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Phormium - Growing the Spiky, Spectacular New Zealand Flax

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Green Variegated Phormium

Green Variegated Phormium

Marie Iannotti

Overview:

Phormium is also called New Zealand Flax, because the Maoris actually used it for making a type of linen clothing, as well as for ropes and baskets. Gardeners know it as a large and often colorful spiky plant that makes an arresting focal point in the garden or in containers. It has sword-like leaves that shoot up from the base of the plant and new hybrids are now available in shades of yellow, pink, red and bronze.

Latin Name:

Phormium tenax and Phormium cookianum

Common Name(s): New Zealand Flax

USDA Hardiness Zone:

USDA Zones 8/9 - 10

Size:

Depends on variety and growing conditions. Many plants in containers grow 1 - 4'. Phormium tenax, the taller species, can reach 10 feet, under ideal conditions. Most phormium plants average out between 2 and 5'.

Exposure:

Full Sun to Partial Shade

Bloom Period:

Mid-summer. But predominately grown for its foliage.

Description::

Phormium is a spiky, sword-leafed evergreen perennial that is used as a garden focal point or specimen plant. Some are small enough to use in containers, others can reach several feet in diameter and 7+ feet tall.

On mature plants, the flower stalks shoot up above the leaves and produce curving, tubular red or yellow blossoms that are very high in nectar and a hummingbird favorite. Seed pods form after the flowers bloom. Deadhead, if self-seeding is not desired.

Design Tips:

Use phormium in place of Dracena or spiky Vinca in containers and in place of grasses in garden beds. Contrast Phormiums dramatic leaves with low growing, delicate foliage, such as perennial geraniums and coreopsis. Phormium can even be grown successfully in bog areas.

Leaves can also be cut in the fall, for use in flower arrangements.

Suggested Varieties:

  • Phormium ‘Bronze Baby’ - Bronze foliage. Grows to about 2' tall and 2-3' wide. Good for containers.

  • Phormium ‘Duet’ - Dwarf (approx. 1'). Green leaves edged in cream. Very stiff leaf blades.

  • Phormium ‘Jester’ - Bronze with green stripping. About 3' tall.

  • Phormium ‘Sundowner’ - Green leaves with rosy-pink margins. About 6' tall and wide.

Growing Notes::

Phormium prefers a rich, moist soil and a location sheltered from harsh winds, but once established, the plants really aren’t fussy about conditions.

Phormium can easily be grown in containers. Choose a rich, organic mix over traditional potting soil and keep the plants well watered in summer’s heat. Don’t allow the plants to experience frost. Phormiums can be grown indoors, either as house plants or under lights. The prefer cool temperatures in winter, but lots of sunlight.

Maintenance: Divide plants in the spring. You can start new plants indoors by potting larger rhizome pieces and allowing them to grow a bit, before locating outdoors. Phormium can also be started from seed, although it needs a warm temperature of over 60 degrees F., to germinate.

Problems & Pests: Mealy bugs can infest plants and are hard to eradicate from inside the long leaves. Many times it’s easiest to just dispose of the infested plant.

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