If you’re the type to stop and admire the wildflowers, this fluffy bloom will be very familiar. The protea plant is actually native to South Africa, but closely related to some good ol’ Australian flowers such as Banksias. Because of this, they share many of the planting and growing needs as Aussie natives, so they make great flowering plants in your garden!
If you’re wondering how to grow protea plants, you’re in luck. Here’s a short but handy guide on planting these stunning flowers in your home — whether outdoors, or in a pot.
Proteas are evergreens from the family proteaceae, similar to Banksias, Waratahs, and Grevilleas. They’re hardy, can tolerate high temperatures to medium frost, and subsist on less frequent watering once they’re established.
Protea flowers usually bloom from autumn to spring, putting on gorgeous displays as the season sets in. These goblet-shaped flowers commonly sport pink petals with ‘fluffy’ centres, but you can also find them in red and white, offering a vivid burst of colour in your gardens.
Types of Proteas
There are several varieties in the protea family, and which one you choose will depend on the colour and size you want for your garden — or for your indoor pots! Some options include:
1. King Protea
This is probably the best-known of proteas, flowering in spring. These ‘royal’ blooms can grow up to 30cm in diameter in mature plants. King protea is best grown in gardens and other outdoor spaces, since it can reach a height of 1.5m — and this way, it can have all the sunlight it needs to produce its signature pink blossoms.
2. Pink Ice
Another popular choice for protea flowers, the Pink Ice is the hardiest of all proteas. This low-maintenance plant is excellent for drier climates, since it doesn’t require much watering, but note that it can grow up to 2.5m! Its deep pink blooms emerge from autumn through winter, and make excellent cut flowers for indoor display.
3. Australis Ruby
The Australis Ruby has flowers in the colour of its namesake, with white-black feathery tips. It blooms during late winter through spring, and is ideal for those looking to grow proteas in containers or small gardens! This makes Australis good for cut flowers as well. If you have enough pink — try its sister flower, the Cream Mink!
4. Little Prince
If you have little room in your backyard for King Proteas — or want to grow them indoors — look for its little brother, the Little Prince. This is a more compact variety, reaching only 1.0m in height in cultivation, and grows well in containers. It flowers in autumn and spring, and can tolerate light frost and infrequent watering.
5. Protea Relatives
Though not actually members of the protea family, these all still fall under proteaceae and resemble their colourful cousins.
- Leucadendrons: Also called cone bushes, leucadendrons feature pinecone or tulip-shaped blooms and yellow-tipped leaves. These shrubs flower in autumn and winter. Common leucadendrons include Safari Sunset, or the larger Silver Tree.
- Serrurias: The Serruria ‘Blushing Bride’ features gorgeous cream-coloured flowers with a light dusting of pink — hence the name! If you plant them, though, know they only flower for a season or two, so enjoy their ethereal beauty while it lasts!
- Leucospermums: Known as ‘pin-cushion proteas’, leucospermums are shrub-like plants that bloom in a variety of colours, from bright yellows and oranges to deep pinks and reds. These are better-suited for more temperate climates, though, and dislike heavy rain.
When and Where To Plant Proteas
You can plant proteas year-round, but they’re best started in autumn or spring, so they have time to take in sunlight. They grow best in full sun with good air circulation, so give them a nice open location where they can flower. If you have a raised bed in your garden, all the better.
Proteas need free-draining soil to thrive, or they’ll wither at the root. Avoid heavy clay soils — instead, go for sandy or loamy soil with good drainage, or if you’re indoors choose native potting mix. Avoid fertiliser because of the protea’s adapted root system; if necessary, start them with very mild, slow-release fertiliser products, but mature plants will not need the boost!.
You can, however, mulch proteas! Use organic matter to help retain moisture in the soil — you’ll need to water less, too. Leaves, shredded bark, wood chips, and other natural mulch or compost will work best. Just make sure to keep your mulching material away from the stem when you layer!
How To Grow Proteas
If you have the garden space, then proteas make great screen plants and give your backyard colour through the winter. If not, you can grow them in a pot! Choose which method is best for your available space.
You can plant proteas from seed, but they’re easier to establish from cuttings or seedlings, so contact your local nursery for starter plants. They can also advise you on which variety is best for your garden based on soil conditions and pre-existing plants.
In the garden
- Choose a location that gets full sun. You can pre-prepare your garden with mulch to make sure it has the appropriate nutrients.
- Dig a hole twice as wide and the same depth as the root ball.
- Carefully remove the starter plant from its pot, taking care not to disturb the roots. Position it in the hole, then start filling it up with soil.
- Firm up the soil around the plant to ensure a good foundation. You can form a small ring of earth around the stem to help retain moisture — just don’t get too close to the stem! Mulch well afterwards.
- Water proteas regularly while they’re young — about once a week if it doesn’t rain. Check regularly if the ground dries out, especially in summer! When they’re mature, proteas only need watering when conditions are dry.
In a pot
- Choose a pot that is at least twice the size of your plant, to ensure the foliage gets enough circulation. Check that the pot has adequate drainage at the bottom, too!
- Fill the pot with coarse potting mix, then carve out a hole big enough for the root ball.
- Carefully transfer the starter plant into its new pot without disturbing its roots. Backfill the hole, then water well. Mulch the plant lightly.
- Keep the plants in a position with plenty of sun, and water regularly while they’re developing. Afterwards, just water enough so that the container doesn’t dry out.
Pruning and Cutting Proteas
While proteas are hardy plants that can survive a hard pruning, this can damage their foliage and hinder flowering. Instead, deadhead the plant after flowering by lightly removing spent flowerheads and a part of the stem. This will leave new growth behind for the next season.
Prune proteas lightly in spring and summer — and only cut back flowering stems. Trim your plant when the leafy growth starts to give them a good shape.
You can re-pot your proteas once a year, to change out their soil and ensure it’s not losing too much nitrogen.
Watch out for fungal problems, as this is a sign your plant is in too moist or too humid an environment. Make sure it gets good air circulation!
If you need help maintaining your plants, consult a professional gardener! They’re best-placed to show you how to grow proteas and take care of them. Then you can enjoy their vivid colour from dreary winter to vivid, blooming spring.