Grow your own native plants for native birds

Grow your own native plants for native birds

Adding a kōwhai or a kapuka to your garden is a great way to bring in the birdlife. Luckily, both these native species are easy to propagate from cuttings or seeds, given some patience and care. Here’s how.

If you’ve ever seen a mature kōwhai in full bloom, chances are you’ve noticed how popular it is with nectar-sipping birds such as tūī and korimako. Depending on which part of New Zealand you live in, kererū will also visit to feast on the flowers and leaves, often eating them whole. 

Similarly, a berry-laden kapuka is a great source of sustenance for small birds such as tauhou who love to munch on the fruit, while mature trees can also attract heavier visitors like kererū. Both trees will provide nectar for bees too. Sold? Follow these steps and you’ll have baby trees ready to go within a year or two.

Propagating kowhai 

Kowhai can be tricky to grow from cuttings but they take off from seeds without too much trouble.

Step 1: Finding seeds

Look for your seeds between March and October and collect fresh pods directly from the tree, rather than off the ground. The seeds are contained in brown pods – snap them open to find the yellow or brown seeds around the size of a large peppercorn.

Step 2: Prepare seeds

Graze the seed with a few swipes from a piece of sandpaper to enable water to penetrate the outer layer. You can also do this with a nail clipper (this is how the Good Eggs at Shotover Primary do it) but be sure to avoid the micropyle and keep the hole small.


Step 3: Start the germination process

Sow the seeds in well drained seed-raising trays filled with good quality potting mix. Seeds should be planted around 1 cm deep.


Step 4: Watch, water and wait

Put the trays in a warm place out of direct sunlight and water occasionally to keep the potting mix from getting too dry. Germination should happen after 2-4 weeks. Once seedlings appear, move them into full sun.

Step 5: Grow your seedlings
The seedlings can stay in the tray until they are about 8m tall. When roots are visible at the bottom of their tray, it’s time for repotting. Carefully extract the seedling along with the soil in the small pot and place the seedling in a larger pot (around 10cm x 10cm) half filled with potting mix. Fill in the pot with more potting mix, being very careful not to damage the roots. Water it regularly and keep it here for around a year.

A young kōwhai seedling after potting on A young kōwhai tree in flower


Step 6: Years 2-3

Your seedling may need another repotting at this point to give it plenty of strength for planting outside. When it is a good size (30 - 40 cm), look for the perfect spot in the garden. Use weed matting to keep competing weeds at bay. 

Propagating Kapuka

Kapuka can be grown from cuttings by following these steps.

Step 1: Take your cutting

Find a healthy looking stem on a mature plant and cut to three nodes (the little bumps where leaves grow). Cut the top leaves in half. This is to reduce water loss through the surface of the leaves. Scrape one side of the end of the cutting to expose the cambium, which is the delicate tissue between the inner bark and the woody exterior.

Step 2: Prepare and plant your cuttings

To boost your cuttings, prop them in a propagation hormone, available from Mitre10 or the garden centre, for half an hour. A propagation solution can also be made from the leaves and twigs of willow trees, soaked in water overnight, or from apple cider vinegar (1tsp to 5-6 cups of water). Then, plant them in a good quality propagation mix, which might be a potting mix with some extra compost added.

Step 3: Position them for ultimate growth

Place the cuttings somewhere warm, such as in a glasshouse or under frost cloth in the garden. Make sure they get a good amount of water to keep from drying out. With the right amount of sunlight and warm temperatures, you should see roots developing within two or three months. At this point, they will be ready for repotting. When they have grown to around 30cm, they will be ready to go in the ground.

Native planting New Zealand native bIrds

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