Growing Manuka Trees from Seed and Cuttings

This post is from a couple of years ago, but remains the most popular one, so I've repeated it for all you newbies.

 

We've been experimenting with growing plants for bees. There are plenty of plants that have flowers that bees love. And lots of lists of good ones too. But we need ones that will produce excellent honey, as well as thrive in our country and climate. And then there is the need to grow quickly enough to make it all worthwhile. Some forest giants produce excellent bee flowers but you need to wait for so long for them to get going (although I do wonder how high a bee likes to fly to get to the flowers - might need to research this too).

The big honey-producing flowering plants in NZ are manuka and kanuka. So this is our first plant experiment.

 Manuka seeds in tiny pots

Manuka seeds in tiny pots

Here they are in autumn at the beginning of the year. These ones (microscopic) are from seeds that we collected from manuka and kanuka trees. These little plastic trays are not that great, they all blow around in the winter winds, and break apart from each other. Probably they are best to save if you have a glasshouse operation.

 Manuka seedlings starting to grow

Manuka seedlings starting to grow

No glasshouses here though, the outdoor dining table and chairs are covered in potted up seedlings. These ones are from cuttings, they seem to get more growth on than the seeds, but are more time intensive making the cuttings, and there is an amount that conk out before they get to this stage.

 Manuka potting station

Manuka potting station

Potting, potting, potting. You do need to continually be on to the potting up - moving them into bigger and bigger pots, before they become too root bound. Good thing it is immensely satisfying then.

 Manuka seeds in seed trays

Manuka seeds in seed trays

When we got over the little pots (the first pic) we tried out seed trays. These do work better, but you do need to be vigilant to potting up as their roots all start to get inter-tangled.

 manuka seedlings growing fast

manuka seedlings growing fast

Look at this - babies not so long ago, they've got spring-powered rocket juice under them now! Some of them are lovely and bushy too. These are the cuttings (I think, but they have been moved around so much the system has rather lost the history of each plant, so an inconclusive experiment then...)

 manuka seedlings shooting away

manuka seedlings shooting away

Isn't this just the most satisfying sight? Growing something from nothing (except quite a lot of sweat). Still got to dig the holes to plant them though, might be busy that day!

 

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When to plant manuka trees

When to plant manuka trees

If you've been making manuka seedlings, from seed, then you might have something that looks like this, in your backyard.

And if you saw my previous 'uh oh' post where I let my seedlings rather get away on me and have ended up with over-large trees still in their pots, then you might be wondering whether you could plant your seedlings yet.

Well...normally I'd have said not quite. Still lots of the summer to go, and it can get pretty hot and dry.

What happens after the manuka stops flowering?

What happens after the manuka stops flowering?

This has been a terrible year for manuka. All over New Zealand, it seems, the manuka flowering never really got going, and then stopped. Just like that - a whole honey season is done!

So, what do the bees eat after the manuka stops flowering?

Well, it turns out that bees actually prefer nectar from plants that are not manuka. Sure, they'll go to manuka if they have to, but given the choice, they'll go somewhere else first.

6 Mistakes I've made with my manuka seedlings (and are you making them too?)

6 Mistakes I've made with my manuka seedlings (and are you making them too?)

I've made about 2000 manuka seedlings in the last couple of years. Purely in the interests of science, and experimentation of course. I don't actually have anywhere to plant them.

And they have been growing pretty well too. But 2 years on, some of them are taller than me.

And the flaws in the system are starting to show.

So, what mistakes have I made? (and are you making these mistakes too?). Here they are:

Growing Manuka from Cuttings

Growing Manuka from Cuttings

We've been making cuttings from manuka for a year and a half now. And the first batch we did are growing amazingly well. They are over 1 metre tall and flowering. Already!

So I thought I would make some more. We've done a lot from seeds, but if cuttings grow better, then that would be a good thing to do too.

