Cordyline: care, overwintering & the most beautiful species

Mareike
Mareike
Mareike
Mareike

It was through my love of plants that I came to study plant biotechnology. In everyday life, I deal with plants in all of my surroundings - be it in the garden, in my home or for my master thesis. They are a constant source of joy for me!

Favorite fruit: Currants
Favorite vegetable: Broccoli

When given the right care, cordylines can grow into beautiful, exotic houseplants. Knowing how to overwinter each different Cordyline species is key to this success.

Potted cordyline plants in greenhouse
Given the right care, cordyline will reward you as a beautifully exotic-looking houseplant [Photo: Ian Grainger/ Shutterstock.com]

The many different Cordyline species and varieties are popular ornamental houseplants thanks to their diverse colours and exotic look. In this article, we explain how to care for different species, focussing on how you can tailor the overwintering process to keep your plant looking vibrant and healthy for as long as possible.

Cordyline: origin and characteristics

Cordyline stems from the tropical forests of Australia and New Zealand. Here in the UK, they are a popular potted plant that can bring a wonderfully exotic feel to your home. They belong to the asparagus family (Asparagaceae) and are relatives of the similar-looking dracaena palm. Cordylines have a look very much like palm trees, as they both have thin trunks with sword-shaped leaves. Their foliage may be green, red or patterned, depending on the species.

How tall do cordylines grow?

As a potted plant, cordyline can grow up to about 150 to 250 cm tall but reaching this height may take some time. In the middle of summer, mature plants in particular display long panicles of white blossoms. Once this blossom has withered, the shoot will divide at this point.

Red leaved cordyline plant in pot
Cordyline plants are generally quite slow-growing [Photo: Watchares Hansawek/ Shutterstock.com]

The most beautiful Cordyline species

There are a wide range of Cordyline species and varieties. The species most commonly kept as indoor plants are Cordyline australis and Cordyline fruticosa.

Cordyline australis

This species is a stemless plant with wide, pointed leaves which can grow to 70 to 90 cm long and up to 5 cm wide. While this cordyline can tolerate the cold better than others, it is most comfortable in partial shade at around 15 to 20 °C. From May, you can move your Cordyline australis outside, but we recommend bringing them back inside from September. Colour and pattern varies considerably, depending on the variety:

  •  ‘Red Star’: This red variety is one of the most popular and widely sold varieties. Its leaves are bronze to reddish in hue.
Cordyline australis with long red leaves
Cordyline australis ‘Red Star’ has vivid red foliage [Photo: Sergey Granev/ Shutterstock.com]
  • ‘Torbay Dazzler’: This variety’s stand-out feature is its green and white stripes. On the underside of the leaf, you will see a reddish-coloured leaf vein.
Green and cream striped cordyline leaves
Cordyline australis ‘Torbay Dazzler’ displays uniquely cream coloured leaf edges [Photo: Rita Petcu/ Shutterstock.com]

Cordyline fruticosa

This species has a stem with spear-shaped leaves that grow up to 50 cm in length. Cordyline fruticosa prefers warmer conditions than Cordyline australis, and should be kept in a bright spot with indirect light, at a temperature between 18 and 22 °C. The species can survive outdoors in the garden from June to August. The variety of leaf patterns and colours are diverse.

  • ‘Glauca’: The leaves of this cordyline are elongated with a vibrant green colour. Younger leaves may have a slightly reddish appearance.
  • ‘Kiwi’: Green and yellow striped foliage with a red border. To preserve these colours, keep this variety in a bright location.
Green and yellow striped cordyline leaves with red edge
Cordyline fruticosa ‘Kiwi’ has a beautiful striped pattern [Photo: Skyprayer2005/ Shutterstock.com]
  • ‘Mambo’: This variety displays a reddish coloured leaf with a pink border. Young leaves are bronze coloured. To preserve the red colour, keep this plant in a bright area.
  • ‘Tango’: Stands out due to the unusual pink-green variegation of the leaves. To cultivate the plant’s pink colour, make sure the plant is kept in a bright area.
Pink-green variegated cordyline leaves
The young leaves of Cordyline fruticosa ‘Tango’ have a strong pink variegation [Photo: suttirat wiriyanon/ Shutterstock.com]

Growing cordyline as a houseplant and in the garden

In our part of the world, cordylines are kept as houseplants because they are not frost hardy. In summer, however, with enough humidity and partial shade, they can thrive on a terrace, balcony, or in the garden.

