How to Grow and Care for Proteas

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Proteas are native to southern Africa and belong to the same family of plants (the family Proteaceae) as the Australian-grown Banksias, Grevilleas and Waratahs.

They are often seen as temperamental and difficult plants to grow, but the truth is that Proteas are relatively easy as long as you follow a few simple rules.

Selecting

Seek advice from your local nursery on which type of Protea grows best in your area.

Soil Requirements

Most Proteas prefer soils that are well-drained and acidic and we suggest to avoid heavy clay soils, as they need good drainage for healthy root growth. If you have a garden with heavy or clay soil, consider improving the drainage by using a free draining garden mix and either creating a raised garden bed (minimum height 12 to 18 inches / 30 to 45 cm) or installing underground drainage pipes.

Planting

We recommended planting in autumn or spring, allowing the Proteas to absorb as much sun as possible. For best results, allow plenty of space between plants for air to circulate and avoid planting any Proteas deeper than the surface level in the pot.

Proteas

Photo via apassionforflowers.blogspot.com

Fertilizing

We suggest avoided any use of fertilizer when planting out Proteas, as they have a specially adapted system of fine roots (called ‘proteoid’ roots) which will develop naturally to seek out available nutrients in the soil. For necessary fertilization during early stages of growth, use a local plant fertilizer – either a very mild solution of a soluble fertilizer or coated slow release pellets, with low or zero phosphorus. Maturing Proteas may also need fertilizing, especially if the type of soil in your garden is free draining.

Watering

Protea root systems must be kept lightly moist until the plants are well established (this can be up to 18 months or more). The frequency of watering will depend on soil type and climatic conditions, however mature Proteas only require deep watering once a week during dry spells, or once a fortnight during a dry winter.

Mulching and Weed Control

We suggest using natural mulches of around 4 inches (10 cm) thickness, such as leaves, wood chips or general shredded garden waste, as they help to retain moisture and look great in the garden. Avoid fresh young mulching materials which tend to draw nitrogen out of the soil as they rot, causing harmful fungi.
Be sure to keep mulching materials away from Protea stems as this may cause them to rot.

Pruning

Proteas can be lightly pruned during the first 12 months to give a good shape and to help them establish resistance to strong winds. Mature Proteas should not be severely pruned as this may permanently damage them.

Cut Flowers

We recommend cutting the flower stems as long as possible, ensuring that there is foliage remaining on the stem below the cut. Fresh cut flowers can be maintained by regularly cutting 0.4 to 0.8 inch (1 to 2 cm) off the bottom of the stems and frequently changing the water. For best results, add a quarter teaspoon of household bleach to every liter of fresh water.

For dried arrangements, flowers can be hung upside down in a dark place with some air circulation. This will help to retain more color and prevent the growth of mold.

Proteas as Pot Plants

It is possible to grow the smaller varieties of Proteas in containers using a coarse well-drained native potting mix and keeping the plants in a sunny position with plenty of air circulation. Avoid over-fertilizing or letting the container dry out.

Source: rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au

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