Can a red sister cordyline plant be kept indoors
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Can a red sister cordyline plant be kept indoors and still be called a cordyline? This question always comes up whenever I am chatting with newbies or visitors to the collection. I believe the answer is yes, but let’s have a look at the key morphological features of both cordyline species and see how well they match the required growth conditions for outdoor plants. Cordyline flowers very slowly, usually with long periods of no flowering activity in between two flowering bouts. For the most part, the flowers of the species are small and they only open under sunny and warm conditions. When they are not flowering, the plants look dormant and small, and there are no side shoots present. Cordyline reds are predominantly propagated by seed, and they all germinate more or less the same way. The seedlings are raked and planted out as soon as they have their first set of true leaves. There is no need for any potting up, but you need to be careful of burning or overwatering the roots as they grow.
Just look at the face of a bunch of cordyline seedlings when you harvest and dry them. I have seen the seedlings for sale at some nurseries for as little as one hundred grams of dried seeds. It is truly amazing how quickly the red morph takes over the plants. The new shoots are usually red, and their growth is rapid until they become old enough to flower, at which point they are slow growing, slow flowering plants. This morphology is also typical of the species, even though a small number of the non-red cordyline species are also sold as small-flowered reds. One of my favorite red plants is Nigella damascena, a member of the mustard family. It grows to around 60-75 cm high, flowering slowly through August and September, and it’s been an excellent plant indoors. However, if you look at its growth form, you will see how upright it is. If you want it to look more soft-stemmed and lanky, you need to start it in a container. Another red morph of cordyline is the hybrid between C. stricta and C. elata. A variation of this hybrid is C. x C. elata ‘Red Dwarf’, which has a beautiful red morph of low-growing, slow flowering cordyline. I am not sure why the parent species don’t show in this variety, but they certainly aren’t lacking in vigor. Both the red form of C. elata and ‘Red Dwarf’ have shown themselves to be tough and slow growers. ‘Red Dwarf’ tends to flower longer than its parent species and I have seen it reach up to 1.5 m tall.
So is there anything we can learn from a morphological analysis of these plants about the growth conditions they require to keep them outdoors? Well, both cordyline species are salt tolerant, which is very good for anything growing near water, but less so for plants indoors. They don’t seem to mind the absence of water as long as there is at least a little humidity. While the red forms need some sunlight, in the winter they will do just fine under the cover of a dark greenhouse. But in summer, the reds can’t take the heat, and they will be happiest in full sun. I think the cordyline species with their upright growth habits could do well in a shadehouse. I don’t think they will want too much shade, because they may suffer under too much shade, but I am sure the can’t take more than the average amount of full sun that we are blessed with in Melbourne.
The best suggestion I have heard for growing a red form of cordyline indoors is to start it in large containers, and water it when the growth is close to finished and the plant has just a few leaves on the top. This small amount of water should stop the leaves from drying out and cause the plant to break dormancy. Once the plant is at dormancy, the summer should be spent keeping the plant as cool as possible. From November to March, keep the plants out of the coldest room and bring them back in under bright and indirect light once it’s warm again. In March, just like with the red form of cordyline, we can stop the top growth and just let the roots develop. A full bloom is possible, and it won’t be a very large flower as the plant had stopped growing for the winter. However, the blooms will last much longer than those from plants grown in a greenhouse. Plants grown under these conditions will slowly begin to decline and flower more often, but you can still enjoy the flowering while it’s going on. Even if you plan on moving the plant outdoors, you can save the blooms to show off indoors, but I wouldn’t go too wild with fertilizing them or too many waterings, because you don’t want the plants to be too much of a drain on your indoor hydration system.
If you are thinking about growing your own cordyline collection, please do some homework first. You can buy plenty of plant catalogs that offer species with many different growing styles. You can choose plants that grow more slowly, or you can go with plants that grow quickly but flower sparsely. But regardless of the species you decide to purchase, make sure the seed you are buying is a seed that is shipped in a single state of dormancy, and the plants will germinate in the same way as the seed you buy. Also, make sure you buy seed in bulk. The more seed you buy, the less you pay for it.
What a pity it is that cordyline is so difficult to keep under glass. Though few people know it, the native Australian native red variety can be kept indoors with a little bit of research. You have to be careful though as these plants do not cope well with both lots of light and lots of water.
I prefer to grow these in the shadow of a full grown Cordyline Elata in a woodhouse or in some other place that is free of direct sunlight. Both varieties can