How to Grow NZ Natives

Native plants have been here for a long time and there is a huge number of varieties available to suit any sized garden, in any region. The challenge is to select those that will thrive in your own garden and climate and create the effect you want to achieve. 

How to Grow NZ Natives

Conservation & biodiversity
It is worth remembering that out of our 2,000+ native species, between 10 and 15% are threatened with extinction. Even a small garden with 10 to 15 native plants can be a habitat for some of our endangered species.  

Native plants also help increase the biodiversity in your garden by creating a safe habitat for native wildlife such as insects (native bees, butterflies, moths etc), birds and reptiles etc.

It is important to understand your local climate, particularly temperature and rainfall, which can impact your garden e.g., drought, frost, wind, humidity etc, and influence what plants you choose. 

There can be problems in successfully growing particular species of natives if they are grown outside their typical growing regions, or in soils unlike their natural habitat. Therefore, it is wise to select plants that have comparable conditions to your own region, e.g climate, soil etc.

Soil and site considerations
New Zealand soils are often heavy clay, however there are also sandy, coastal soils and rocky, gravelly alpine soil types. Determine the type of soil you have in your garden before you begin – your local garden centre can help with this. 

  • Clay soils are considered “heavy”, so it is essential they are “opened up” to allow drainage and air movement throughout the soil. To do this, apply Daltons Clay Breaker and Soil Conditioner to help break up the clay and improve the soil drainage. When planting, add Daltons Garden Time Compost and mix well with existing soil. 
  • Sandy soils are “light,” drain easily and will require you to add organic material such as compost to help retain water and minerals. Due to low nutrient levels in very sandy soil some extra fertiliser such as Daltons Premium Tree and Shrub Fertiliser may be required.

Note: some native species prefer sandy/coastal soils so check the variety you are growing.

The direction and velocity of prevailing winds in your garden should also be considered as this will influence your initial species selection and the density of planting where "shelter belts" may be required (see glossary below).

Remember that native plants have adapted to various sites and soil types over many years, so take advantage of this when choosing individual species.

Choosing Plants

There are various types of native species to choose from, such as grasses, flaxes, trees, shrubs, palms, climbers, ground covers etc. Depending on the look you want to achieve, you can plant your garden entirely in natives or incorporate them into your existing garden.

Some of our native plants have unique forms and distinctive leaf shapes that add interest and texture to a garden, such as cabbage trees, flaxes, and Astelia. 

Key factors to consider when choosing native plants are hardiness (see glossary), the form of the plant (shape), interest and colour, texture, longevity, and flowers and berries. Always check the plants mature height as some trees and shrubs can grow to a considerable size or spread widely. Then develop your planting plan by including plants that naturally grow together. Mixing colours can also add variety and create a more interesting garden. 

Extending your planting site
Expand your areas for planting by creating micro-climates - use rocks and gravel, create mini-gardens and raised planters to develop different and distinct habitats in your garden, thereby increasing the range of natives you can grow. 

When to plant
Water supply is an increasing problem in parts of the country, so the safest time to plant your natives is between May and late August. In areas with substantial rainfall, this planting season can be extended into spring.
The time of planting can also be influenced by the availability of plants. Fortunately, most specialist native nurseries and garden centres have the greatest range of plants available over the winter months.

Native Plants

Some attractive natives that can be grown in the garden and in pots are:

Name Description
Astelia banks (coastal astelia) Large, tufted, clump-forming native plant with narrow, silver-green leaves. Pale green flowers bloom in spring, followed by purple-black berries in autumn.
Astelia nervosa (mountain astelia) Long silver-green leaves that bronze with the cold. Small spikes of yellowish flowers, then orange berries.

