Q&As/New Zealand Native Trees/Kakabeak

Question

I bought a Red Kakabeak plant at the beginning of winter. It seemed to be growing well then all of a sudden it started losing its leaves. I have now bare branches but new growth is showing. Have you any ideas? I have the odd wild rabbit around but only droppings on the lawn not round the tree. 

Answer

Wonderful that you are growing a Kakabeak shrub, it is actually an endangered native plant that is now only found naturally occurring in Eastland, North Island of NZ. The cause of your leaf loss is unlikely to be from rabbits, and more likely an attack by the Clianthus Caterpillar. To confirm this is the cause, check your plant at night with a torch and inspect the leaves for hairy black caterpillars. These pests can strip a plant very quickly, reducing it from a full luscious leafy plant to an almost leafless version of its former self overnight. The best thing to do is to remove the caterpillars and euthanise them however you see fit.  
Now you’ve solved the caterpillar problem, to keep your Kakabeak shrub healthy, feed it with Daltons Premium Tree and Shrub Fertiliser from spring (mid October) through to Christmas at four weekly intervals.  Keep a good layer of Daltons Mulch & Grow around the shrub, especially in summer to retain moisture, add nutrition and suppress weeds. The Kakabeak flowers from August through until November.  After flowering prune to shape and encourage healthy branching habits. Kakabeaks are prone to slightly erratic growing habits and you can end up with unusual forms if you don’t prune them.

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