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Top Tips For Looking After Your Native NZ Garden

There are many benefits to planting NZ natives into your garden including preserving native species, attracting birds to your garden and reducing the amount of care and water your garden needs. 

Renowned for dramatic foliage, textures and contrasts, NZ native plants fit in well with any garden design. For hardiness, low maintenance, longevity and to add interest to the garden, New Zealand native plants cannot be overlooked.

Here are Sculpt Gardens top tips for keeping your native plants looking their best all year round.

1 / Mulch, mulch, mulch

This is essential for success.  Native trees and shrubs grow naturally with a deep litter of decaying vegetation, such as old leaves, covering the ground around them so it is important to keep this thick layer of mulch going as time passes.

Mulch protects roots, traps moisture and controls or suppresses weeds. Apply a 5cm thick layer of compost or organic material around plants in late winter and again in mid-summer to ensure roots stay cool and moist. Remember to keep mulch away from the bottom stems of the plants to prevent rotting in wet weather.

mulch native gardens nz

2 / Feeding & fertilising

Regular feeding is not essential for native plants as they are hardy to their natural surroundings, however, blood and bone or sheep pellets applied in late winter and again in mid-summer can be beneficial. If you have dogs, use a granular seaweed fertiliser or top dressing with compost.  

Top dressing means spreading a fresh layer of rich soil mix, like compost or garden mix directly atop the ground to give plants the organic matter they need to grow best. 

3 / Pruning your native plants

Pruning is not essential, but native plants can be shaped as required. This is best done in early spring, after frosts have passed in frost prone areas, and again in summer if required. Flowering native plants can be trimmed after flowering has finished.  

trim nz hebe

If you have hebes in your garden, a light trim in spring or summer keeps them in shape & prevents them getting woody. Try to prune hebes as soon as the flowers have faded. This leaves plenty of time for the new growth to mature before cold weather hits. Using secateurs, remove the dead flower heads and cut the foliage back by up to a third. If your plant has become 'leggy' and tired, you can often rejuvenate it by cutting it back hard

4 / Fabulous flax

Virtually the only care needed for flaxes is to trim off old leaves to keep plants tidy.

The leaves on the flax plant grow in separate fans with leaves fanning out from a central new leaf. Leave this central leaf and the leaf on each side of it so that the flax plant can keep growing. Cut the leaves on either side of these three central leaves, at a downward angle, away from the plant, and as close to the base of the leaf as possible. In this way, water can’t run into the centre of the plant and rot it.

flax knife for flax trimming

One of the favourite tools of the Sculpt Garden's gardeners is a flax knife.  It is a great hand tool for cutting all fibrous plants like flax and cabbage leaves.  

Flax plants tolerate poor soil and thus don't usually require much in the way of feeding. An annual top-dressing of compost can help provide nutrients and retain soil moisture.

5 / New planting

The best times of the year for planting are during the autumn months of April to May or late winter - spring (August - September). Planting outside the cooler winter months means that a lot of watering may be required to keep plants alive. Planting should be not be done on bright sunny days or very windy days in case plants dry out.

  • Before planting make sure that the site is moist but not water saturated.
  • Keep the plants cool and moist until you are ready to plant.
  • Mark with a stake where the plants are going to be planted.
  • Dig a hole wide and deep enough for the plant's roots to spread out. 
  • Remove plants from their polythene bag by inverting the planter bag, holding the soil with the palm of one hand, and gently pulling the polythene bag by the fold on the base.
  • If the roots are evenly spread, place plants straight into planting hole (or cut the root ball with a knife down the length of the roots).
  • Cover the roots with fine soil, firming layer by layer.
  • Plant at same depth in the soil as the soil line at the base of the stem in the bag.
  • Leave the surface with a loose texture and water thoroughly.

6 / Watering & Weeding

If planting practices have been followed and mulch applied, watering will only be necessary in dry, hot conditions. Watering should be done thoroughly but not often (once a week maximum), we suggest a bucket of water per plant, once a week, in the height of summer when there has been no rain.

Remember to keep the area weed free - native trees don’t compete favourably with weeds for moisture and nutrients. 

7 / Seasonal clean ups

Always do a seasonal clean up of the garden, remove dead dying and diseased plants, top up mulch and remove dead wood from trees and shrubs.  If you'd rather outsource this, get in touch with our garden maintenance team to help.

8 / Plants for free

Tussock grasses, libertias, renga renga lillies and phormiums will self-sow, but you can also use a sharp spade to chop up established clumps every few years to increase their numbers.

With these helpful tips, you’ve got plenty of direction for getting started on caring for your New Zealand native garden. However, if you’d love some assistance bringing your native garden back to life, you can book a FREE initial consultation with our expert team HERE!


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