How to grow pittosporum
These evergreen, sun-loving shrubs are grown for their glossy, colourful leaves. They make great specimen plants, border backdrops and hedging. Most of the popular cultivars are hardy in a sheltered spot, but those with showy, white scented flowers might need winter protection.
- Evergreen shrubs for sun or light shade
- Use as focal points, winter structure and hedging
- Most can be lightly clipped into shapes
- Happy in any well-drained soil
- Most are hardy, but some may need winter protection in cold areas
- Some have highly scented flowers
- Great foliage for use in flower arranging
All you need to know
Pittosporums are colourful evergreen shrubs that provide year-round structural interest.
Things to consider when choosing a Pittosporum
Size & shape
If allowed to grow without pruning, some pittosporums eventually form medium to large shrubs, 2–6m (6⅔–20ft) tall, while others form small to medium-sized shrubs of 1–2m (3⅓–6⅔ft) tall. Check the final height of the plant before buying, to make sure it is suitable for your chosen spot – or be prepared to trim it each year.
Leaf type & colours
Their shiny leaves are often variegated or brightly coloured, giving additional appeal, and in Pittosporum tenuifolium the leaves are contrasted against dark stems.
Many are hardy in a sunny spot, sheltered from strong winds. A few won’t reliably survive winter outdoors except in mild areas, coastal and inner-city locations – these are more often grown as conservatory plants, but they can still go outside from May to September.
Flowers and berries
Most pittosporums flower between late spring and early summer. The flowers are generally small, usually scented, and range from purple to cream and yellow. A few produce more showy, highly scented flowers, including Pittosporum tobira, P. adaphniphylloides (syn. P. daphniphylloides) and P. heterophyllum.
How and what to buy
Pittosporums are available all year round from garden centres and mail-order suppliers, especially shrub and hedging specialists, such as Coastal Hedging. They are usually sold in containers, but are sometimes also available rootballed (where the plant has been dug up and its roots wrapped in fabric and wire mesh).
There are 9 Pittosporum species and cultivars with an RHS Award of Garden Merit, so are reliable choices. For more details on many of these, and other cultivars available it’s also worth viewing the Plant Bulletin on Pittosporum tenuifolium.
To browse photos and descriptions of pittosporums, go to RHS Find a Plant. You can search by ultimate size, flowering time, growing conditions, RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) and more, to help narrow down your choices.
When to plant
- Although container-grown pittosporums can be planted at any time of year, autumn and spring are the best times to plant. They will settle in quickly when the soil is moist and warm, and the weather not too hot and drying
- If you buy a container-grown pittosporums in summer, plant it as soon as possible and water regularly to keep the soil damp, but not soggy, while it settles in
- You can plant in winter, as long as the ground isn’t waterlogged or frozen
- Rootballed pittosporums are best planted between autumn and early spring
Where to plant
- Pittosporums like full sun or light shade
- Ensure plants are sheltered from prevailing cold winds, and avoid frost pockets
- In milder regions of the UK (such as on the south and east coasts, and in inner cities) and in particularly warm, sheltered gardens, you can risk planting more tender species. Still, choose a warm spot, such as close to a sunny wall, or provide winter protection
- Variegated cultivars are best planted in a sunny site, so that the leaf colour develops well
- Most well-drained soil types are suitable
- Naturally compact cultivars are suitable for containers
How to plant
Although pittosporums are tolerant of a range of soil types, it is best to prepare the general planting area by digging in plenty of organic matter, such as garden compost or well-rotted manure, prior to planting. This will help to retain moisture in the soil but improve drainage.
Pittosporum are very straightforward to plant – see our guides below.
Trees and shrubs: planting
Pittosporums make attractive, dense hedges and are easy to plant – see our guide below for full details.
Planting in damp soil
If you have heavy soil that is prone to staying wet, it is best to plant your hedge on a small ridge to keep the roots drier. Simply form the soil into a ridge 15–20cm (6–8in) high and 50–70cm (20–28in) wide, then plant along the top of it.
