How to Grow and Care for Pittosporum tenuifolium

Pittosporum tenuifolium growing in a pot with heuchera and heather

Pittosporum tenuifolium is a fast-growing evergreen shrub with handsome, wavy-edged, glossy, and crinkled leaves. Although tiny bell-shaped flowers are borne from late spring to early summer, followed by blackish seeds, it’s the foliage that is its predominant feature. In milder areas, Pittosporum tenuifolium is easy to grow and, if allowed, can develop into a small tree up to 10m (30ft) high and up to 5m (15ft) wide. However, Pittosporum tenuifolium also responds well to pruning to restrict its growth to a more compact size.

Either as a shrub or tree, Pittosporum tenuifolium makes an excellent plant for borders, screening, or hedging. The foliage is a popular ingredient for flower arranging, too. In colder areas, a sheltered site is needed to avoid the foliage becoming scorched or the plant being killed by frost. Pittosporum tenuifolium originates from New Zealand where it is known by the common name of Kohuhu. In addition to the green-leaved species Pittosporum tenuifolium, there’s a range of varieties that have variegated or coloured leaves which have a more compact habit and are slower-growing. These include ‘Abbotsbury Gold’ (yellow leaves with green edges), ‘Irene Patterson’ (leaves speckled white), ‘Purpureum’ (dark purple), and ‘Silver Queen’ (grey edged with white).

How to grow Pittosporum tenuifolium

Plant in spring or autumn in any reasonably fertile soil, in sun or shade, avoiding exposure to cold winds or ground prone to waterlogging. Mulch with compost in early spring. Trim as required, from spring to mid-summer.

Where to grow Pittosporum tenuifolium

Pittosporum tenuifolium growing in a pot with heuchera and heather

Grow in full sun or partial shade in the middle to back of a border, in a woodland garden, or as a hedge planted in a single row with two to three plants per metre. Variegated or coloured foliage varieties are most compact in habit, and these are the ones to choose for growing in large pots.

How to plant Pittosporum tenuifolium

Planting pittosporum in a pot

Planting pittosporum in a pot

Plant in autumn or spring, although in colder areas it’s a good idea to plant in spring so the plant becomes well established before winter. If the soil is poor, improve by incorporating organic matter in advance of planting. To grow in pots, use a soil-based potting compost.

How to care for Pittosporum tenuifolium

During the first growing season until the root system is well established, keep watered during dry spells. After that, Pittosporum tenuifolium needs no regular care apart from pruning as required.

How to prune Pittosporum tenuifolium

Cutting back pittosporum leaves

Cutting back pittosporum leaves

Trim as needed to restrict or re-shape growth, from spring to mid-summer. If tackling an overgrown plant, prune in spring, thinning out congested growth which can be taken back to the ground if necessary.

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How to propagate Pittosporum tenuifolium

Propagate Pittosporum tenuifolium by cuttings, seed, or layering.

  • Take semi-ripe cuttings of young, healthy, vigorous, non-flowering shoots in mid to late summer
  • Sow seed individually in small pots, in spring. Stand outside in a sheltered spot and keep moist
  • Layering is done in situ by rooting stems whilst still attached to the parent plant. Select healthy young shoots growing near to the ground and bend down to touch the soil. Using a sharp knife, remove a sliver of bark at the contact point. Peg firmly in place and leave for up to 12 months until roots have formed

Pests and diseases of Pittosporum tenuifolium

Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Tandara Gold'

Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tandara Gold’

Once established, Pittosporum tenuifolium is mainly trouble-free.

  • Powdery mildew can occur if conditions are dry, you can prevent this by occasional thorough watering during periods of dry weather
  • Leaf spot may appear on the leaves, trim off if foliage is badly affected and boost plant health by mulching the soil with garden compost or chipped bark. Feed with a slow-release fertilizer in spring if the foliage looks pale or discoloured, but take care not to over-feed

Advice on buying Pittosporum tenuifolium

  • As Pittosporum tenuifolium is fast-growing, plants on sale may become overgrown and ‘pot-bound’
  • Ensure plants are healthy and growing vigorously before buying
  • Pittosporum tenuifolium and varieties with coloured or variegated foliage are widely available from nurseries and garden centres, and online

Where to buy Pittosporum tenuifolium