After buying a new plant, it is essential to repot cordylines. To do this, use a well-structured, loose soil to prevent waterlogging. Our Plantura Organic Flower Compost, for example, would come in handy here. Made up of 100 % natural materials, this peat-free soil contains expanded clay to ensure that the soil remains looser for longer. Since cordylines need a soil which can drain easily, we recommend adding around 1/5 expanded clay to 4/5 soil. A drainage layer at the bottom of the pot is also a good idea.

Organic Flower Compost, 40L
Organic Flower Compost, 40L
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(5/5)
  • Perfect for all flowering plants in garden beds & pots
  • For beautiful blossoms & healthy plant growth
  • Peat-free & organic soil: CO2-saving composition
£16.99

Due to its relatively slow growth, it is not necessary to repot your cordyline every year. If you have used a high-quality soil, repotting cordyline every two to three years is fine. Note that you may not have to use a larger pot for repotting the plant, only if the roots have outgrown the original pot and are touching the sides.

Choosing a suitable location for cordyline

Both Cordyline australis and the Cordyline fruticosa need a bright to partially-shaded location, preferably out of direct sunlight. Variegated varieties require a brighter spot to maintain the colouring of the leaves.

If the air is too dry, leaf tips may discolour and turn brown. To combat this, try spraying the leaves with lime-free water once a week. Placing a bowl of water and clay pebbles under the pot can also help to increase humidity around the plant. In winter, due to the dry air in a heated home, humidity can become too low for your plants. At this time of year, a bright bathroom would be a more suitable space for cordylines.

Water drops on red cordyline leaves
Misting with water is an easy way to increase humidity around your plant [Photo: Merrillie Redden/ Shutterstock.com

The room temperature should not be too warm. Cordyline australis can tolerate slightly colder temperatures between 15 and 20 °C, whereas Cordyline fruticosa should be placed in a room at between 18 and 22 °C. If kept below 18 °C for a long period, Cordyline fruticosa can suffer permanent damage.

Can Cordyline plants survive outside in the garden?

From June to August, cordylines may be kept in pots in the garden, or on your terrace or balcony. A sheltered, partially shaded spot is ideal. If placed in direct sunlight, you will need to water your plant more frequently to compensate for increased loss of moisture. In autumn, be sure to move both Cordyline australis and Cordyline fruticosa back indoors. Cordyline australis requires a cool place to overwinter and to protect it from pests. An unheated but frost-free greenhouse is perfect.

Red cordyline growing outdoors in summer sun
In summer, cordylines in pots can also survive outside in a sheltered position [Photo: Upen supendi/ Shutterstock.com]

Cordyline care

Cordyline care isn’t complicated, as it is quite a low-maintenance plant. Nevertheless, here are a few useful tips:

Pruning, watering and fertilising

Pruning cordyline isn’t a necessity. If you prefer a bushy, dense plant then a trim will help. Or if your plant has grown out of shape, you can cut off a few shoots – cordyline will sprout anew at the cut edges. Tip: the part which is cut off can be used as a cutting for propagation. Pruning the plant may also be necessary if it has grown too large.

New cordyline shoots after pruning
Cordyline produces new shoots at the cut [Photo: Upen supendi/ Shutterstock.com]

When it comes to watering cordyline, we have a few tips. Cordyline plants like to have a moist root ball, so avoid letting the plant dry out completely at any time. That said, waterlogging must also be avoided to prevent root rot. Watering with low lime water is best, so rainwater or tap water that has been left to stand for a while are both suitable. In autumn, at the end of the growing season, water your cordyline less frequently, as the root ball will already be moist.