Manuka flower nectar in winter

This is a manuka flower, picked this morning, in June, in winter. Which is pretty good on it's own. But look at the shiny stuff in the middle. That's nectar. And I saw a bee on it too gathering nectar.

 manuka flower close up of nectary

manuka flower close up of nectary

Here it is a bit zoomed out. The silvery blobs are the pollen. Apparently bees go for the nectar of manuka rather than the pollen, but collect pollen through gumby-ness, crawling around in the nectar pond rubs off pollen too. Although no doubt there are some bees that target the pollen when they are foraging.

Bees go out to collect either pollen or nectar. At any one time some are on pollen patrol and some on nectar patrol. The amount of each a hive needs depends on the time of year, and the demand of bee brood - the hatching new bee babies who need pollen to create their food. Nectar is turned into honey, and also is food for adult bees.

 Manuka flower close up

Manuka flower close up

And here is a seed pod, getting ready to burst forth. There will be zillions of seeds just in this one pod. Each seed is about 2mm long. There's one seed escaped lying on the top.

 Manuka seed pod close up

Manuka seed pod close up

Does manuka flower in autumn?

We went for a walk around the Kai Iwi lakes a couple of weekends ago - out sideways from Dargaville in Northland. And here were flowering manuka bushes! In May.

 Manuka flowering in the middle of winter

Manuka flowering in the middle of winter

So is this a sign of some wonderful new cultivar or breeding programme for manuka? Could be, the scientists are up to all sorts of things with manuka breeding and research at the moment.

A strange blip of nature? - although there were plenty of bushes not just the one.

Or a sign of a messed up year weather-wise?

Well, the MetService, bless their hearts, do a monthly summary. Here's what they said about May:

A look back at May

May was extremely mild across the country, due to the combination of frequent northwesterlies and warmer than usual seas around the country. The first half of the month was exceptionally warm, and even with the wintry end to the month, many new May temperature records were set. It was the warmest May on record for five of the six main centres (Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington and Christchurch), with Dunedin observing its third warmest May. The frequent northwesterly winds produced extreme rainfall for the West Coast of the South Island - it was the wettest May on record for Hokitika (579mm of rain observed) and Milford Sound (1338mm). It was also wet for Nelson, parts of Southland, Otago and south Canterbury, and the southwest North Island.

And here is April

Looking back at April

April was extremely sunny, very warm and rather dry for many regions of the country. The culprit was once again blocking high pressure, which has been dominant in the New Zealand region since the start of 2016. However, April was the first month in which we saw intermittent pauses in the high pressure, allowing a couple of rain makers to sneak in. However, given the time of year, these were infrequent compared to the norm. Northwesterly winds prevailed over the lower South Island.

Nelson experienced its sunniest April on record, while Wellington recorded its third sunniest April (equating to one-in-thirty-year April sunshine totals). Above average temperatures throughout New Zealand were seen for the fourth month running, with temperatures typically 1.0 - 1.5C above usual. Southland was a stand-out, with temperatures 2C above the April average and the second warmest April on record for Invercargill. Most of the country recorded rainfall around half of April normal, with the exception of the southwest South Island (normal to wet) and Whitianga, which copped localised downpours on the 17th under a narrow band of rain.

So maybe it is the weather after all.

Which all begs the question, is it strange weather in part from climate change? And can we expect more of this in years to come? Probably, I'm picking.

How to grow manuka trees from seed

Our easiest-ever method to grow manuka trees

I've mentioned before about how we grew manuka trees for our bees and how we grew them from seeds when we were starting.

 Manuka seedlings

Manuka seedlings

 Manuka seedlings

Manuka seedlings

 

Now we've got our system refined, here is an update on the method we have found to be the easiest for growing them from seed:

1. Collect seeds off a variety of different manuka trees. Ours were from south Auckland and Whangarei, and I made sure I picked them from several different looking trees. That way you are more likely to have genetic diversity, and to extend the flowering season.

2. Pick the pods off when they look dry-ish. These are the bits that the flowers turn into. So sometime late summer to autumn.

