Michelle’s Bank-top Bush – Pigeonwood seedlings among the weeds

Our client Michelle has a large front garden on a slope above a quiet road. Around the edges of this garden there are several large exotic trees, and numerous smaller native trees.

Michelle in her garden – transformation begun

When we started working on this garden transformation, the fences on all three sides were overhung by ivy, which had climbed the fences and the smaller native trees on the other side of the fences, and about 10 metres up a large Norfolk pine. There was also some honeysuckle growing through and under the fence, with some remaining beyond our reach on the steeply sloping roadside berm.

Michelle loves walking in the local bush, and dreamed of enjoying some of that ambience in her own large garden. Once she learned it was possible, she became keen to create a shady little bush-walk by converting the lawn and weedy borders of an unused part of her own large garden to a mostly-wild native plant community, solely by weeding, protecting the weeded ground from trampling and desiccation, and nurturing the wild native seedlings that would arise.

lawn behind woodshed, with juvenile wild karamu in foreground

We set about cutting and uprooting as much as possible of the ivy,

oxalis and grass weeds uprooted and/or suppressed with pulled weeds and cut ivy from the fenceline

and cut, uprooted or suppressed the major weeds around the edges.

Weeds turning into rich soil, with a pile of cut ivy foreground left, drying until it can be spread as mulch
A wild mapou juvenile against the fence, mapou seedlings in the foregroundh, and (lower left) a remnant of a large clump of Agapanthus being successively suppressed then uprooted

Hundreds of tree privet seedlings in the borders were easily uprooted while the ground was wet during winter, and larger ones, along with other tree weeds, were suppressed with a versatile pruning technique that leads to the weed-tree’s death over a year or two.

foreground – a newly uprooted Agapanthus (left) and 4 or 5 wild mapou seedlings (centre foreground -yellowish leaves and reddish stems)

at the base of a large Norfolk pine and a young totara, (left) a wild Macadamia seedling being suppressed by pruning, and helping to suppress other weeds, including ivy and Agapanthus which were later uprooted easily

Many native tree seedlings had already arisen wild among the weeds, and were released over a month or so to provide the basis of the new bush garden. As is usually the case, karamu was the commonest wild native,

one of the many wild karamu seedlings found hidden by the invasive and very dominant Blue corn-lily (Aristea ecklonii – suppressed, top left and foreground – later easily uprooted)

but as the hand weeding proceeded over the next few months we also discovered many wild mapou and houpara seedlings, and several rewarewa.

Today we were thrilled to find two wild seedlings of pigeonwood (porokaiwhiri, Hedycarea arborea).

We have seldom seen pigeonwood outside of forest reserves. These seedlings have appeared in Michelle’s garden under a large Norfolk pine and young totara, with many species of trees and shrubs nearby, including those that attract birds that feed on berries.

There are no pigeonwood in this or neighbouring gardens, so a bird has fed on pigeonwood somewhere else, then come to Michelle’s garden to eat; perhaps the berries of native karamu, mapou or houpara (five-finger), or the exotic (and invasive) cotoneaster, ginger or Mexican fan or bangalow palms.

These two pigeonwood seedlings germinated among ground-covering weeds including Aristea ecklonii (Blue Corn lily), oxalis, ground-runners of ivy, kikuyu and Veldt grass. Fortunately we had suppressed most of these weeds a few months ago, leaving all the loose weed material as a thick mulch to rot those that did not uproot easily.

left of centre – the two tallest wild karamu seedlings under the totara and Norfolk pine, with cut ivy piled against the fence

Today we were able to uproot most of the remainder of the weeds, and used the newly pulled weeds to mulch a little more of the lawn’s weedy edge. The soil after weeding is a lovely loose loam, full of composted weeds and lawn clippings, making a seed-bed that will support many more seedlings.

However, the soil surface is drying out fast now the prolonged rainy period is over, so we placed handfuls of weed-material around each of the native seedlings, and shaded small seedlings and bare soil (potential seedbeds) with the woody ivy branches which had been cut and piled over the last few months.

The leaves still hanging from the cut ivy branches provide a scattered partial shade, and the woody branches will keep their shape well into summer, providing a “tent-frame” over which other plant materials can be hung once the ivy leaves fall from their branches.

a karamu seedling found wild elsewhere in the garden has been transplanted here in the rich, friable soil formed from decomposing grass clippings and weeds, and now partially shaded by some cut ivy

Not all seedlings survive, especially outside of the shade and protection of a compatible plant community. We hope to update you on the fate of these two pigeonwood seedlings in a future post.

