Phormium tenax - New Zealand Flax

achnatherum(z4or3 Ontario)September 3, 2006

Ok, I know this is not an ornamental grass!

BUT ~ it is certainly 'Grass-like'

What I would like is some first hand experience with hardiness.

Are you growing it?

Does it overwinter in your zone?

And/or have you grown it in containers and overwintered it indoors?

Absolutely gorgeous plants!


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achnatherum(z4or3 Ontario)

I would love to grow a flax like this in my garden! Maybe I will have to move to a warmer climate..
This is my absolute favorite grass garden ~ I think it is gorgeous!

I keep this image to remind myself of what I would like to achieve.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2006 at 1:31PM
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One of my favorite Long Island nurseries is Peconic River Herb Farm. I usually treat myself to a visit at least once a year. They usually carry at least a couple of dozen Phormium cultivars, and they are stunning plants. Some of them are quite pricey, but apparently, they have no trouble selling them. They're bought by the rich as annuals, and over-wintered indoors by many others. I imagine size could become an issue, because they can get pretty big, as the one in your photo indicates. If I could keep plants indoors, I'd try one in a bright cool room. I can't, due to ongoing remodeling, but when it's done, my sunroom will be expanded into a greenhouse/sunroom, and I'll grow them.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2006 at 2:56PM
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Reliably hardy only in zone 8 and above, they can still be seriously damaged in my climate by a severe winter, specially in overly exposed sites or where drainage is not very sharp. The combination of an unusually cold winter and wet, heavy soils inevitably leads to root rot.

Having said that, I've grown them for years, both in my garden and in containers, and have yet to have problems. Except for size - had to remove one ('Rainbow Chief') that at 7 feet tall and 6 feet wide simply outgrew its welcome. I find them to be wonderful evergreen (or ever-colored) architectural additions to the garden and great container focal points. If you have space to overwinter, I'd certainly consider them in containers for colder climates. And they tend to grow rather quickly, so even smaller, more affordable ones will make a statement rapidly.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2006 at 8:16AM
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They are a useful, somewhat "landscapey" looking plant for the reason that most people like them- - they are so architectural in the garden that they easily overwhelm a landscape unless planted with large ornamental grasses for scale - - like that lovely shot posted above. They do require upkeep to remove tattered and damaged leaves.

The base of the leaves is starchy enough to feed rodents. For the past several years we had the apex of a 16 (or something like that) year cycle of voles along the California coast that has blessedly ended. When the infestation was at its height, I found my phormium heavily grazed in the winter.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2006 at 11:21AM
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Phormium is hardy here and we are in 9a, 8b in some winters. As Gardengal said, size can really become a problem for this plant. A neighbor of mine has one in its front yard which is really a MONSTER, something like 9 feet wide x 8 tall, this is why I haven't still considered to buy one of it.. Is not of the variety shown in the picture, but its leaves are bright green and pink variegated.
Someone knows if do they exist any dwarf varieties?

    Bookmark   September 13, 2006 at 2:14PM
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It looks like you can get them in all sizes, starting at 18"

Here is a link that might be useful: Phormium list

    Bookmark   September 13, 2006 at 2:37PM
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Thank you Donn! That Jack Spratt curly dark bronze 18" - I'm cutting and pasting from the list you linked - sounds very interesting to me, both for the dimensions and color. I will consider it or something similar for my next online order of grasses&friends.. in te meanwhile last order (10 new babies to play with.. I mean OG's of course :-) is due to arrive tomorrow, I'm so excited..

    Bookmark   September 14, 2006 at 7:17AM
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achnatherum(z4or3 Ontario)

come on ..... Tell us about the 10 new babies that you're 'expecting' today. It is always fun to share in new purchases.
I'm still working on getting all my purchases from last weekend in the ground so I'm happy too!

    Bookmark   September 14, 2006 at 7:52AM
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Hi Achnatherum, not a for me problem to share, here's what I've ordered (the varieties are "only" 7):

. Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foester'
. Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Overdam'
. Helictotrichon sempervirens
. Panicum virgatum 'Shanandoah'
. Panicum virgatum 'Heavy Metal'
. Pennisetum setaceum 'Cupreum Compactum' (in the hope it will overwinter.. according to the DG Plant Files it is hardy until zone 4a, but I think it's a typo, it still belongs to the tender Setaceum family)
. Miscanthus sinensis 'Yakushima Dwarf' (this is what at the end I have choosen as small Miscanthus following the nursery advice..)

Have a nice day!

