Cordylines are tough, leafy plants that bring a subtropical flavour to gardens even in cool climates. There are many cordylines. Some develop palm-like growth with tufts of spiky leaves on slender trunks, while others remain shrub-like with lush green or colourful strappy leaves.

Grow anywhere

Cordyline australis (pictured), known as the cabbage tree, is native to New Zealand but is grown in gardens around the world, as it is both heat and frost tolerant.Planted for its tough, grow-anywhere constitution, it thrives in full sun and can form a tall feature in a garden bed. Combine it with other New Zealand native plants such as New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax), or surround it with succulents and ground covers for a low-maintenance planting.New Zealand cabbage tree grows 3-6m high, but can be cut back to form smaller multiple trunks. The species has green leaves but to add colour, look for varieties with bronze, red or purple toned leaves (such as ‘Red Sensation’, ‘Cabernet’ or ‘’Rhapsody’), or variegated yellow, cream and green leaves (‘Torbay Dazzler’).

Living sculptures

Cordylines are statement plants. Modern breeding has combined the spiky growth of the cabbage tree with vibrant colours and compact clumping growth in a recent introduction called ‘Electric Pink’.‘Electric Pink’ is a variety of Cordyline banksii, also native to New Zealand, with long, narrow, pointed burgundy leaves striped with vibrant hot pink. It can be grown in a pot, placed at the centre of a garden bed, or planted in a row to form a colourful hedge to 1.2m tall. Combine it with ‘Electric Star’, which has green and chocolate striped leaves.

Colour for shade

For brilliant year-round colour select any of the new varieties of Cordyline fruticosa, the Ti plant. Choose from named varieties with leaves in tones of green, yellow, pink, burgundy or a combination of colours. Some also have vibrant new growth.Most grow 2-3m high but tolerate pruning. They need warm conditions in part or light shade. Mix and match several forms for a vibrant planting effect, or combine your favourite colour selections with shrubs and palms for a garden with year-round interest.

Top choices include ‘Firestorm’ (burgundy with pink stripes), ‘Pink Diamond’ (dark green flecked with pink), ‘Pink Joy’ (dark green edged with bright pink), ‘Kilauea’ (green with crimson highlights) and ‘Rubra’ (burgundy with hot pink new growth).

Native options

Several cordyline species are native to Australia and at home in native foliage or rainforest gardens. Cordyline stricta, also known as the slender palm lily, and C. petiolaris, which is the broad palm lily, are native to the rainforests of eastern Australia. These plants have panicles of flowers and berries adding to their garden appeal.

Growing conditions

Cordylines are not fussy, but grow best in soil enriched with organic matter such as compost. Water plants regularly, especially when it is hot and dry. The lush, leafy forms benefit from a sheltered, shaded situation, which protects their leaves from burning or wind damage. The New Zealand cabbage tree grows in full sun and tolerates exposed coastal conditions.Plant cordylines throughout the year and keep them compact by pruning in spring or late summer. Fertilise plants in spring and early autumn.