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Metrosideros: The NZ Christmas Bush

Looking for a unique way to bring a festive touch to your garden? Meet Metrosideros, fondly known as the NZ Christmas Bush. This stunning native of New Zealand is very much at home in the Aussie landscape, bringing both beauty and biodiversity to your garden.

In this article, we explore this unique plant, its care requirements, and how to use it in your garden design.

NZ Christmas bush in bloom. Metrosideros polymorpha
Metrosideros polymorpha in bloom.

Understanding Metrosideros, the NZ Christmas Tree

Metrosideros species belong to the Myrtaceae family, which includes eucalypts, callistemons and lilly pillies (do the fuzzy flowers seem familiar?). There are just under 200 identified species within the genus.

This genus is renowned for its striking features. Typically, plants can grow up to 3 metres in height, with elliptical leaves that are dark green on top and lighter underneath. Their vibrant, scarlet flowers bloom during the warmer months, earning it its common name NZ Christmas bush.

Role within NZ Ecosystems

While strikingly beautiful, Metrosideros is not just a pretty face. In the heart of New Zealand’s ecosystems, it stands as a crucial component, offering sustenance and shelter to native wildlife, bolstering biodiversity.

But its ecological benefits don’t stop at New Zealand’s borders. This plant also proves beneficial for Australian wildlife, including birds, mammals and insects.

Cultivation and Care for Metrosideros

Ideal Growing Conditions

Metrosideros thrives in well-drained soil, preferring full sun but tolerating partial shade. The plant is relatively hardy and can withstand a wide temperature range, making it suitable for various climates.

Planting and Pruning Tips

When planting Metrosideros, dig a hole as deep and twice as wide as the root ball, place the plant in, and backfill with soil, ensuring the plant is at the same level it was in the pot. Water thoroughly after planting.

Pruning Tips

Pruning Metrosideros helps maintain its shape and promotes dense growth. The best time to prune is after flowering in autumn to avoid cutting off the buds. Remove dead or diseased branches first, then trim back the plant to your desired shape.

It can be trained as a hedge, or selectively pruned to encourage its natural shape.

Common Pests and Diseases

Metrosideros is relatively resistant to pests and diseases. However, watch out for scale insects, which can be controlled with predatory insects or horticultural oil, and root rot, which can be prevented by ensuring good soil drainage.

Velvet Sky™ Metrosideros collina ‘MB01’ PBR

Velvet Sky™ Metrosideros is a remarkable cultivar that stands out in any landscape with its strikingly unique features. Unlike other varieites, it has inky blue stems and stunning blue velvet foliage that give it an almost ethereal appearance. It’s as though the plant’s been dipped in a vat of indigo dye.

NZ Christmas bush Velvet Sky™ Metrosideros collina ‘MB01’ PBR
Unparalleled beauty. Velvet Sky™ Metrosideros collina ‘MB01’ PBR.

This Metrosideros variant doesn’t just impress with its vibrant hues; it also boasts a compact form and dense growth habit, making it an excellent choice for hedging. When in bloom, it produces those typical ravishing red flowers that create a beautiful contrast against the blue foliage, which really makes them “pop”.

This cultivar demonstrates tolerance to salt spray and light to moderate frosts. Once established, it shows remarkable resilience to drought. However, for even more vibrant blue stems, it’s recommended to grow this cultivar in lightly shaded areas and provide good care.

Velvet Sky™ Metrosideros is perfectly suited to South Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia. Further testing is required for North Queensland, and in cooler climates, it’s recommended to protect this plant from frost (even though it’s quite hardy).

Metrosideros in Landscape Design

NZ Christmas Bush in Garden Design

With its stunning blooms and lush foliage, Metrosideros makes a great feature plant or hedge in garden design. Its height provides structure and its flowers add a splash of colour.

When it’s healthy and pruned well, it’s a great option for screening.

Complementary Plants

When planning your landscape design, consider pairing Metrosideros with other plants that compliment the plant’s colours and its growth habit. Whether you’re looking for hedges, ground covers, or strappies, these plants are selected for their hardiness and beauty, making them perfect companions for Metrosideros.