    Bookmark   September 14, 2006 at 10:19AM
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I'd be a bit skeptical of some of the sizes quoted on that list. I know from personal experience that many of those cultivars get far bigger than indicated - 'Dusky Chief' for example will easily hit 5-6', perhaps more. But there are some very nice smaller growing ones, most of which will remain in the 3-4' range, although all will expand in width over time.

And unless it was mislabeled, my Miscanthus 'Yaku Jima' is not exactly what I'd consider dwarf - this season it is a good foot taller than me, so topping out at about 6'. Every year it has grown abit taller than the preceeding one. Although a beautiful grass, it is far bigger than the space calls for and I am thinking of replacing it with 'Little Kitten'. Anyone care to share how BIG that will really get to be?

    Bookmark   September 15, 2006 at 7:41AM
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Gardengal: I already checked before buying it, it looks like Yaku Jima and Yakushima Dwarf are two distinct varieties (see i.e. link below) and I really hope so, because I don't have room a giant Miscanthus.
And definitely yes! I'm skeptical too about plants dimensions as stated in nursery catalogs and not only for the phormium. This is why in that list I've choosen the smallest one! ;-)

Here is a link that might be useful: The two miscanthus in a catalog of grasses

    Bookmark   September 15, 2006 at 8:52AM
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juicylucy(z5 IN)


I've only had Little Kitten for 2 yrs. but so far it's nice and compact, keeping my fingers crossed. It's between 3, 3.5' right now w/plumes. It didn't really increase in size from last yr., except diameter, which is a good sign. I have high hopes for this one truly being a dwarf! I have the same experience w/Yaku Jima.

alchemilla, enjoy your new grasses!

A., I agree that Phormium is gorgeous, love the pic. you posted above. A local nursery was selling one or 2 gal. pots of phormium this yr. but they were $50.00 and I couldn't bring myself to cough up the dough. With my luck I would have killed it :~).

    Bookmark   September 15, 2006 at 10:38AM
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I have five plants that have totally outgrown the space in my landscape plus the recent snow has made them droop and look even worse than before. They have been growing for five plus years and have gotten huge (9-10 feet). I am about to remove them but don't know how to go about it. Does anyone know the root depth or how difficult they are to dig out? Should one try it or hire it done? Help!

    Bookmark   January 28, 2007 at 4:58PM
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Myra..I assume these are ornamental grasses, and not Phormium. Do you know what variety they are?

Whatever the variety, it's quite a chore to dig out mature ornamental grasses. If you plan to save divisions, your best bet is to wait, and do it when they've had their annual haircut. Then just go at it, a piece at a time. Use a very sharp, very strong spade, and cut out chunks of a size you can handle. Start the spade with your foot, and pound it down with a hand sledge. Outline the chunk, and pry it out. Divisions should probably be taken from the outer perimeter of the crown, and the interior section should be disposed of.

If you're near a metro area, and can ID the grasses, you might be able to get someone to do the work, in exchange for divisions.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2007 at 5:27PM
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Thanks for the info Donn, the only identification that I have is that my plants are New Zealand Flax and appear to be the phormium tenax. I thought that I entered the info under that heading but may not know how to use the site. What is the root system like for this species and how deep does it tend to be on mature plants? What is the best time to trim the damaged leaves and what about cutting back to the ground? Will they come back from severe cutting? Can they be divided? I am having trouble getting info from my usual garden sources. Any help will be appreciated. Thanx

    Bookmark   January 29, 2007 at 2:12PM
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Sorry, my mistake. I took your other persona, myra 5, to mean you were in zone 5, and assumed you were talking about something other than Phormium.

I have no experience whatever with Phormium.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2007 at 2:23PM
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macbirch(ACT Aust)

You could try the New Zealand forum. Go to GardenWeb Australia to find it.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2007 at 5:20AM
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myrah, I'm going to assume that 5 in your original post referred to Sunset zone rather than USDA zone as there is no way NZ flax would have survived for 5 years in a USDA zone 5 :-))

Yes, damaged foliage can be cut back to close to the ground - it will take a couple of seasons before they regain their appearance but they will in time. And they can be divided - commercial propagation is most often done in this manner. But they produce a big, heavy, fleshy root system and digging out a full grown flax is a serious undertaking. It took 3 of us to dig out mine (and 2 were big, beefy young guys!)

FWIW, this PNW winter was not at all to phormiums' liking and a good many even mature specimens bit the dust! I will be replacing several of mine, all in place for many years.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2007 at 10:29AM
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