Propagating cordylines: step-by step guide

1) Most cordylines or cabbage trees grow a solid, fleshy tap root below the soil and it is easy to increase plants from sections of these roots, commonly called toes. This particular cordyline is an Australian species, stricta, but it shows similar structure below ground to our most common NZ cordyline which is confusingly named Cordyline australis.

2) Taking the toes off this cordyline will reduce the size of the root mass and allow me to replant it back to the same pot with fresh mix and fertiliser. Container plants are best repotted annually if possible and will generally deteriorate badly if you leave them any longer than three years without repotting.

3) Shake off the mix. Wash it off if necessary so you can see what is there. The same steps apply if you are lifting a cordyline out of the garden. We have never tried taking the toes off a large, established plant while leaving it in the ground although you can presumably do it without killing the plant because Maori used to harvest the toes as kauru – a form of starch similar to root vegetables. Try digging in from one side of the plant only if you plan to try this.

4) Because the toes can be very tough, a sharp spade or saw may be needed to cut the lower section off. We cut around 15cm off the bottom of the central root system of the plant.

5) If you wash the cut section, you are better able to see what you are doing. Cut the roots off the toes. They will die back anyway. If you want plenty of plants, cut the biggest toes into sections but don’t go much smaller than about 3cm in length.

6) Pot the toes fairly close to the surface, either flat or on end (cut side up on the whole toes because that is the top) in seed raising mix (low nutrient potting mix). Do not let them get too wet or they may rot. Within a few months, they will be sprouting afresh as shown on this toe of Cordyline Red Fountain.

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