Since cordyline stops growing in winter, apply fertiliser for the last time in October. At the beginning of the growing season in March, start fertilising weekly again, to ensure healthy and vigorous growth. Our Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food is particularly suitable for this purpose as it provides plants with an optimal balance of nutrients. It is simple to apply with water.

Liquid Houseplant Food, 800ml
Liquid Houseplant Food, 800ml
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  • Perfect for a wide variety of houseplants & foliage plants
  • Liquid fertiliser for robust plants & healthy growth
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£10.99

Tip: All year round, be vigilant and look out for thrips infestations. In winter, it is also important to ensure the cordyline plants are free of spider mites. Read our helpful article to learn how to spot and control spider mites.

Leaves turn brown: what to do?

If only the oldest cordyline leaves turn brown and fall off, this is usually no cause for concern. This is a natural process in the development of the palm-shaped crown. However, if young, healthy leaves turn brown or even yellow, this could be due any one of the following reasons:

Nutrient deficiency: Yellow discolouration and subsequent falling leaves could indicate a nutrient deficiency. Remedy this by fertilising the cordyline weekly.

The air is too dry: If humidity is too low, the leaf tips in particular are quick to turn brown. Spraying lime-free water on the leaves regularly will ensure sufficient moisture.

Root rot: Too much water in the root ball leads to rotting of the roots, which in turn leads to discolouration of the cordyline leaves and leaf loss. Remove the rotten roots as quickly as possible, and allow the root ball to dry out. Do not water the plant for the time being. Once the root ball has dried, you can gradually resume watering. Take care to reduce the quantity of water, to prevent root rot of the remaining roots in the future.

Pink striped cordyline with brown leaf tips
Brown leaf tips are a sign that the air is too dry [Photo: Viganism/ Shutterstock.com]

Is cordyline winter hardy?

Cordylines are not winter hardy, as they react sensitively to frost. For this reason, keep your cordyline indoors during the winter. A bright location at a cool ambient temperature of about 5 to 10°C is ideal. A conservatory or frost-free greenhouse are both suitable locations for overwintering. A cool place usually prevents insect infestations.

Potted cordyline plant in bright room
A bright, cool location is best for overwintering [Photo: Madhourse/ Shutterstock.com]

Propagating cordyline

Using cuttings is the easiest way to propagate cordylines. Take cuttings during the summer months, for the best chance of successful rooting.

Take softwood cuttings from the shoot tips. The cutting may include one leaf, but remove all other leaves. Place the cutting into a mixture of sand and soil in a 1:1 ratio. Choose a loose soil with a reduced nutrient content tailored to cuttings, such as our Plantura Organic Herb & Seeding Compost. This peat-free compost is made of 100 % natural materials. If you keep the soil moist, the cuttings will root at 18 to 21 °C within about eight to twelve weeks. It is also possible to root the cordyline cuttings in a glass of water. Once rooted, you can pot up the cutting and move it to a suitable location.

Organic Herb & Seedling Compost, 20L
Organic Herb & Seedling Compost, 20L
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  • Perfect for herbs as well as sowing, propagating & transplanting
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Stem cuttings often have no leaves but at least two leaf nodes. Cut these from further down the cordyline stem. Place the stem cuttings horizontally on the sand-soil mixture to stimulate root growth. Keeping the cuttings moist will allow roots and leaves to develop within two to three months.

Is the plant poisonous?

Cordyline is not poisonous to humans or cats, but the saponins it contains are slightly poisonous to dogs. The sharp-edged leaves may also pose a danger to children and animals, as they can easily cause injuries if consumed. A certain amount of caution is therefore advisable when choosing where to keep your plant.

Potted cordyline outside
Dogs should be kept away from cordylines – they are mildly poisonous to them [Photo: Chris Mann/ Shutterstock.com]

Like cordyline plants, there are lots of other exotic houseplants that will create a tropical atmosphere in your home.

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