Last updated on March 21st, 2022
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The Cordyline is a tropical-like plant that will add exotic quality to any coastal garden or city garden and is very easy to grow. Sometimes called the Cabbage Palm it grows best in full sun but can survive in light shade, especially the coloured varieties that actually prefer a little shade.
The Cordyline australis is tolerant of temperatures down to -5 degrees C as long as they are properly sheltered and in coastal areas, they can deal with temperatures as low as 1 degree Celsius. There are some tender varieties, usually more colourful and exotic looking, that need additional winter protection and need to be kept at temperatures between 5 degrees Celsius and 15 degrees C over winter so are best placed in a heated greenhouse or conservatory.
Cordylines are woody stemmed shrubs best known for their foliage. The leaves take on the shape of swords and come in many colours, including a reddish-orange, purple, bronze, and the hardier green variety. As a plant begins to grow it sheds the lower leaves so it takes on a palm tree appearance. This type of architectural foliage is, of course, the most prominent feature of Cordyline, however, the plant also produces small white flowers in the summer followed by purple or red berries, usually on more established specimens.
Smaller plants can be put in containers or grown in garden borders in a sheltered position protected from cold winds. Mature plants can reach up to 10 metres in height so they make a beautiful centrepiece for any larger garden. Cordylines are surprisingly strong and can grow well in sheltered urban areas or mild regions such as further south. If you have an exposed garden they might need some protection over winter but otherwise, they are still quite easy to maintain.
Plant in the spring, in a sheltered position where they are protected from cold winds
These plants should be put in the ground in the spring so that they have enough time to establish themselves before winter. This will provide them with the best chance of surviving a cold winter. If you are planting Cordylines in pots make sure you use a loam-based compost such as John Innes No 3 and perhaps include some horticultural grit to improve the drainage.
Add plenty of compost or farm manure to the soil and plenty of grit to improve drainage
If you are planting them directly into the ground you can add compost or manure to the soil and mix in well before planting. Cordylines are very hungry plants so the more you can add nutrient-wise into the ground before you plant them, the better off they will usually be. If you have poor drainage in the soil be sure to add extra horticultural grit to improve drainage because they will not survive the winter otherwise.
When you dig your hole, make a hole that is twice the width of the root ball of your Cordyline and when you put the plant into the ground it needs to be at the same level it was before planting, so ensure it not planted to deep. Backfill the hole and water it well to help remove any air bubbles and allow the soil to settle. You can always add a layer of mulch to help prevent weeds and improve moisture retention. Beyond that, your plant doesn’t need any extra support.
General Cordyline Care
It is relatively easy to take care of Cordylines. It’s important to choose a good location for them above all else, one which is sunny but sheltered and protected against any strong winds.
Varieties with vibrant foliage need to be protected from direct sunlight
Cordylines will flourish most effectively in a very sunny spot, however, if you only have a semi-shaded area they will do just fine. Those plants that have vibrant foliage need to be away from direct sunlight because it will scorch the colour and cause the leaves to fade.
You don’t want to let these plants dry out completely, especially whilst they are growing. Ideally, you should water them very deeply but as rarely as it affords. It’s better to water less frequently and deeply without letting it dry out rather than watering very little on a regular basis. If you have an indoor variety it is good to water it with distilled water if possible. If you are growing your Cordyline in pots it will need extra watering on a more regular basis during the summer but a lot less during the winter when the plant is not actively growing. Make sure your plants never sit in cold, wet soil for too long.
Cordylines do well in all types of soil as long as the soil is well-drained and fertile. If you have poor soil you can add compost or manure before planting. If you have heavy soil you can add grit to loosen it up and help improve drainage. Cordylines that are grown in pots are best planted in soil-based compost such as John Innes No 3 with some grit mixed in for improved drainage.
Plants you have in the ground need to be given a well-balanced, slow-release fertiliser once in the spring, which you can supplement by way of liquid fertiliser in June and July. If you are growing Cordylines in pots, you should apply a liquid fertiliser every month between the end of spring and the end of summer.
You should repot your Cordyline once the roots have filled the current space in the pot and it becomes root-bound. When you do this make sure that you select a new pot that is only slightly larger than the one it is in currently. If your plant is in a container and it doesn’t need repotting, it will benefit the plant if you remove the top few centimetres of soil and add new compost to keep it healthy. For larger plants that are in the maximum sized pot then you will need to feed it as described above and maybe consider using some slow-release fertiliser tablets.
Protecting Cordylines in Winter
Once the plants are established they need very little maintenance beyond getting rid of dead leaves, spent flowers, or damaged stems. However, you will probably need to provide protection in the winter, especially for younger plants and pot grown Cordylines.
If you live in a mild region and your garden is sheltered at most you might need to add a thick layer of mulch around your plants and tie up the foliage so that it doesn’t get damaged by the wind, this also prevents water from collecting in the crown which can cause issues later down the line. It also helps protect the centre of the Cordylines during the winter. Make sure the plant is fairly dry before you tie it up otherwise it might rot.
If you live in a colder area or your garden is exposed you will have to not only tie up the foliage but likely wrap your plant with fleece for the winter just to give it a little extra protection.
Protecting container-grown plants over winter
For container-grown plants, you can move them indoors or into a greenhouse. Alternatively, you can leave them but wrap the pot in bubble wrap or sacking and wrap the plant itself with fleece and then place it in sheltered areas such as against a wall or fence.