The smaller pittosporum cultivars are suitable for growing in containers:
- Choose a container that is only slightly larger than the original container – about 2.5–5cm (1–2in) larger than the rootball all the way round
- Use a peat-free compost with added John Innes, or a 50:50 mix of John Innes No. 3 and peat-free multipurpose compost
- After two to three years, the roots will fill the container and the plant should be re-potted into a slightly larger container in spring
- For the first couple of years after planting, water pittosporums during dry spells in spring and summer, while their roots are establishing in the soil
- Once established, they are fairly drought tolerant and shouldn’t need watering. However, if they are in soil that dries out quickly or in a very hot spot, they may need some water in dry spells in summer to prevent premature leaf drop and support healthy growth
- Large specimens take longer to get fully established, so may need watering for up to five years after planting, depending on how dry the site is
Water: collecting, storing and re-using
- Pittosporums in borders generally need little or no regular feeding
- However, if your soil is poor or the shrub is struggling to grow, feed in spring with a general fertiliser such as Vitax Q4, Growmore or fish, blood and bone, according to the manufacturer’s instructions
- Frost-damaged plants will benefit from feeding in March, to encourage new growth
- Spread a 5–7.5cm (2–3in) layer of organic matter, such as home-made garden compost or well-rotted manure, around the plant to help hold moisture in the soil
- Leave a small mulch-free circle around the base of the pant’s stem to prevent it rotting
Most pittosporums are hardy, especially in milder parts of the UK.
- Those in containers can be moved into an unheated greenhouse, porch or cool conservatory
- If you don’t have anywhere under cover, place the container in a warm, sheltered spot, such as beside a south-facing wall, and cover with fleece during cold nights
- Plants in borders should be wrapped in fleece whenever hard frost is forecast
- Prune in mid-spring
- The aim is to help the plant develop a strong central stem and to enhance the natural shape. To do this, prune out vigorous shoots that sprout out from the outline of the foliage
- It’s also worthwhile trimming off any winter-damaged shoot tips in mid-spring to improve the plant’s appearance
Hedges and clipped shapes
- These are best pruned from mid-spring to late summer
- Pittosporums form loose hedges and clipped shapes. To ensure even foliage coverage, trim two to three times during the growing season. The last cut should be in late summer (August)
Renovating overgrown shrubs
- Pittosporums generally respond well to hard pruning in spring (late March to early April), if you don’t prune into the older wood. But they can be slow to regrow and the regrowth may be patchy
- Spread the pruning over two to three years for the best results. Reduce the growth by up to a third each year
- After pruning, encourage new growth by applying a general fertiliser, as Vitax Q4, Growmore or fish, blood and bone, around the shrub base, according to the manufacturer’s instructions
The easiest way to propagate is to ‘layer’ young shoots growing close to the ground in spring.
By taking cuttings
Cuttings can be tricky to root, but the best method is to take semi-ripe cuttings from the current season’s growth in late summer and early autumn (late July to early September). Cuttings should be 6–8cm (2½–3in) long.
By sowing seeds
- Collect the sticky seeds when the capsules split open
- Clean away the sticky covering with soap
- Sow the seeds in pots or trays of seed compost and keep at 12–15°C (54–59˚F)
- Germination will be slow – around two months or more – so be patient
- The resulting plants may not be exactly like the parents, particularly with variegated and coloured-leaved cultivars
Pittosporums are generally trouble free, but look out for:
- Powdery mildew, which may occasionally affect the leaves, but doesn’t generally need controlling
- Red spider mites and scale insects, which can infest plants in a greenhouse or cool conservatory
- Leaf drop – pittosporums have a tendency to lose older leaves inside the canopy where they don’t receive light, which is normal. However, if lots of leaves drop within a few weeks, this may be due to poor growing conditions, including frost damage and waterlogged soil. Consider improving drainage, moving plants to a better position, and reducing watering of plants in containers. Long dry spells, which can particularly affect containerised plants, can also cause leaf drop
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