How to Grow Kākābeak (Clianthus puniceus)

kakabeak close up

How to Grow Kākābeak (Clianthus puniceus)

Kākābeak, a stunning native New Zealand shrub, earns its name from its exquisite red blossoms, which are shaped like the beak of the native Kākā parrot. This species is endangered in its natural habitat and is only found in one or two locations in the North Island. This popular native brings a unique beauty to a landscape, and in this guide, you can learn how to effectively grow and maintain Kākābeak in your own garden.


Understanding Kākābeak

The Kākābeak has vibrant light-red flowers that hang in clusters of 15-20 blooms. It has light green fern-like leaves and long, arching branches with a sprawling habit (both flowers and leaves are similar in shape to the Kowhai). Typically, it grows to around two to three meters in both height and width and flowers from August until November. Kākābeak is known for its abundant nectar production, making its flowers a favourite among nectar-loving native birds. If you're establishing a new garden, consider planting this fast-growing shrub to quickly add structure and visual interest to your landscape. You can even train their trailing branches along a fence.


When to Plant 

Ideally, plant in autumn when the soil is warm and moist, so it establishes a thriving root system before summer.


Choosing the Right Location in the Garden

  • Kākābeak doesn't like having wet feet and prefers a dry or free-draining site.
  • It can tolerate windy conditions, making it suitable for coastal and windy inland areas.
  • Kākābeak is susceptible to frost, so be cautious in colder regions.
  • This plant is most compact when growing in full sunlight. It can tolerate some shade, although it will have a more open growth habit.


Growing in Containers 

Kākābeak does well when grown in containers. Ensure your container or pot is a suitable size and use Daltons Garden Time Potting Mix for optimal drainage (do not use compost, which can clog drainage holes). Water your container Kākābeak frequently as it will easily dry out, especially during summer.


Step by Step Planting

  1. Soak the plant root ball in a mixture of Garden Time Seafeed and water for about 10-15 minutes before planting. This makes the transplant process less stressful for the plant and helps it get established more quickly.
  2. Prepare the planting site by digging a hole twice as wide and as deep as the container the plant came in.
  3. Add a combination of Garden Time Compost and Enriched Garden Mix to the hole and mix it well.
  4. At this point, you can also add in Garden Time Chicken and Sheep Pellets and a couple of Premium Planter Tabs.
  5. Improve drainage by creating a mound at the bottom in the middle where the root ball will sit.
  6. Place the plant in the hole, replace the soil around the root ball and pat it to make it compact and firm.
  7. The ideal position is when the plant sits in the ground, the base of its stem is slightly higher than ground level. This prevents water from pooling around the trunk and causing rots.
  8. Water the plant well after planting and add a layer of Daltons Premium Mulch and Grow around the top (but not touching the trunk) to suppress weeds and help conserve moisture.


Pruning and Ongoing Care

After flowering prune your Kākābeak’s to shape and encourage healthy branching habits. Because they are vigorous growers, you can prune them regularly to maintain a compact, neat appearance or to fit the available space. Be aware that Kākābeak’s are prone to slightly erratic growth, and you can end up with unusual shapes if you don’t prune them regularly. Feed your Kākābeak with Daltons Premium Tree and Shrub Fertiliser, from spring through to Christmas.


Pests and Disease 

Regularly inspect your Kākābeak for pests as it is prone to attacks from the hairy, black native Clianthus caterpillar, which can strip a plant overnight.  Other insects to be wary of are leaf miners, thrips, slugs and snails. Rabbits also love to eat Kākābeak, so protect when planting.

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