Kowhai has a lot to share for us Māori. It’s particularly known for being a clear marker of the beginning of spring. We believe that when the kowhai flower blooms, koanga (spring) is coming and it’s the best time to plant kūmara (sweet potato). Other uses: kōwhai flowers to make yellow dye, tree bark to treat injuries, and kōwhai ashes to incorporate in ringworm treatments.
Native birds such as the tui, bellbird, kākā, and New Zealand pigeon/kererū/kūkū/kūkupa all benefit from kōwhai trees because it’s an important seasonal nectar food source for them.
Māori ancestors used to plant the kōwhai trees around old settlement sites and sacred places. It’s believed that plantings in some places like Wellington were the direct result of Māori tribal invasion and disputes.
If you want to plant kowhai, we have some tips straight from our farm:
- First, choose preferred high fertility, well-draining soils that are in full sun or partial shade.
- Plant kowhai after autumn rains as the soil is moist and warm and allows plants to establish before winter. This enables them to withstand dry periods during the following summer. Young plants require thorough watering during dry periods over the first two or three years. Mulching helps to conserve moisture and suppress weeds.
- Planting success is often improved on clay soils by adding extra topsoil and raising beds. Incorporate coarse sand, bark, compost, or other organic material to improve soil structure.
- 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 meter.
- It’s generally desirable to plant trees into slightly raised beds of well cultivated soil. This improves drainage and provides near surface roots with well aerated soil in which to grow. The worst fate for a tree is to be planted in a hole where the root ball is allowed to sink below the surrounding ground level.
- Staking may be necessary but these trees are so slow growing that this is rarely required.
- Kowhai is wind hardy and reasonably drought tolerant but requires some wind protection when young. The best form of shelter is to establish it from a species that is hardy to salt wind, thereby protecting other plants. Other options are wooden fences or temporary shelters made from shade cloth, although they can be expensive.
After planting, water thoroughly unless the soil is very wet. Make sure that moisture penetrates to the depth of the root-ball.