3. We then dried them out, by putting them in a little dish on the kitchen window sill and leaving them till we were ready for the next bit. Months for some of them, just a month or 2 for others. Depends what else you have got going on. We just put the whole seed head in the dish, and as they dry the seeds fall out. But you can also crush them a bit and release the seeds when you are ready to plant.

4. When you feel like planting them, fill seed trays with seed raising mix, pat it down, and sprinkle the seeds over the top. They are very fine seeds so you don't need to cover them with mix. I pat them in a bit so the wind won't blow them away.

5. Gently water so they are moist.

6. Depending on what time of year you have sprinkled them, will depend how much of an eye you need to keep on them, to keep them moist but not soggy.

Now the magic bit is, that it doesn't really seem to matter what time you sprinkle them around. We did some in autumn, some in winter, and some in spring. They all basically got growing in spring. The autumn ones did a bit of a spurt before winter, so this would be my preferred time, to get a head start.

But it all depends what else you have on your plate. It's better to do them in winter and actually get it done than to leave it till spring and find you are spending all your time out with the bees and not get it done at all. In my opinion.

And the whole thing is pretty flexible, when you pick the seeds, how long you dry them, and when you plant them. They just keep on going. It does affect the speed that they grow at though, and whether you can gain a year in the cycle. Remember that nature takes it course, there ain't no rushing it.

NZ Native Trees For Bees

I've been experimenting with native trees that have flowers that the bees will like. I've written before about manuka, but there are others that will round out the season. So these are the ones that I have planted so far:

Towai, weinmannia silvicola - will grow into a biggish tree. Flowers in spring.

Rewarewa, knightia excelsia, a forest giant, flowers in spring.

A Pittosporum Tenuifolium, that ubiquitous hedge plant from a while back, a medium sized tree, flowers from October - November. Makes a good wind break too.

  And a Five finger, pseudopanax arboreus,  has big leaves with 5 leaf bits per stem (surprise!), also a wind break type. Flowers June to August, so only for those hardy bees still out in the north.

A different type of pittosporum - tawhirikaro, quite small. 

And this, which is hard to see because it has tiny leaves, but it is a Putaputaweta, carpodetus serratus, also a medium sized tree, flowers spring to summer.

Ngaio, Myoporum laetum, 5m high.

Lacebark, Hoheria populnea, 5m high, flowers in autumn.

Lemonwood, Tarata, pittosporum eugenioides, flowers in spring, grows tall. There are several types of trees called Lemonwood, so check for the right one.

Kowhai, sophora tetraptera, spring flowering.

Pohutukawa, the bees were all over this, flowers bang on Christmas (well, my one does).

I've also planted a whole lot of hebes, because I like them. Different types flower at different times, which is a bonus. Small and shrubby.

All these trees have flowers that the birds and bees enjoy. And they all grow quickly, or quickly-ish, for trees. I also had a native fuscia, but it died (not enough watering), but I think would do well too. I can't report back on whether they work yet though, they aren't big enough to flower.

If you want to see how they looked a year ago when I planted them, check out my previous posts.

 

Manuka Trees for Bees

We've been experimenting a lot this year with growing food trees for the bees. The most obvious plant to grow, in NZ anyway, is manuka - Leptospermum scoparium. Manuka honey has many healing and health benefits, is the most delicious I think, and also is highly sought after (so sells for a premium).

I've posted before about our efforts

Growing Manuka Trees from seeds and cuttings 

 but here is an update with what we have learned since then.

1. Cuttings go much faster than seeds

2. Cuttings are best in spring to get maximum growth in one seasonal cycle, although our autumn ones worked pretty well - they're the big ones at the back (conveniently obscured by the nikau frond)

3. Cuttings take a bit of effort at the beginning

4. Seeds are really easy to begin

5. Seeds need warm for them to germinate

6. Seeds are more effort in the long run because you have to pot up a few times, and a bit annoying (yaarrrrgh!) when there are differing sizes of seedlings in the seed trays. Thanks to Bee Grandad for his patience with all the big and little ones.

