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Australian Grow Guide: Cordylines

With the range of different varieties available that prefer varying conditions, cordylines can be grown in most parts of the country.

Cordylines are attractive tropical, sub-tropical, warm or cool temperate plants that come in a variety of different leaf colours.

They are perfect for mass planting to add a tropical feel to your garden and will do equally as well when planted in the ground or grown in pots.

With the range of different varieties available that prefer varying conditions, these can be grown in most parts of the country.

Here’s everything you need to know to grow cordylines in your garden.

Light requirements

All varieties of cordylines can be grown in full sun or part sun part shade. However, you’ll find that the tropical varieties may become leggy if they receive too much shade.

Ideally, the perfect spot would be one that receives plenty of morning sunshine but is protected with some dappled shade in the afternoon.

Cordylines | Plant care

Temperature and Humidity

The tropical and sub-tropical varieties prefer to grow in warmer temperatures and can handle a fair amount of humidity.

If you live in a southern part of the country where winter temperatures are quite cold, consider growing some of the cool temperate varieties as these can tolerate frost and colder temperatures.

These varieties can handle temperatures as low as minus 15 degrees Celsius. While temperatures this cold might damage the foliage, the plants will easily reshoot again in spring when the weather warms up.

Soil requirements

Tropical and sub-tropical species of cordylines prefer rich, moist soil to grow well. However, the soil does need to be free-draining.

Cordylines 1 | Plant care

If you’re in the northern parts of the country, make sure that you enrich the soil with plenty of organic matter before planting.

The hardier temperate varieties can handle most soil types as long as the soil is free-draining. For these, it’s also a good idea to enrich the soil with plenty of compost or other organic matter.

Water requirements

Most cordyline varieties are relatively drought-tolerant when fully established. However, they will be at their best when given adequate moisture, especially during extended dry periods.

Cordylines 2 | Plant care

Fertiliser

Cordylines benefit from the regular application of organic fertiliser once a year in spring. You can use my favourite, Dynamic Lifter, for this if your plants are growing in the ground.

For pot-grown plants, you can use a slow-release fertiliser that is designed for indoor plants. Or, you can use a liquid feed once a month during the warmer weather.

Avoid fertilising your cordylines during winter as they’ll be dormant.

Pruning

Cordylines benefit from regular pruning. This just involves removing the old lower leaves as they start to look like they’re past their prime. You can just gently pull these off the main stem.

Cordyline 2 | Plant care

If you have some cordylines that have become quite leggy with only a few leaves at the top of the trunk, these can be cut back quite severely. 

You can then use the cuttings to propagate new plants to fill any spaces that are left from your pruning.

Problems, pests and diseases

The main problem faced by cordylines is root rot. This normally happens if the soil remains wet for a long period.

You can easily avoid this by ensuring that the soil is free-draining and only watering when the top 5 to 10 cm of the soil is dry.

You also need to watch out for snails and slugs that might attack the cooler climate varieties. Use snail baits or Multiguard snail and slug pellets to control these if necessary.

mealybug | Plant care

Cordylines can also be infested with mealy bugs. To control these sap-sucking pests, spray them with an organic oil-based product such as white oil or neem oil.

Cordyline varieties Australia

There are around 15 species of cordylines and each species has a multitude of different varieties. Surprisingly, there are 8 species of cordylines that are native to Australia. 

However, much hybridisation has occurred among cordyline species over the years, so you’ll find that most varieties that are readily available are cultivars from the original species.

In order to select the best cordylines for your climate, you need to identify whether the plant is originally from a Cordyline fruticosa species or from a Cordyline australis species.

Cordyline fruticosa 1 | Plant care
Cordyline fruticosa

Cordyline fruticosa species (broad leaf) are tropical plants suitable for warmer climates while Cordyline australis (narrow leaf) are the cooler climate species.

Cordyline australis | Plant care
Cordyline australis

Here are a few popular varieties that you might want to grow.

Cordyline fruticosa ‘Early Morning Diamond’

This is a stunning cultivar with large, broad leaves that are striped in shades of green and edged in pink. 

Cordyline fruticosa ‘Dr Brown’

This is another stunning cultivar with very broad leaves that are deep red in colour. 

Cordyline fruticosa ‘Negra’

This outstanding cultivar has tall, broad leaves in a range of colours. New leaves are dark green but these transform into a deep red colour as they mature. This means that one plant can have leaves in a range of colours.

Cordyline australis ‘Choc Mint’

This striking cultivar is one to consider if you live in a cooler region. It has tall, slender leaves that have chocolate-brown centres and lime-green edges.

Cordyline australis ‘Red Sensation’

This hardy cultivar has an upright growth habit with tall, slender leaves that are earthy red in colour.

How to propagate cordyline

Cordylines are surprisingly easy to propagate and you should do this if you have older plants that have become quite leggy. Even if you’ve never propagated anything before, give this a try and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Cut the top off a leggy cordyline. You want to retain the few leaves that remain at the top and have a clear section of trunk below these leaves that is around 10 to 20 cm long.

Place the base of this cutting either directly into the ground or in a pot filled with premium potting mix. Keep moist and it will reshoot again into a new plant.

Go back to the original leggy cordyline and cut the remaining trunk section down until you are left with a trunk that is around 10 cm tall. The plant should reshoot from this trunk section.

If the trunk section that you’ve removed this time is longer than around 15 cm, you can cut this into sections that are around 15 cm long. These can also be planted either into the ground or a pot and will most likely reshoot.

FAQ

Do cordylines prefer sun or shade?

Cordylines that have green leaves can be grown in full sun. However, those with more brightly coloured or variegated leaves prefer to grow in a partly shaded position.

Are cordylines best in pots or ground?

Cordylines will grow equally well in the ground or in pots as long as they’re given the right conditions.

Photo of author

Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.

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