Name: cordyline, grass tree, cabbage palm (Cordyline cvs).
Plant type: evergreen shrub.
Height: varies from 1m to 10m+ for different species forms.
Foliage: long, strappy or broad, often colourful, leaves.
Climate: all except arid and semi-arid (varies with variety).
Soil: tolerates most soil types but does need good drainage.
Position: full to part sun, or dappled shade in warmer areas.
Flowering: Long sprays of tiny white or light pink, fragrant flowers may be seen in late spring to early summer..
Feeding: annually, with a controlled-release fertiliser.
Watering: once established, only required in very hot or dry conditions.
Garden designers and home-owners alike have discovered the brilliance of foliage plants, and the cordyline has become a must-have. Equally stunning in the garden or in pots and planters, cordyline's handsome strappy foliage comes in colours ranging from greens to reds, pinks, oranges and yellows. Look for varieties that don't form a trunk – they'll stay in a neat clump, and slowly spread.
One of the biggest pluses of the cordyline is that it is very hardy once established, needing very little attention to keep it looking great.
There are two main groups of cordyline:
The cordyline can be planted in various ways to achieve striking effects:
Tropical and sub-tropical cordylines will tolerate sun through shade, but can become leggy in too much shade. They like a rich, well-drained soil and reliable moisture, but can tolerate dry periods. They will need wind protection.
Warm and cool temperate cordylines prefer full-sun to part shade. They are adaptable to most soil types, but must have good drainage, and will be tolerant of dry conditions once established. Some forms can tolerate frost and temperatures down to –15°C. The foliage will be damaged, but will reshoot come spring.
All cordyline varieties will benefit from soil improvement pre-planting. Blend through compost or composted manure, and feed with a controlled-release fertiliser.
To keep your cordyline healthy, remove lower foliage as it starts to look tired. Start from the lowest leaves and work up, and they should pull off easily. Some varieties can become very leggy (all trunk with only a little foliage up top). These can be cut back severely. See "How to propagate a cordyline" for more information.
Prune cordyline to remove the older leaves. A cordyline will need heavy pruning to rejuvenate the plant. See "How to propagate a cordyline" for more information.
All varieties of cordyline can suffer from root rot if they remain too wet for too long. This can be avoided by ensuring drainage is good. Warm-climate varieties of cordyline may be attacked by grasshoppers, and cooler-climate varieties can be troubled by snails or slugs. Mealy bugs can also infest cordyline and are best treated with insecticidal soap or oil.
A cordyline, especially older varieties and the warm-climate forms, can end up looking like a Dr. Seuss tree – a tall skinny trunk with a fluffy head of colourful foliage up top. This is very easy to remedy, and can also get you lots of free plants!
Growing cordylines from cuttings
Follow these steps in spring to fix a cordyline that has become leggy:
Congratulations. You've just turned your one leggy cordyline into three or more plants!
Ginger: add vibrant flower colour and brilliant foliage form to shady areas.
Ground cover plants: like a living mulch, groundcovers are awesome problem-solvers in sun or shade.
Kangaroo paw: perfect for foliage, form and colour in sunny spots.
Check out our huge range of plants now and get your garden growing!