7. We've moved our baby plants to a semi shaded area - previously they were in full sun, and they started getting a bit stressed as summer progressed. They're doing much better now.

8. You don't want to put them in too big a pot, we've gone up to PB2s as ideal, before you plant - too big a hole to dig then

9. When planting we think we will dig a small but deep hole using a auger. Note I haven't tried this yet, and its looking like this first experimental batch will be about 3000 seedlings, so it might get old really quickly. Dipping boxes might seem like a walk in the park compared to this! Also, exactly WHERE is a moot point at this time, 3000 trees needs some serious real estate. Might have to jam them in to Bee Man's already full bush. Don't really want to leave the big ones another year because then they

will

 be stressed. Or me, one or the other...

10. Planting really needs to happen as soon as it starts to be consistently wet in autumn I think, which will give them maybe 9 months before they hit the hot summer. Typically you would be planting somewhere where there is no watering supply.

Manuka is well adapted to being off on its own, colonising the bare and barren soil, it is a classic nursery crop - nursery for all those other baby trees that happen afterwards I guess. But in the wild the plants start as seed then the tiniest seedlings, so sticking plants straight in needs some strategising. Their lovely fine needle leaves fall on the ground and create excellent mulch, so they enrich the soil for the next generation of forest giants that come along naturally. Or so I read, and it seems plausible.

Clevedon Markets and flowers for bees

The Clevedon Markets is always a good Sunday morning out. One of my favourite stalls is this plant stall. And now they have a specific 'Plants for Bees' section, so no thinking required either.

This week I bought some summer savory for all my broad beans, and a lavender bush. Both of which will have lovely flowers, and taste and smell good too. Plenty of other plants to tempt me next Sunday too. 

I think bees like just about any pollen or nectar producing plant, which covers quite a range. I was admiring a busy bee just loaded down with pollen today, rummaging around in a few roses in someone's front garden. Its amazing just how much they can carry on their legs, and still fly.

Lots of other great things to indulge in, at the markets too, this week we had a fabulous homemade iceblock. Along with the usual coffee and breakfast.

Growing Manuka Trees from Seed and Cuttings

We've been experimenting with growing plants for bees. There are plenty of plants that have flowers that bees love. And lots of lists of good ones too. But we need ones that will produce excellent honey, as well as thrive in our country and climate. And then there is the need to grow quickly enough to make it all worthwhile. Some forest giants produce excellent bee flowers but you need to wait for so long for them to get going (although I do wonder how high a bee likes to fly to get to the flowers - might need to research this too).

The big honey-producing flowering plants in NZ is manuka and kanuka. So this is our first plant experiment.

Here they are in autumn at the beginning of the year. These ones (microscopic) are from seeds that we collected from manuka and kanuka trees. These little plastic trays are not that great, they all blow around in the winter winds, and break apart from each other. Probably they are best to save if you have a glasshouse operation.

No glasshouses here though, the outdoor dining table and chairs are covered in potted up seedlings. These ones are from cuttings, they seem to get more growth on than the seeds, but are more time intensive making the cuttings, and there is an amount that conk out before they get to this stage.

Potting, potting, potting. You do need to continually be on to the potting up - moving them into bigger and bigger pots, before they become too root bound. Good thing it is immensely satisfying then.

When we got over the little pots (the first pic) we tried out seed trays. These do work better, but you do need to be vigilant to potting up as their roots all start to get inter-tangled.

Look at this - babies not so long ago, they've got spring-powered rocket juice under them now! Some of them are lovely and bushy too. These are the cuttings (I think, but they have been moved around so much the system has rather lost the history of each plant, so an inconclusive experiment then...)

Isn't this just the most satisfying sight? Growing something from nothing (except quite a lot of sweat). Still got to dig the holes to plant them though, might be busy that day!