Karo is an evergreen shrub growing to 5m by 3m (16ft by 9ft). Like pōhutukawa, a fellow coastal tree of the north, Karo has leathery leaves with woolly undersides. The oil from the leaves rubbed on skin can repel mosquitos. Karo is best used as shelter planting or clipped as a hedge because it’s so hardy. It’s very resilient to wind and salt spray since these conditions make it hard for other species to establish.
Karo is able to withstand tricky environments because it’s a pittosporum that is an early coloniser. It can tolerate both coastal conditions and drought. If you want to plant it, however, make it thrive even more by choosing environments that can have full sun or partial shade with free-draining soil.
Always choose healthy, well-grown karo plants and plant it after autumn rains. Before planting, ensure the root ball is saturated and remove the planter bag or pot with minimal root disturbance. Trim any broken roots and plant at the same level as in the container. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the root ball and firm in and water once planted.
If planting in a drier period, make sure plants are watered well until established. Plant with some general slow-release fertiliser and then every spring, apply an organic based fertiliser like blood and bone at a handful per square metre as new growth begins.
Karo is in leaf all year and flowers prolifically in spring to early summer, producing clusters of small, dark red, to purple flowers. The species is monoecious. This means individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant. Karo has a favoured scent that these flowers release in the evening.
The flowers of Karo are small and attract our little native bee... another day exploring the cultural indicators along the coast and soaking up the good energy of Mother Earth.