevia can be dried in bunches like other herbs, but you will get better quality by drying it in a dehydrator or a 150-degree- Fahrenheit oven until crisp. Store dried leaves in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Wait until you’re ready to use stevia leaves to crush them.
This is defiantly an herb you need to add to your garden, and another benefit the deer won't touch it. Below is a chart to give you an idea of how sweet stevia is compared to sugar. Stevia can be used in cooking but does not have the same properties as sugar so I have not been satisfied with the results. I use my stevia mainly for beverages, both hot and cold all year round. Every calorie counts and you know what chemicals it has been exposed to coming fresh from your garden.
Granulated Sugar Stevia
1 tsp. 1/8 tsp.
1 T. 3/8 tsp.
1/4 c. 1 1/2 tsp.
1/2 c. 1 T.
1 c. 2 T.