Astelia hastatum (perching lily) – a nest epiphyte or air plant
Grows in the crook of tree branches. 
Carex secta
Tussock forming grass which grows up to 1.5 x 0.8 m. Suitable for ground cover and adaptable in many soil types and climate regions.
Cordyline australis (cabbage tree) Grows 12 to 20 metres high, with long narrow leaves that may be up to a metre long. Scented flowers in early summer, then bluish-white berries that birds love to eat.
Geranium traversii  A great garden plant and one of New Zealand's largest geraniums. A low-growing perennial with soft silvery foliage, and pretty flowers.
Griselinia lucida (puka/ akapuka /shining broadleaf)  An evergreen fast-growing shrub with large oval glossy green leaves. Ideal background shrub or grow it as a hedge.
Helichrysum selago  Perfect for a sunny rock garden, containers, or alpine house. Low growing masses of green and white stems. Yellowish flowers.
Metrosideros fulgens (climbing rātā or scarlet rātā vine) Climber or shrub with oval shaped, dark green glossy leaves and bright red flowers which resemble the Pohutukawa flower. 
Metrosideros perforate (white Rata Vine)  Climber or shrub with oval shaped, dark green glossy leaves and masses of white flowers from white buds. 
Pachystegia insignis (Marlborough daisy)  A spreading shrub with large leathery leaves that are olive green with furry undersides. Stunning large, white, daisy-like flowers. 
Pseudopanax lessonii (houpara)  Shrub which grows up to 4-6m tall and has attractive leathery leaves. Green flowers are followed by dark purple, fleshy fruits.
Xeronema callistemon (Poor Knights lily)

Flax like foliage with magnificent bottlebrush like brilliant red flowers in late spring or early summer.


Planting Tips

Planting in the garden 

  1. Dig the area over thoroughly incorporating plenty of compost into the existing soil. Ideally, do this in early winter for planting early spring.
  2. Dig the hole twice the size of the root ball and plant the new tree or shrub to the same depth that it is growing in the planter bag or pot. Add fertiliser such as Daltons Premium Planter Tabs or Daltons Landscape Planter Tabs into the planting hole.
  3. Fill with Daltons Premium Garden Mix and firm around the newly planted specimen.
  4. Water thoroughly.
  5. Ensure the plants are watered regularly if no rain is forecast or during dry periods during establishment.

Growing natives in containers
There is a wide range of natives suitable for growing in containers including some of our native epiphytes (air plants) and coastal plants. Factors to consider when growing natives in containers are:

  • Size of the container
  • Position of container (exposure to sun, wind etc) 
  • Adequate drainage holes in the container 
  • Good watering regime especially in dry periods
  • Top dressing with fertiliser during the growing season
  • Using a good quality container mix – Daltons Premium Outdoor Container Mix

Feeding and Watering

Native plants are just like any other plant in terms of their requirements for healthy growth. To reduce the need for regular watering after planting, plant in the winter months. This will ensure the plant’s root system is well established before the drier summer months. Younger plants will require more water than those already established. 

Because summers are becoming hotter and drier, additional watering may be necessary during the first season after planting, but with correct plant selection, the amount required should be minimal.

Natives will respond to applications of Daltons Garden Time Complete Garden Fertiliser or Big Value Blood & Bone in spring/early summer, especially in the first few years after planting. 

Remember to regularly fertilise natives growing in containers as eventually the nutrients in the container mix are completely absorbed by the plants.

Pests and Diseases

Because our native plants have evolved over many years, they are well adapted to our growing conditions. However, introduced pests and diseases can be problematic for some species, for example, Kākābeak’s are decimated by the white butterfly caterpillar. If you have selected the best plants for the physical conditions of your garden, there should be few pest and disease problems. 

If a pest or disease does continually impact the growth of a particular plant, discontinue growing this species and replace it with another that is more appropriate for the given site in the garden. 

General Maintenance

One of the many rewarding features of a native garden is that once established, they are very low maintenance. 

Regular mulching of native shrubberies with Daltons Mulch and Grow not only helps suppress weeds and improves water retention, but as the mulch breaks down it enhances the organic matter in the soil. 

Some pruning may be required where plants grow taller than anticipated. Once again, correctly selecting the right natives at planting time will help minimise maintenance work later on.


Gardening Terms Explained

Hardiness/hardy plants: Robust plants that can tolerate severe or extreme conditions.
Plant form: This is the shape of a plant. It is a consideration when designing your garden. Some common examples of plant forms are Round, Columnar, Conical, Arching, and Spiky.
Microclimate: A small area within a climate zone where the climate is slightly different from the main climate zone.
Free draining soil: Soil that is light and well broken up. Water can penetrate the soil and drain without pooling. 
Shelter belts: Row of trees or hedges planted together to protect crops or plants from cold or strong winds.