C is for Cordylines. For the border or for containers, these architecturally bold plants are worth knowing – particularly if you live in Zones 9 – 11. One of the nice things about this genus is that the taller growing ones; Cordyline australis and its’many cultivars, make excellent palm-like trees, taking up little space in the small garden but giving you that exotic, tropical feel. Cordylines are evergreen shrubs and perennials in the Asparagus family and related to Yuccas and Agaves. One common name for Cordyline is Cabbage Palm and as you read this post you’ll come to see why. Two types discussed here are clump forming and tree form.
Clumping & Grass-Like
A few striking Cordylines for you to know are in The Electric Series. These evergreen perennials are vibrant, fun and grab your attention when planted either in containers or the garden. Though slow growing, they will eventually form a low growing multi-trunked shrub. If you prefer maintaining the low grassy look, see pruning info below. Flowers? Yes, and spring blooming clusters are fragrant.
Here are 3-Electrics:
1. Cordyline banksii ‘Electric Pink’ (Electric Pink Grass Tree) Zones: 9- 11. An excellent choice for both containers and garden beds. As you can see below, foliage has vivid pink and maroon striping, edged in hot pink. This plant will grow as a clump with multiple shoots. Water: moderate. Mature size: 6 – 10′ high x 3 – 4′ wide. Exposure: sun to part shade.
2. Cordyline banksii ‘Electric Flash’ (Electric Flash Grass Tree) Zones: 10- 11. This clumping Cordyline grows multiple shoots with unusual colored foliage, variegated olive-brown with creamy yellow margins. At maturity, it’ll form a multi-trunked palm-like tree or shrub. Exposure: sun to part shade. Water: moderate. Mature size: 4 – 8′ tall x 3 – 4′ wide (slow growing.)
3. Cordyline banksii ‘Electric Star’ (Electric Star Grass Tree) Zones: 9 – 11. Like the others this one is also variegated; it’s foliage coloring is lime green with a copper-burgundy central stripe. Exposure: sun to part shade. Water: moderate. Mature size: 4 – 8′ high x 3 – 4′ wide.
Ok, let’s take a look at two other clumping Cordylines…
Cordyline ‘Design A Line Burgundy’ (Design-A-Line Burgundy Cordyline) Zones: 9 – 11. Clumping with fine textured weeping burgundy foliage with tiny fragrant flowers in summer. As low trunks forms – tends to be less noticeable because of the weeping grass-like foliage. Water: moderate. Mature size: 3′ high x 3′ wide.
Cordyline ‘Renegade’ (Renegade Cordyline) Zones: 9 – 11. As you can kind of see below, ‘Renegade’ differs from some of the others shown with its nearly black, long broad leaves that form a fountain of sword-like arching leaves coming from a central trunk. Excellent as a statement plant in a container. Combine with gold colored Heucheras. Exposure: sun to part shade. Water: moderate. Mature size: 2 – 3 feet high and wide.
Palms + Cordylines = Excellent Companions!
As you can see the entrance is airy and architectural with the effects of palms trees and Cordylines (matte burgundy foliage).
Cordyline australis ‘Torbay Dazzler’ (Torbay Dazzler Grass Palm) Zones: 9 – 11. There’s a reason this one is so popular. A good choice when you want an easy-care architectural palm-like tree. Use in containers, solo, or plant in groups for a tropical effect. This Cordyline has brightly striped green and cream foliage and as you can see from the photos, will eventually form a large spherical rosette above a sturdy trunk. Tolerates: deer, and most soils. Water: moderate. Mature size: 10-20’ tall (slow).
Cordyline ‘Red Star‘ (Red Grass Tree) Zones:9-11. Even though cute and young in photos below, ‘Red Star’ is a palm-like tree that grows with an upright habit and with age will branch, producing many heads. This cultivar is showy and vigorous sporting very dark reddish-bronze sword-like leaves. Exposure: sun to part shade. Water: moderate. Mature size: 10 to 20′ tall x 5 to 10′ wide.
How to Prune Cordylines?
Q: You planted a grouping of clumping Cordylines a couple of years ago that went from bold, striking and compact to NOW RANGY AND OUT OF SCALE!
A: No problem. Cordylines, even most clumpers will form trunks over time. Some look wonderful growing up, (multi-trunked or single) others don’t. If you want to restore to a more compact grower, some simple mid-spring pruning can help! You can do this a few ways depending upon the growing options presented by your plants. Beheading the trunk (stem) to bring back to the height you want is an option; I know it seems harsh but it works. Or, if available you can prune to side shoots or lower basal shoots to keep compact. Flowers can either be removed or retained and pruned later.
There are 15-species of Cordyline and strikingly popular among breeders are Cordyline australis and Cordyline banskii. Both species are native to New Zealand and plant breeders are busy making new ornamental varieties, like those mentioned in this post, plus way more! Using the lower clumping Cordylines similarly to the way you use other grassy striking uprights in your planting design is a good choice. Plants like Phormium (flax); Yucca, Dianella, Furcrea are some examples. But, as I mentioned, most Cordylines form trunks. Designing for this ahead of time is a good idea. But, remember, you can always prune by decapitating, or prune to side shoots or lower basal shoots to keep compact. 🙂
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