Growing Pohutukawa – New Zealand’s Christmas Tree
Growing Pohutukawa – New Zealand’s Christmas Tree
With its stunning crimson red flowers, Pohutukawa is known as the 'New Zealand Christmas Tree' and holds a special place as one of our iconic native species.
These beautiful trees grace many northern beaches and coastal areas, offering shade and shelter to visitors. They are loved by bees which produce delicious, light-coloured honey from their flowers. Pohutukawa trees also play a vital role in stabilising coastal banks.
Varieties to Grow
There is one primary species of Pohutukawa known as Metrosideros excelsa, but within this species, there are several named cultivars available, such as 'Māori Princess', 'Manukau’, ‘Vibrance’ and “White caps’. Not all Pohutukawa trees produce bright crimson flowers - colours can range from pinkish crimson, orange to brownish red depending on the variety grown.
Where to grow
Pohutukawa naturally thrives in coastal areas of the upper North Island, and they can also be cultivated in other warm coastal regions throughout New Zealand.
It's essential to choose a site that receives full sun and has well-drained soil. Although they prefer coastal regions, Pohutukawa does not tolerate overly wet soils. Keep in mind that they are frost sensitive, so they should be grown in areas that do not experience severe frosts. However, some Pohutukawa have been known to grow successfully in warmer parts of the South Island. A specialist native nursery or your local garden centre can guide you on what does best in your region.
When to plant
Plant between May and late August when there is ample rainfall and specialist native nurseries, and garden centres have the largest range. This planting season can be extended into early spring.
When planting Pohutukawa, it's best to choose small specimens, around one meter in height. If your planting location is prone to strong winds, make sure to stake the young plant for 6-12 months while it gets established. Follow these steps for successful planting:
- Thoroughly prepare the planting area by incorporating plenty of compost into the existing soil.
- Dig a hole twice the size of the root ball and plant the tree at the same depth it was growing in the planter bag or pot. If the soil is heavy clay, slightly raise the soil level.
- Add Garden Time Chicken and Sheep Pellets and a Daltons Premium Planter Tab or Daltons Landscape Planter Tab to the planting hole.
- Fill the hole with Premium Garden Mix mixed with compost, and firmly pack it around the newly planted specimen.
- Water the tree thoroughly.
- During dry periods or if no rain is forecasted, make sure to water the young tree regularly to aid in its establishment.
Pohutukawa typically flowers from mid-November to around Christmas time. Only in the Wellington region do they continue flowering through early January. Specific flowering timing may vary depending on the growing location and climate conditions.
The height of Pohutukawa trees can vary due to their unique forms. Some specimens have an upright growth habit, while others have a more pronounced spreading form. Ultimately, Pohutukawa can grow up to 12 meters in height and span up to 8 meters across, so choose its position in your garden wisely.
If a Pohutukawa has been planted in the correct position, it should need little or no pruning, and be left to develop its own often quite unique form. Cutting-grown Pohutukawa’s like ‘Māori Princess’ have a distinctive upright and compact form and seldom require any pruning. If any pruning is necessary, it should be carried out over the summer months to ensure the cut branches heal rapidly. Always cut to a growth point or another branch, otherwise, there will be a mass of young shoots from where the cut is made.
Once established, Pohutukawa trees require minimal aftercare. However, during the first few years after planting, it's essential to provide regular deep watering during dry summer months to encourage robust and healthy growth. While fertilising is not necessary for Pohutukawa, mulching with compost is beneficial for the tree.
Grow Rata for colder climates
If you live in a colder climate, consider planting a close cousin of the Pohutukawa called the Rata which has lovely dark green, glossy leaves with brilliant red flowers (similar to the Pohutukawa). Northern Rata (Metrosideros robusta) is one of New Zealand's tallest flowering trees and is suited to the North Island and Southern Rata (Metrosideros umbellate) does best in the south island climate.
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