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Proteas and leucadendrons

The protea is a fantastic plant for year round colour.

Think proteaceae and you tend to think of the big furry-headed showy proteas - natives from South Africa. But the proteaceae family encompasses a long list of Australian natives (like the banksia) and even our own rewarewa.

Leucadendron salignumProteas and leucadendrons (a member of the same family) have delicate root systems, so when you are moving the plants around prior to planting, be sure to carry them by the bag and not the stem of the plant.

When planting, to stop the plant rocking around and damaging its root system, it pays to stake them - not in the conventional way by staking the stem, but by using the stake to create an artificial tap root. It is pushed into the ground butting up to the root ball.

ProteaBe aware that proteas can be killed by kindness.

On the whole they like well-drained, acidic soils that are fairly low in nutrients. They hate fertilisers which are high in phosphates, potassium and nitrates, but a bit of blood and bone once a year around spring will help to keep them in peak condition.

One good, deep watering once a week during dry spells in summer will help to establish a good root system.

Protea neriifoliaProteas love wind. Get the wind whistling around them and they'll thrive. They're a perfect coastal plant and will grow further down south - although they're not forgiving of the big frosts. Nothing much eats them, either, and they attract birds and bees.

The most common protea in our garden is the neriifolia. It is a fantastic plant which flowers almost all year round. But it's the winter when they're most valuable. And it's a good time to plant them right now.

Leucadendron are also very easy-care. The cut flower lasts for ever, and when that winter chill comes, that's when the colour really develops. You can get yellows, pinks and reds.

Banksia integrifoliaThe banksia is tough, hardy, and good for the birds. It is great for shelter by the coast, and has a whole range of flower colours and shapes.

If your proteas and leucadendrons become too tall and woody they run the risk of blowing over. The secret is to prune them quite heavily, but if they are cut too low down on the trunk it's highly unlikely the plant will shoot away.

So prune back to a point where there is active live growth. This will shorten the bush and will force new growth to emerge, which will mean you should be able to make a second cut in 12 months' time. Result - heaps of colourful bracts.

More on Proteas

Reproduced with permission from NZOOM Home and Garden content,
from the previous website of  TVNZ News

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the RNZIH

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Last updated: October 25, 2007