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Name: sandalwood (Santalum spicatum)
Height: slow-growing; 5–10m
Foliage: elongated, dark green, tough/leathery.
Climate: temperate to warm temperate; drought tolerant.
Soil: from clay to sandy loam; well-drained; tolerates mild salinity.
Position: full sun but tolerant of part shade.
Flowering: insignificant; green with dark red bracts in autumn and winter.
Feeding: use a long-term controlled-release native fertiliser.
Watering: water when conditions are hot and dry; good drainage is essential.
Sandalwood is a large, slow-growing shrub or small tree reaching to 10m in perfect conditions, but more often growing to 6 or 7m tall. It has a lifespan of 15 years or more. The sandalwood tree usually has a clear trunk—that is, its branches are carried high on the tree. Note, sandalwood is NOT fire-resistant: it will not regenerate if damaged by bushfire.
Its leaves are leathery, dark green and grow in pairs on stems. The flowers are quite insignificant—green with dark red bracts. The fruits are much larger and showier! These are orange-red, 2–3cm across and have yellow to red flesh and a hard seed inside. To harvest the seeds, allow the fruits to dry completely, then rub the dried flower between the hands to release the seeds.
Sandalwood oil is highly valued. It is used in Buddhist ceremonies, incense, soaps, and aromatherapy, as an anti-inflammatory and antiseptic, and as a fixative in perfumes. The wood itself is sought after for carving and furniture making, where the pale sapwood and dark heartwood are greatly admired. New Zealand exports sandalwood from natural forests as well as small scale commercial plantations.
Sandalwood can be grown from seed, but not without some difficulty! It will not grow when placed in trays or pots of seed-raising mix in the “normal” manner.
The sandalwood tree has a parasitic root system and depends on the roots of a suitable host plant to establish. Commercial growers have had some success with the following method:
The sandalwood tree has an extensive root system, so once they are planted out, it should be disturbed as little as possible. The roots will grow down quite deeply in light to medium sands and sandy loams, while they will be much closer to the surface and more widespread in clays.
Effective watering of sandalwood
During the first few years after planting out, it is important to ensure your sandalwood tree is watered regularly during hot dry periods. It will become more drought-tolerant as it matures and its root system spreads deeper, but even then, water is recommended during prolonged hot, dry spells.
A mulch of forest litter over the roots will help keep roots cool and moist after watering in summer.
Good drainage is important—sandalwood does not like wet feet.Feeding sandalwood
At the time of planting out and every 6 months after that (at the start of spring and autumn), add a controlled-release fertiliser formulated for native plants that has less than 3% phosphorus (P). Sandalwood grows naturally in medium- to poor-quality soils, so don’t overfeed it.
Diseases and pests affecting sandalwood
Sandalwood doesn’t seem to be susceptible to any pests or diseases that will affect its growth. Apparently, in the wild, parrots can damage the bark, but that’s not likely to be a problem in an urban location!
Eucalypts: bird-attracting New Zealand gum tree with nectar-rich flowers from white to scarlet.
Grevilleas: native shrubs with nectar-filled toothbrush flowers ranging from white through yellow to dark red.
Kangaroo paws: native grass-like plants with spikes of flowers resembling the front paws of a kangaroo.
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