Waratah (telopea speciosissima)
Waratah (telopea speciosissima)

Natives show off plumes

LATE winter is one of the best times of year for lovers of native plants.

The wattles have been flowering for a while now; roadsides are aglow with their bright golden blossom.

The flowering of the wattle heralds the start of an extraordinary feast of native flowers and we'll be exploring these in the next few weeks.

Perhaps one of the most spectacular of all Australian native flowering plants is the floral emblem of NSW, Telopea speciosissima.

The Aboriginal name for telopea is waratah, and it is by this name it is most commonly known.

Some beautiful hybrid forms of the telopea have been developed in recent years.

The shady lady series, a cross between Telopea speciosissima and toreades, only grow to about 3m, so there's room for one even in a small garden.

Their long-lasting flowers appear from late winter into spring.

The red and crimson forms make a spectacular windbreak, whereas the white and yellow forms prefer a bit more protection.

All do best in full sun or semi-shade and are bird attracting.

Waratahs prefer a well-drained position with plenty of air circulation, and full to partial sun.

Protection from the hot afternoon sun is particularly desirable.

They prefer sandy loam, so if your soil is a bit on the clay side, improve it before you plant. Mound it up, digging in compost and gypsum, but no fertiliser.

Mulch well to help keep the soil moist, reduce weed growth and keep the surface roots cool.

Waratahs are not as drought-tolerant as some other native plants, so you'll need to water during particularly hot or dry spells.

Like all other members of the protea family, waratahs are sensitive to phosphorous, so make sure you use a fertiliser which is safe for native plants.

Don't plant them in old flower beds that may contain residues of other fertilisers.

The amount of phosphorous in normal fertilisers and potting mixes can quickly kill phosphorous-sensitive plants.

South African proteas are close cousins of our waratahs.

They too like good drainage and low phosphorous conditions, but they prefer full sun. There are so many varieties available, it can be hard to choose.

The king protea is one of the most popular, with huge white or pink flowers.

I love little prince, which gets a massive flower like the king protea but only grows to about a metre.

Another of my favourites is susara, which grows to about 2m and has a lovely ivory flower with soft pink blush. Special pink ice is the hardiest of all, and as lovely as the rest.

Many waratahs and proteas are well-suited to pot culture. Choose a tub at least 250mm or larger.

They have a relatively wide and deep root structure so a pot which has a diameter about equal to the pot height will be ideal. Make sure you use a premium native plant potting mix.


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