Wikipedia has this to say about pigeonwood:

Hedycarya arborea, commonly known as pigeonwoodporokaiwhiri, and poporokaiwhiri[1] is an endemic tree of New Zealand. Found on both the North and South islands of the country, the tree grows to a height of 15 metres. The leaves are oval shaped with shallow serrations. Ripe fruits turn red and the plant received its common name back when it was assumed that the New Zealand wood pigeon particularly favoured them, based on observations of the birds eating the fruit. It has since been discovered that the New Zealand wood pigeon does not prefer these berries, and tends to eat them as a ‘famine food’ when better fare is not available”.

Availability for new clients

Chemical-free weed control for two of our major garden restorations has now been completed and those projects now only need monthly maintenance. This means we will have 8-10 hours a week free for an intensive start to one or two new garden restoration projects where some rapid transformation is needed in addition to the longer term transition to a low-maintenance outdoor environment.

Learn more about our garden services, what to expect, and how we do it.

Below: the narrow space between house and fence (1.5m including a paving block path, out of view in the foreground) has been transformed from kikuyu, bare clay and weed trees to native shrubs and trees that need only annual pruning to maintain access along the path directly beneath the windows, from where the residents can watch kereru, tui and songthrushes eating kawakawa fruit in summer.

Foreground left is a nikau, about 10 years old and a metre high. Each year for the next 20 years, one of its 2 or 3 new leaves a year will grow towards the house, obstructing the path, but in this seldom-used area it can be pushed aside, or if necessary tied back or even cut off.

Much later, it will present only a single trunk, and each year two or three of the leaves, canopying the path and surrounding garden from above, will fall to the ground and be carried down the back to add to the natural environment (and invertebrate habitat) under larger trees.

There’s nothing more splendid to watch from your kitchen table than a kereru feasting on nikau fruit an arm’s length away, but if the big leaves are not for you you could skip the nikau and just have karamu, kawakawa and smaller shrubs and groundcovers, such as the sedges (Carex lambertiana) shown here. A couple of seedlings planted here have multiplied themselves by both seed and division, and will continue to spread until they cover the ground without further intervention.

North Shore Wilds garden services

We started this business just before Christmas last year, encouraged by comments from people who have enjoyed watching the progress of Gahnia Grove, the restoration project in Eskdale Reserve which we began in 2018 for pleasure and for our own further research into the most economical way to control weeds and restore the plant communities native to this area.

Our methods of restoring or creating outdoor order and beauty are very different from what is commonly practised commercially.

For example, Phoenix palm seedlings quickly become deeply rooted. We never dig them out. The photo below shows two of them, each controlled within seconds by knotting its few leaves.

phoenix palm seedlings knotted

Learn more about what to expect, based on our experience over the year and the feedback of our customers:

More about dragon trees

There are some fascinating photos and information about their history in Auckland on the Auckland Museum website:


We have not noticed – or perhaps not recognised – an adult dragon tree in the Kaipatiki area, and wonder where the birds are getting these seeds? Does anyone know of a mature Dracaena draco (dragon tree) in the Glenfield/Birkdale area?

Of course, the parent tree does not need to be close by, as kereru can fly up to 20km and back to feed. From our own observation, kereru droppings usually contain the undigested portion – eg seeds – from a very recent meal. But maybe dragon tree seeds take a while to be excreted.

Anyway we would be interested to hear if there are dragon trees growing in this neighbourhood…and if so, whether many seedlings are being found in the gardens around them.

Learn more about our chemical-free garden and forest restoration services, how we do it, and subscribe for emailed post updates.

Yuccas and Dragon trees grow wild in local forest edges

In 2018 we started to notice yuccas growing wild in local native forest reserves. The ones we saw were either hidden among native trees or inaccessible down steep banks or cliffs.

2018: Wild yucca tree growing on the Kaipatiki Road side bank of Kaipatiki Stream

So when we saw these unfamiliar seedlings near the Kaipatiki Walkway along the estuarine shore, we suspected yucca.

We found a larger group of them a bit further downstream. Having been assured by botanists they were not native, we pulled out some of the larger group.

To find out what they were, we had to do some research. It included watching those seedlings until they were larger, but also, unexpectedly, finding a few unidentifiable hard-as-rock seeds dropped by kereru in our own garden,

then planting and growing these seeds on in a pot until they could be identified by an expert. (The one pictured above was dropped still encased in its fruity outer casing, but we opened it and found the same hard seed inside).

