New Zealand Christmas Tree: Metrosideros Growing and Care (Pohutukawa)

The magnificent New Zealand Christmas Tree Metrosideros excelsa is a popular plant in its native New Zealand, hence its common name.

The attractive plant stands out when it blooms during Christmas time (December) due to its red flowers with long stamens against the backdrop of leathery green leaves.

Flowering New Zealand - Metrosideros - Christmas TreePin
New Zealand Christmas Tree Metrosideros excelsa

Most people call it the ‘Christmas Tree.’ It’s related to red blooming bottle brush trees and Leptospermum Scoparium (New Zealand Tea Tree) to the Myrtaceae family of plants.

In the wild, it can reach over 80′ feet tall. Luckily, it typically only gets to about 10′ feet when grown in containers outside its native region.

NOTE: Metrosideros excelsa tree handles drought and salt spray conditions.

Metrosideros Excelsa Quick Care Tips

  • Botanical Name: Metrosideros excelsa
  • Common Name(s): New Zealand Christmas Tree, Christmas Tree, Pohutukawa
  • Synonyms: None
  • Pronunciation: Met-roh-SID-er-oss ek-SEL-sa
  • Family & Origin: Myrtaceae family, native to New Zealand
  • Growability: Easy to grow
  • Grow Zone: USDA zones 8-11
  • Size: Can grow up to 30’ to 35′ feet tall and wide; sometimes 80′ feet tall in the wild
  • Flowering: Produces bright red flowers in late spring and early summer
  • Light: Full sun to partial shade
  • Humidity: Dry to medium moisture
  • Temperature: Can tolerate temperatures down to 32° F
  • Soil: Well-drained soils that are neutral to slightly alkaline
  • Water: Water regularly in summer, but do not overwater
  • Fertilizer: Fertilize in summer with a liquid fertilizer
  • Pests & Diseases: Can be susceptible to mealybugs, aphids, scale insects, whiteflies, and fungal diseases like dieback and root rot
  • Propagation: Can be propagated through cuttings or seeds
  • Plant Uses: Ornamental tree, used in landscaping and as a street tree.

For a brighter holiday, learn how to care for the New Zealand Christmas Tree.

Caring For The New Zealand Christmas Tree

Size and Growth

The fast-growing New Zealand Christmas Tree can reach tremendous heights in its native habitat. While it’s technically a shrub, the 80-foot height makes it more of a tree.

When grown in a container, 7′ to 10′ feet is the average height. The plant produces green foliage, and the rounded leaves have a soft, fuzzy coating.

It also tends to develop aerial roots on its lower branches.

Flowering and Fragrance

To match the green foliage, the Metrosideros excelsa plant produces bright red flowers in the late spring and early summer.

Red and green are traditional Christmas colors, and the holiday lands during the summertime in the Southern Hemisphere.

In the Western hemisphere, the crimson flowers still come in the summer. The red blossoms appear in clusters from 2 to 4-inch stamens. These clusters often reach up to 6″ inches in diameter.

While they don’t produce a scent, they produce a lovely display, making it easy to see why this plant is so popular in its native country.

Light and Temperature

This evergreen, wide-spreading tree can grow outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 8 to 11. Due to the potential height of the plant, potted growth is still recommended.

It prefers warmer temperatures in the summer and slightly cooler temperatures in the winter.

It also enjoys lots of sunlight but doesn’t require full sun. It can survive in partial shade if the temperatures don’t get too hot.

If possible, move the plant outdoors during the summer, even in slightly cooler climates. It doesn’t like hot temperatures in closed environments.

The outdoor air is good for the plant and provides better sunlight access.

In the winter, ensure that it doesn’t freeze. Move potted plants indoors, preferably in a room kept in the mid-60s.

Watering and Feeding

The Christmas Tree needs regular watering during the summer. If kept outdoors, it may even need water every day.

When the temperatures start to drop in the fall, begin reducing the watering frequency. In the winter, water as needed when the soil is nearly dry.

Overwatering or underwatering during this period will discourage the production of healthy buds and blossoms the following year.

Liquid fertilizer may be used during the summer to promote healthy growth.

Soil and Transplanting

Regular potting soil is fine for the New Zealand Christmas Tree. It only needs repotting when it outgrows its container. Wait until the roots begin to push their way out of the pot.

Maintenance and Grooming

Grooming is only needed to manage the growth of the plant. To keep it from growing too tall or too wide, trim back the branches in the spring.

How to Propagate Pohutukawa (Metrosideros)

Propagation is possible with stem cuttings. The cuttings should be taken in the spring using the following steps:

  • Take semi-hard cuttings
  • Place three cuttings in one small pot
  • Use a potting mix intended for propagation
  • If possible, set the pot over a heat source
  • Wait five to six weeks for the cuttings to take root
  • Trim the young plants when they reach five inches tall
  • Trimming the young plants encourages fuller growth in the coming years.
  • After the cuttings have taken root, repot them into individual pots.
  • Continue to repot each year as the plant outgrows its existing pot.

The young plants are often hardy, as the New Zealand Christmas Tree grows quickly. In fact, the young plants may bloom the following year.

Red New Zealand Christmas tree flower with yellow stamens.Pin

Metrosideros Pests or Diseases

Like most plants, it’s important to pay attention to signs of pests. Mealybugs, scale insects, aphids, and whiteflies may attempt to make a home out of the plant.

Deal with these pests immediately to prevent severe infestations. Typically, the insects can be removed by hand using a cloth or spray.

If this doesn’t work, use an insecticide before the infestation gets out of control.

Suggested Metrosideros Excelsa Uses

Due to the height of the plant, the New Zealand Christmas Tree is best suited for life in a large pot. 

Moreover, this plant is often grown as ornamentals or planted as a street tree near a sidewalk or lawn tree.

Metrosideros Excelsa also adds value to any property because of its dazzling appearance. 

When container-grown, ensure to move the pot outdoors in the summer and indoors during the winter.

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