Growing seedlings from the wild

To gain some insight into what may be grown in your area, visit your closest patches of bush. It is illegal to take plants from National Parks, Forest Parks, conservation areas or reserves without permission from the Department of Conservation, because some species are already at risk.

Photo: Brent Barrett

Photo: Brent Barrett

However it is legal, with permission of the owners, to collect native seedlings beneath pine forests, or from private land.

Collect seedlings from areas where they would not grow if left (e.g. in areas where stock will trample young saplings, or where hundreds of seedlings have germinated en masse). Between March and August is the best time for collecting seedlings. To do so, follow the guidelines below -

  • Cut off 75% of fern fronds for ferns, and 50% of leaves for tree and shrubs for highest survival rate.
  • Pick plants that are between 2-30cms in height. Those up to 10cm will survive best.
  • Rather than a vigorous pull, use a small trowel or fork to loosen the earth around the seedling and gently work the seedling out. (NB The more earth retained around the roots, the greater your success)
  • Wrap seedlings immediately in damp newspaper and pop in a plastic bag (roots are damaged by drying out and are zapped by UV rays if the sunlight hits them)
  • Pot up into yogurt pottles, planter bags or milk bottles cut in half. Ensure these have adequate drainage holes. Water well and keep them in an area of semi-shade, with dappled sunlight.
  • Moving plants inevitably causes shock. Change in colouration will be due to root damage and/or a sudden increase in light. Don't worry this usually rights itself.
  • Your plants should be ready to plant out the following winter.

How to plant successfully

Many natives are planted without care and are then blamed for not doing well. It pays to remember that our native plants are used to rich, humus filled soils, re-creating this environment will help to ensure your plants are long-lived and healthy!

Planting is the most important stage of a cultivated plant's life. It can mean the difference between thriving growth or a pure struggle.

The steps to planting below may sound fiddly and time consuming but you will quickly reap the rewards of following them by having fast-growing, healthy plants that require relatively little attention after planting.

First, select the right site for your plant. You can get clues from their natural environment, of their light requirements (some ferns and plants dislike full sun e.g. tawa, taraire, kawakawa, pigeonwood, nikau, kohekohe and need the partial shade of nurse plants or shade cloth), fertility and whether they prefer moist areas.

1) Plant in the right seasons: March to August
2) Dig a hole twice as deep and wide as the container your plant is in.
3) Fracture the bottom and sides of the hole by shoving a fork or spade in hard and wedging it. This enourages root growth to develop in the surrounding area and allows for excess water to drain away.
4) Mix compost and/or sheep manure and/or seaweed with earth in the bottom of the hole.
5) Take the top 2-3cm of potting mix from your plant and put in the bottom of the hole. This gets rid of weed seeds and live weeds that may otherwise compete with your plant and spread.
6) Tease out the plant's roots so they aren't spiraling.
7) Plant so that the stem is not buried. The roots should be covered to the same level as they were before planting.
8) Place a mix of the compost etc and soil around the sides of the hole until you have reached ground level.
9) Compress the ground around the plant with your hands - don't stomp, this can break roots.
10) If planting on a hill, make a little mound on the downhill side so that water running off the hill will get caught around the plant and seep in around its roots.
11) If possible, once planted, give your plant a good water - not just a light sprinkle, but really soak it. This helps settle the roots into the earth and is the most important watering of the plant’s life!
12) Mulch deeply around your plant with grass clippings or compost on top of thick newspaper. Mulching is very good for suppressing weed growth, keeping the roots moist, feeding the plant and bringing mirco-organisms to the surface.
13) Weed around your plant and mulch again in six months.