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Growing Proteas

Proteas are native to southern Africa and belong to the same family of plants (Proteaceae) as Australia's native Banksias, Grevilleas and Waratahs. 

The family Proteaceae was one of the earliest groups of flowering plants, dispersing and diversifying throughout Gondwana before the break up of the supercontinent. With about 1600 species, it is a major plant group in many southern hemisphere floras. 

See Proteas at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah

For the best time to see Proteas in bloom, visit the Visitor Centre at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden in late autumn to winter. Protea plants can be purchased at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Shop.

Selecting Proteas for your home garden

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

Planting conditions

Most Proteas prefer soils that are well-drained and acidic and we suggest avoiding heavy clay soils. 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 30 - 45 cm) or installing underground drainage pipes.

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.

Irrigation

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.

Fertiliser

We suggest avoided any use of fertiliser 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 fertilisation during early stages of growth, use an Australian native plant fertiliser – either a very mild solution of a soluble fertiliser or coated slow release pellets, with low or zero phosphorus. Maturing Proteas may also need fertilising, especially if the type of soil in your garden is free draining.

Mulching and weed control

We suggest using natural mulches of around 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

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.

Fresh cut flowers can be maintained by regularly cutting 1-2 cm off the bottom of the stems and frequently changing the water.

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 1-2 cm off the bottom of the stems and frequently changing the water. For best results, add a quarter teaspoon of household bleach to every litre 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 colour and prevent the growth of mould.

Smaller variety Proteas are ideal for container gardening

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

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