  1. Fire Bells Correa reflexa ‘COR11’ (PBR Intended): Throughout autumn to spring, the vibrant red flowers of this dense ground cover create a striking contrast with the blue-green foliage of the Velvet Sky™ Metrosideros, making it an eye-catching companion.
  2. Crimson Villea™ Grevillea rosmarinifolia ‘H16’ PBR): Its deep red flowers echo the red blooms of Velvet Sky™ Metrosideros, but flowering through winter when the NZ Christmas bush isn’t in bloom.
  3. Gold Cluster™ Grevillea juniperina ‘H22’ (PBR): The golden flowers juxtapose beautifully with the blue-green foliage of the Velvet Sky™ Metrosideros, adding a warm glow to the cool tones of the Metrosideros throughout winter.
  4. Blue Gem™ Westringia hybrid ‘WES03’ (PBR): Its bluish-purple flowers provide a complementary contrast to the red blooms of Velvet Sky™ Metrosideros, enriching the garden’s colour palette. It flowers all year round, with the most vibrant flowering occurring through spring.
  5. Low Horizon™ Westringia fruticosa ‘WES06’ (PBR): This plant’s grey-green foliage and white flowers add a subtle contrast to the base of the Metrosideros, highlighting its blue-green leaves and red flowers.
  6. Purple Fusion™ Scaevola humilis ‘PFS100’ (PBR): The purple flowers of this groundcover plant will look great at the base of the Metrosideros, complementing its blue-green foliage and red blooms. Just plant carefully and maintain the creeper so that it doesn’t grow into the hedge.
  7. Aussie Flat Bush™ Rhagodia spinescens ‘RHA001’ (PBR): Its silver-grey foliage creates a muted backdrop that allows the vibrant hues of Velvet Sky™ Metrosideros to stand out.
  8. Blue Horizon™ Eremophila glabra ‘EREM01’ (PBR): The blue-green foliage of this plant mirrors the colours of Velvet Sky™ Metrosideros, creating a cohesive and tranquil garden scene.
  9. Snow Burst™ Callistemon viminalis ‘CV01’ (PBR): The white flowers of this plant in spring provide a stark contrast against the blue-green foliage of the Metrosideros, adding a burst of brightness to the garden.
  10. Sweet Burst™ Callistemon linearis ‘CL01’ (PBR): Its pink bottlebrush flowers add a soft, romantic touch to the garden, working beautifully with the blue foliage and red flowers of the Metrosideros.
  11. Sweet Mist® Phormium tenax ‘PH0S2’ (PBR): This ultra-compact, bronze-coloured fellow NZ native can provide an interesting contrast to the blue-green foliage of the Velvet Sky™ Metrosideros. Its compact size (40cm high x 40cm wide) and robust nature make it an ideal underplanting option. The bronze colour of its leaves also beautifully offsets the red flowers of the Metrosideros, creating a visually striking combination.
  12. Evergreen Baby™ Lomandra labill. ‘LM600’ (PBR): This plant’s bright green, strappy leaves offer a fresh, vibrant contrast to the blue-green foliage of the Velvet Sky™ Metrosideros. It’s extremely tough and evergreen, making it a reliable companion plant that maintains its visual appeal all year round.
  13. Cassa Blue® Dianella caerulea ‘DBB03’ (PBR): Known for its deep blue foliage, Cassa Blue® offers an analogous colour combination with Velvet Sky™ Metrosideros. Its ability to maintain this intense blue colour even in full sun makes it an excellent choice for adding depth and variety to a garden featuring the Metrosideros.

Daniel’s Wrap

We’ve explored the many facets of Metrosideros – its botany, care requirements, and how to use it in garden design. Now it’s your turn to bring this Christmas charm into your garden.

With the right care and attention, you can enjoy the festive blooms of your own Metrosideros every Christmas season.

Daniel is a writer and content creator for Ozbreed, one of Australia's leading native and exotic plant breeders.

Daniel has worked in various capacities within the horticulture industry. His roles have ranged from team leader at several companies, to creator of the Plants Grow Here podcast and Hort People job board, as well as his position on the National Council for the Australian Institute of Horticulture (AIH).

He's passionate about explaining how to care for different types of plants to ensure home gardeners and professional horticulturists alike can get the most out of the plant babies.

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