Turns out they were the same new invasive species as the unfamiliar seedlings we had found on the Kaipatiki estuary … Dragon tree (Dracaena draco).

The following year we found, identified and uprooted a single dragon tree seedling in the youngest outer edge, still mostly manuka, of Eskdale Forest.

And the next year, two more…and a single seed, (with several bangalow seeds, under the growing myna roost…which may be relevant?)

We suppose we should not be surprised that the kereru, lover of the fruits of nikau, puriri, karaka and taraire, nowadays finds as many if not more fruits on bangalow, Phoenix and queen palms; and instead of a side-dish of tataramoa, porokaiwhiri or kohia, the kereru swallows … and delivers by air … the seeds that will become yucca and dragon trees.

This year we found a single seedling further inside the forest…under the taller kanuka, which have now successfully burst through the canopy of the naturally-dying-out manuka.

Not a problem for our local ecology as long as every corner of every reserve, including gullies, streambanks and cliffs, is tended with care by an eagle-eyed weed seedling spotter.

More about Kawakawa – male flowers fully mature now!

This male kawakawa tree on the forest edge now has fully mature flowers, some with the pollen being shed as a white dust, coating leaves … and hands:

Meanwhile, in our garden the male flowers don’t have much pollen dust yet.

If you look really closely at the flowers on the female trees you can see the little receptacles that will receive the pollen from the male trees.

kawakawa unripe fruit

The black dots that form on the female flowers will eventually become seeds once the fruits are ripe in Spring or Summer.

In late Spring the kereru will start visiting daily to check out the fruit for ripeness

starting the season by eating the orange ends of partially ripe ones

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Is my Kawakawa tree male or female?

Last week, visiting an area we had freed from honeysuckle and other weeds in 2019, we were delighted to see the first flowering of a male kawakawa.

We were surprised to see it mature so soon after we had planted it in 2020 as a 10 cm high seedling.

The same tree is pictured below, then 20-30cm high, in December 2020. Beside it are wild native Weeping grass, toatoa, and (behind, on the remnants of a harakeke shade fence) the common harmless weed “cleavers”.

Both in the wild and in our home garden, we love to see the Kawakawa flowers forming each year, the female trees promising to attract kereru once fruit have formed in early Summer.

We see two distinct forms in the flowers, because kawakawa is one of those trees that can be either male or female. Both produce long thin flower spikes – the tiny dots are flowers -but only the female produces fruit.

The flower spikes of male trees are longer, thinner and upright, like candlesticks. Below are male kawakawa in various stages of flowering:

In contrast, the flower spikes on female trees are shorter and stouter, and in Summer will gradually turn entirely orange to become a soft, juicy fruit enjoyed by blackbirds, thrushes, tui and kereru.

Below are female kawakawa trees with fruit in various stages of development:

This year we will try to remember to get a good photo of fully ripe fruit. Finding a whole fully ripe fruit in this tree can be difficult, since at least one kereru checks out the unripe crop each year, visiting frequently thereafter to nibble on a few unripe fruit. Once the fruit reach the partially-ripe stage pictured above, one or several kereru visit the tree many times a day, and spend a lot of time in it eating.

Save on hedge-trimming costs

Like the fairytale Ugly Duckling, an invasive weed tree in a hedge will keep you busy, not with feeding but with endless pruning.

Whether you have a driveway border, ornamental garden or a patch of bush, you can reduce the costs of trimming and pruning by accurately identifying the “ugly duckling”. In the photos below, the ugly duckling is a tree privet in a regularly trimmed kohuhu hedge.

We controlled this tree privet for our client by our specially developed technique, which reduces the tree in a matter of minutes, and kills it over a year or so.

Repeat interventions to control the regrowth will take only a minute or two, perhaps once a month for a while, and then less frequently until the tree privet dies, probably within two years. Well before then, the dead trunk will be hidden among the foliage of the hedge.

Our technique kills tree privets up to at least 5m high without chemicals or felling. In our experience so far, it takes 1-4 years for the tree to be very obviously and completely dead.

In the fairytale, the Ugly Duckling grew up to be admired as the beautiful swan it was, but the tree privet becomes increasingly unwelcome as it pushes aside and overtops its plant neighbours. It can even outcompete forest trees in partial shade.

