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Growing flannel flowers
General planting and care
Flannel flowers Actinotus helianthi are shallow rooted plants with relatively brittle stems that require excellent drainage as well as protection from strong winds to avoid branch breakage. They have a relatively high fertiliser requirement and respond well to tip pruning following the flowering period.
Older leaves on lower areas of stems will naturally die off and stay attached to the plant during the cooler months of the year.
Flannel flowers can be grown in either full sun or partial shade and tolerate light frost once established.
Planting bed and media
A position with very good drainage should be selected. This can be achieved by providing a raised bed. For example, at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan, flannel flowers have been successfully grown in a mix of 40% coarse sand, 40% well composted pine bark and 20% loam. A moderately acid soil mix with a pH of 5.0 to 6.0 is advised.
Species of Actinotus are particularly sensitive to root disturbance and this should be avoided during the transplantation process. Recommended plant spacing is 0.5 to 1.0 m.
Avoid wetting the foliage to minimise possible fungal problems. Monitor watering during the warmer months of the year. Flannel flower leaves will ‘clasp’ the stem prior to wilting when in dire need of water.
For best results it is suggested that the fertiliser program consist of 3-4 month slow release fertiliser with micronutrients e.g. Osmocote plus. Supplemental applications of a complete liquid fertiliser at 2-3 weekly intervals will assist with plant health.
Trials are presently underway at the Australian Botanic Garden using flowering formula liquid fertilisers to establish if any benefit can be gained from their use.
Organic mulch to a depth of 75 mm assists with moisture retention and temperature control in the root zone. Avoid contact with stems to minimise possible fungal problems.
Tip pruning after flowering is advised to create a bushier plant with increased flowering sites for the following season. Persistent dead leaves can be hand removed to assist in fungal control.
Pests and diseases
When planted in garden beds Fusarium can become a major problem, with plant death resulting. Plants with good root systems are less susceptible to Fusarium. Avoid planting out root-bound plants and minimise root disturbance.
Flannel flowers are quite susceptible to Botrytis during moist weather and should be monitored and treated with appropriate fungicide if necessary. Fungal problems can be minimised by avoiding foliage wetting during irrigation and by periodically removing dead leaves from lower areas of the stems to improve air circulation.
Flannel flowers can also be affected by leaf chewing caterpillars. Monitoring plants for evidence of insect frass should be carried out to avoid major pest infestation. Scale insects and mealy bug can also become a problem in crowded situations.
The Federation Flannel Flower is available for purchase in most good nurseries.