News article

First Responders!! - Ensuring the success of your planting project

Our own property and Bushy Point is a good place to see native plant restoration in action. The aim is to turn paddock into bush and the best way to do that, in our experience, is to use the species that nature would choose to do that job, naturally. “First Responders” or “Nursery Species” have a role, and that is to prepare the way for the dominant species that will eventually grow in that site – ie the totara, rimu, kahikatea, miro, matai that in hundreds of years will be the forest of the future. In essence that means planting first the native species that grow fast, tolerate full sun, wind and frost, shade out the grass, and produce flowers and seed that bring in the insects and birds to spread more seed into the gaps that have been formed. That can be done without even planting any of the canopy species with the expectation that those species will come in eventually. Also, when the ground has been prepared like this, ferns and a wider variety of species will also come in, with birds assistance.

The first responders we use most in Otatara (and Southland generally) are – harakeke (flax, Phormium tenax), manuka (Leptospermum scoparium), broadleaf (Griselinia littoralis), mingimingi (Coprosma propinqua), cabbage tree (Cordyline australis), kotukutuku (tree fuchsia, Fuchsia excorticata), makomako (wineberry, Aristotelia serrata) Kohuhu (black mapou, Pittosporum tenuifolium), tarata (lemonwood, Pittosporum eugenioides), Koromiko (Hebe salicifolia), shining karamu (Coprosma lucida). You might think these are “boring” common species to use but they stand the test of time and almost guarantee success, if you use them in the right place. Most have very attractive flowers, often scented, or full of nectar to attract native birds to your area. See over for photos of the flowers and fruit of the above species.

Right plant right place

You will probably notice that the seedlings that land in your garden often seem to do better than those that you plant in a certain place. Different plants have different ground requirements. All of the above species will tolerate sun, wind and frost but whether the ground is “wet” or “dry” will determine success to a large extent. Bushy Point has two distinct forest types – dry totara forest on sand dunes (summer dry/drought prone), and kahikatea swamp forest on seasonally wet peaty soils. You will notice that in wetter areas we have planted flax, toetoe, mingimingi, manuka, and cabbage tree and the drier areas broadleaf, kohuhu, lemonwood, koromiko and karamu. Fuchsia and wineberry like a mixture. We do plant some totara in dry places, and kahikatea in wet places but we largely expect that the birds do that job for us, dropping seeds into both areas and the trees suited to those areas will thrive. It is also worth noting that a very wet area can be “dried out” by planting wet tolerant plants, making the ground more suitable for a wider range of species over time. It is also expected that when the trees grow high enough to shade the flax, the flax will die out as they are not shade tolerant, creating gaps for other species to establish. These gaps provide sites for plants such as pate (seven finger, Shefflera digitata) and other shade tolerant plants and ferns will form in the understory – without us having to plant them. There is lots of advice including plant lists and plant tolerances on the Community Nursery website at

Additionally, as well as using the best species, it is always good to prepare the site pre-planting (spray or mulch the planting spots) and protect the plants from wind and browsing by using combi-guards of varying sorts.

We are also happy to talk to you about your particular site and visit to give advice if needed. Remember that locally sourced plants are best adapted to the local environment. Restoring new areas of native forest gives a great sense of satisfaction and in some ways helps amend for past forest clearance, but protecting older growth forest first is always the top priority.

Chris and Brian Rance

Example table below from the Community Nursery website -