Young tree privet sapling at the roadside banktop of Kaipatiki Stream, (Glenfield), already dominating the understorey of mapou and karamu in a successful 25 year old dense native planting

We often see hedges or shrubberies in which one or several tree privets are being carefully pruned along with the hedge.

While hedge trees or shrubs look neat and become leafy after a trim, the tree privet gets a growth-stimulating trim instead of being eliminated, and is soon sticking out and above again.

Once the misfit is identified, it is usually cut down. But as with many woody weeds, cutting it off near the base creates a bigger problem, for the cut stem produces a dense mass of low branches around and below the cut. These low branches are often even more of a problem than the uncut tree, as they interfere with the surrounding plants, and stick out directly into paths, driveways and lawns.

Our technique was trialled successfully in 2018 in our Gahnia Grove project on the Glenfield Rd margin of Eskdale Reserve, and in 2019 on about 20 tree privets which had invaded the native tree planting along Kaipatiki Rd opposite Glenfield College.

Depending on the thoroughness of the first or follow-up interventions, it takes 1-3 years for the tree to die. Follow-up interventions only take a minute or so.

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Save even more by removing tree privets as seedlings

Tree privet fruit are very popular with birds, and a tree privet seed dropped by a bird in a hedge or shrubbery usually grows up unnoticed for a year or two until suddenly it demands your attention by outgrowing the others.

Much time and expense can be saved by identifying and easily uprooting the tree privet seedlings found in gardens or Reserves visited by birds who have recently fed on tree privet fruit.

Older tree privet seedlings less than a metre high are often able to be uprooted easily when the ground is still wet from winter rain.

When uprooting is not immediately easy or would dislodge soil or disturb other plants, we partially break the stems to starve the roots. The whole plant can be easily uprooted some time later, if desired, or left to decay in place (eg in sensitive habitat or unstable slopes).

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Large old tree privets already providing shade and erosion control

Tree privet grows very fast, up to at least 20 metres high, and can live for 100 years.

While it is well worthwhile removing seedling and juvenile tree privets where there is alternate vegetation, mature trees need to be assessed individually, as they are providing many functions.

Above: A number of tree privets that grew up unnoticed in the last 20 years now form an important part of the forest canopy providing essential shade to Kaipatiki Stream

In or beside young native forest, an unrecognised tree privet will grow up to obscure and overtop all but the tallest trees. Once established, it may have become a vital part of the ecology of the site, contributing to water quality, soil conservation, the diet of birds and other fauna, and the health of surrounding vegetation.

Below: fruit on mature tree privets in native forest canopy

Below: tree privet about 10-15m high in native forest beside Kaipatiki Stream, Glenfield. Since native vegetation on the opposite (roadside) bank has not succeeded here due to grass, shrub and vine weeds combined with flooding by both piped and unpiped stormwater, this particular tree privet is one of several along this part of the stream forming the tree canopy, so in addition to feeding birds, this one is providing life-giving shade to protect water quality and freshwater ecology, including native freshwater fish and eels.

Time to act before the Spring rush

Just a reminder that Spring is underway as far as the plants are concerned, and weed vines and shrubs are putting out new shoots, sneaking around garden shrubs, drinking up the lovely water and increasing sun, and finding new ground to conquer.

Big weed invasions yield the most material for paths, mulch and compost, and the first big weeding produces a massive amount of plant material to be either sent to landfill or used to benefit the soil and plants by decomposition onsite.

Once the ground dries, sun comes out, and rain is infrequent, decomposition by rotting slows down or stops altogether.

We don’t encourage storing big piles of dry woody or papery material during the fire season, so if you have a lot of woody weeds to be dealt to….that is, vines, shrubs or trees…work needs to start very soon if you want the plant material composted onsite and returned to your soil to help the remaining plants grow well and remain weed free.

After we have done weed control and mulched where needed, the Spring rush of weeds doesn’t occur for most species, and not at all if we have had time to eradicate the weed before the warm weather.

Instead, the wanted plants grow luxuriously in the moisture and sunlight of Spring, filling the space and reducing weed reinvasion.

Since we only started our business last Christmas, we don’t yet have photos of our clients’ gardens in Spring after our weed control.

Below is a photo of an area of public Reserve in January this year, hand weeded of major environmental weeds, then gradually of benign leafy weeds. This area is part of a forest margin, in which density is key to keeping the area weed-free, so native regeneration has been allowed to fill the space entirely.

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