How to grow a Cordyline. From planting to general care and even propagation
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An excellent outdoor and indoor plant depending on the variety you choose to grow. Cordylines are decorative shrubs (or small trees) with brightly coloured foliage. You have the hardier and usually more common green Cordyline australis, also commonly known as a cabbage palm, to the more exotic-looking Red Star and Torbay Dazzler. These are just a few varieties to name a few.
Originally from New Zealand, they are very popular in both the US and UK and the hardier green cordyline can be grown outdoors in milder areas. They are frost hardy as well, but will often require a little protection to get them through the winter in colder areas.
Most Cordyline varieties look like they hail from the palm tree family but, there are varieties with broad vibrant leaves. Apart from the foliage, you can also enjoy nice vanilla-scented blooms that tend to attract bees into your garden. Some varieties of Cordyline will also produce berries in the autumn that will be attractive to the birds, providing them with vital food in months where there may not be as much food for them to access.
If you have an interest in adding this plant to your garden, this short and easy to follow guide is especially for you. You’ll discover how to plant Cordylines and more aftercare tips to help your plants remain healthy.
Growing Cordylines: What are the perfect growing conditions?
Every plant has certain conditions that need fulfilling if you want to get the most out of them. For Cordylines, you don’t need to fulfil a lot of conditions as they are fairly easy to grow.
Plant in fertile, well-drained soil or potting compost when growning them in containers
First things first, consider the soil type. These plants are not entirely picky soil-wise because different varieties survive in different climates. However, the soil must present an alkaline/neutral pH together with good drainage to avoid problems with root rot. For plants grown in the ground, this means most soil types will be fine. For those grown in a pot, a standard potting compost will be fine. However, I recommend using soil-based compost such as John Innes compost as it maintains the moisture more effectively.
Plant in full sun or semi-shade
Regardless of the variety, sunlight is important to Cordylines and they thrive when planted in a sunnier location, however, there is an exception. Those who want indoor Cordylines should find a spot where their plant can access at least indirect sunshine. Hardier Cordylines grown outdoors will thrive in full sun but make sure they stay hydrated to avoid wilting. If you have some of the more colourful varieties growing in your garden, planting them in a location with a little shade is better as the sun can fade the bright colour hues.
Watering Cordylines is important, but it should not be a daily occurrence. Overwatering the plant increases the risk of fungi attacks, especially for indoor Cordylines. Let the plant soak up water and the soil becomes slightly dry before re-watering. For newly planted Cordylines that are outdoors, water regularly for the first 12 months until they fully establish themselves, just be careful not to overwater.
How to plant a Cordyline in the ground
When it comes to planting Cordylines, it is the same process as any other shrub. Dig a hole around the same depth of the root ball and twice as wide. Add plenty of well-rotted manure or compost to the bottom of the hole and mix in well.
Soak the root ball of the Cordyline for 30 minutes before planting and only plant the Cordyline to the same depth as it was in the original pot. Backfill with the soil you removed when digging the hole and firm the soil around the base making sure there are no air pockets as you backfill around the roots. Finally, give it a good watering and water regularly and as needed until established.
Cordylines are drought tolerant but only once established, so they will need watering for the first 12 months.
Planting in pots
If you are planting your Cordyline in a pot, follow the same procedure but use quality compost and make sure there are holes in the bottom of the pot (or containers) and cover with crockery before planting to help prevent the holes from becoming blocked.
Once fully established, Cordylines grown in the garden require very little care or watering, however, they can benefit from occasion pruning and feeding, which I will discuss below.
Some of the things you can do include:
Cordylines are evergreen and sometimes can get woody, thus producing less foliage. Pruning helps the plant to maintain leaf volume and keep it from being leggy. You want to prune these plants in spring when the risk of frost damage has passed. In general, they shouldn’t actually need pruning with the exception of a general tidy, removing brown leaves.