Bring tender Cordylines inside for winter
If you are growing tender species, you will have to move them into a heated greenhouse or indoors where the temperature is maintained at least 15 degrees Celsius. This can be costly if you have to heat a greenhouse to this temperature so most people choose to move them into a conservatory or porch if possible or keep it inside the home as a houseplant.
Pests and Diseases
In terms of pests, you will occasionally find mites, spider mites in particular, but this is usually when Cordylines are being grown indoors or inside a greenhouse. These are small insects that remove the sap from the leaves. Chances are you will see their webbing before you see the actual insects. This isn’t particularly detrimental to your plant but it can distort and discolour the leaves. You can knock the spider mites off with water and do so as soon as you see them. Alternatively, you can add things like ladybirds to your garden to help eat them naturally.
Thrips are also sap-sucking insects that will leave scars on your leaves and stunt the growth of your plant. Spray these off with insecticidal soap, cut out any parts of your plant that have been severely affected, and be sure to destroy any of the material you cut. Ladybirds and Lacewings can help discourage the population of such pests and you can even buy them online in their larvae stage.
In terms of diseases, fungal leaf spot is the biggest problem and it can happen when there is insufficient air circulation or the plant is too moist. You should water at the base of your plant rather than along the leaves. You should also water early in the day so that any water that does splash up onto the leaves dries out before it gets cold.
If you notice a fungal leaf spot on any part of your plant, remove that part and destroy it. Disinfect any tools you have used to remove that part of the plant so that you don’t spread it to other plants in your garden. If you have a severely affected plant you might need to apply a commercial fungicide.
Cordylines require limited pruning. At most you should remove the dead leaves and spent flowers, any stems or leaves that have been damaged by the winter, and really nothing else. Removing anything damaged by winter shouldn’t be done until the harshest of weather is over, which is usually from around the end of March onwards.
If, however, you notice that your plant has become a bit straggly you can prune it to help with its shape. This is something you should do in the middle of spring by cutting back any side shoots near the ground or directly level with the ground. If you cut directly level with the ground give your plants some well-balanced fertiliser immediately after pruning to encourage new growth. Pruning back really hard should be a last resort and is usually only done if the Cordyline seems to have died over winter as they often reshoot from ground level.
There are three ways you can go about propagating Cordylines. You can use suckers (side shoots), seeds or cuttings.
If you see suckers coming out of the base of your Cordyline in the spring you can remove them and simply pot them into a new container and eventually you will have a new plant. It is in your best interest to overwinter this new plant inside of your greenhouse.
Another way to propagate is by seed. If you take seeds from your existing plant you can put them in the ground in the spring once the weather is warm. You can always start them inside by propagating them with a seedling propagator and then moving them outside once they’re large enough.
For Cordylines, you can take what is called terminal cuttings by removing a stem that has a terminal bud, or a specific growing point along the tip. These cuttings should be approximately 10-15cm in length. When you make the cut do so just below a leaf node. Remove any of the lower leaves and then dip the bottom end into hormone rooting powder and place it inside of a container with potting compost that is mixed with plenty of grit.
Mist it well so that it is watered sufficiently and then cover it with a large plastic bag or plastic container to maintain moisture. Put these pots in a sheltered area where they will receive direct sunlight, and check on them weekly to see if they need extra water or air. Once you start to notice they have rooted, it’s time to transplant. But make sure any risk of frost is over before you do.
Our Favourite Varieties
Cordyline is grown with rosettes of leaves around the stem of the plant. As mentioned, they grow beautifully in pots or in garden borders when they are young and as they get taller and larger they become perfect specimen plants. They even turn into a tree once fully established. But be patient because maturity can take between 10 and 20 years to reach.
There are many varieties out there but the only version that is strong enough to be grown outdoors in the UK is the green Cordyline australis, which you can usually find in garden centres and nurseries. This variety is the green-leaved variety that spans between 3 metres and tall as 10 metres in height when fully mature. There are cultivars that are slightly smaller with different shades of leaves that can survive outdoors with some extra help from you. If you grow a tender specimen in a pot you will need to move it indoors over winter or into a greenhouse.
Cordyline australis ‘Albertii’
One of the most popular cultivars include Cordyline australis ‘Albertii’ and these leaves take on a pinkish-red stripe down the middle with pink and cream edges. At full maturity, it will reach approximately 4 metres in height.
Cordyline australis ‘Torbay Dazzler’ and Cordyline australis ‘Sundance’
Another variety is the Cordyline australis ‘Torbay Dazzler’ that have green leaves boasting a creamy stripe up the centre and these can reach up to 60cm in length. This plant, like the one above, will reach an ultimate height of around four metres. The Cordyline australis ‘Sundance’ has green leaves with a red stripe in the middle.
Cordyline ‘Stricta’, ‘Fruticosa’ and ‘Marginata’
If you want a tender variety that you can plant in a container that you move indoors in the winter, the best varieties include C. Stricta, C. Fruticosa, and Cordyline Marginata. All of these provide an exotic look to your heated greenhouse, conservatory or a seating area inside your home over winter.
Indoor Cordylines – Cordyline Fruticosa
You can also keep them as houseplants for the entire year and the Cordyline Fruticosa has tri-coloured leaves, red-edged varieties, or plain green leaves depending on what you prefer.
Overall, Cordylines make a wonderful addition to any garden and they can be mixed into existing garden beds for years before it becomes a standalone, wonderful tropical-looking centrepiece.