However, if you have one that has gotten too big for its position, you can prune them down the main trunk to above a leaf node or shoot and they will shoot again up the stem. You can even prune them hard to ground level and they will shoot again. This method of pruning can be useful in colder areas where the top of the cordyline has been killed by a hard winter. Many people assume the whole plant has died but quite often you can prune them back to ground level and they will come back better than ever.
In general, though, no major pruning is needed.
You can learn more about why your Cordyline might not be flowering, but also how to prune them in this guide here
You can also learn how to revive a dying Cordyline in my guide here
Protecting a Cordyline in the winter
Originating from New Zealand, Cordylines tend to prefer tropical climates so winter protection is necessary. Only a few varieties are hardy enough to be planted outdoors, with the main one being the more common green Cordyline australis.
If you have potted Cordylines, move them indoors to protect them from the cold weather. A cold greenhouse or conservatory is ideal but moving them to a more sheltered position in the garden can work. If this is not possible as the pot is too large or you have them planted in the ground, gather the leaves together with twine in an upright fashion and wrap the plant in a warm but breathable fleece to protect the crown and trunk. Do not wrap the fleece too tightly because this can lead to the leaves being burnt at the point they have been tightly wrapped against the foliage.
You can also wrap the pots in sacking to protect the roots from frost, for Cordylines planted in the ground, you can apply a thick layer of mulch around the base of the plant.
To learn more about how to overwinter Cordylines, see my detailed guide here
Fertiliser is best applied in the spring to support the new growth coming in. Avoid over-fertilizing the plant or feeding it in winter because the plants won’t make much use of it and it could encourage new growth that could be damaged by any late or early frost. Using a general-purpose fertiliser is recommended because it will replace any missing nutrients that the plant needs.
Sunshine and watering
Allow Cordylines to get enough sunlight because the leaf colour tends to fade when it isn’t exposed to enough sun. A Cordyline with enough sun and water will retain its vibrant appearance. There is an exception to this though, the more exotic, vibrant coloured Cordylines are best positioned in light shade rather than full sun because it can fade the hue colours in the brightly coloured leaves they are famous for.
Cultivating from cuttings
The fastest way to propagate Cordylines successfully is to use softwood cuttings. You can get these cuttings as you prune and it is good to plant them immediately to increase the chances of success.
- Cut the stem of the Cordyline, making sure to leave a bit poking from the ground.
- Take the cutting, remove any lower leaves and plant it in a pot of soil, patting down the soil to secure the stem.
- Water the plant and monitor it until the roots develop and wait for new growth to emerge in several weeks. Ensure that the soil is never bone dry because the cuttings will not survive.
- You can add some fertilizer to feed the plant and ensure healthy growth.
You can learn in more detail how to take both side shoot cutting and ground cuttings in my guide here
Cultivating from seeds
Growing Cordyline from seeds will need some patience because it takes a while to get a decent sized, garden ready plant. You can purchase seeds or get them from the berries produced by the plant if you are lucky enough to have one that flowers.
Please note that if you harvested the seeds from berries, you need to stratify them before planting to promote germination.
- Place compost in a tray or individual peat pots making sure that the compost is moist.
- Because Cordyline seeds are small, place several seeds in one container making sure to space them out. The reason for spacing the seeds is to enable easy transfer just in case all the seeds germinate.
- Once you scatter the seeds, dust the top of the tray or pots with moist compost to cover the seeds lightly rather than bury them.
- Place the tray/pots in a greenhouse or conservatory to germinate. If you don’t have a greenhouse, cover the tray or pots with a plastic bag to aid in maintaining warm internal temperatures.
- Make sure to harden the seedlings before transplanting them outside. The hardening period allows the plant to get strong enough to survive the outdoor environment. Plant the seedlings in areas where they will get plenty of sunshine.
Cordyline problems – Cordylines are generally problem free, with the exception of winter damage if you do not provide some protection in colder areas. However, there are some pests and diseases that affect Cordylines including slime flux and you can learn more about Cordyline pests and diseases in this guide here.