The first time I ever saw one of these magnificently gorgeous King Protea flowers, Deb and I were honeymooning at Cape Lodge, near Margaret River. Proteas had been grown commercially in Australia for some time before that but most of them are exported internationally.
I had seen these flowers in flower arrangements that adorn cafe’s and restaurants but to see one growing in the wild was breathtaking. The picture here, although a close-up, does not give enough weight to how big these protea flowers can be. Imagine a small dinner plate and you’re coming close.
The protea family is a native to South Africa although Australia and California claim them as their own and market them quite successfully around the world (Australia can claim the banksia and waratah as their own proteacae). The genus consists of protea, waratah, leucadendron, leucaspermum, banksia, dryandra and serruria.
Why would you grow proteas?
Proteas are not usually great foliage plants apart from the leucaspermums and leucadendrons, the latter with colourful bracts rather than flowers. They are more sought after in gardens for their incredible flowers which look fantastic in the garden but are also renowned for their cut flower qualities, lasting between a couple of weeks and a couple of months.
The real selling point of King Protea flowers is their ability to keep their shape and most of their colour when they’re dried. Once they have been dried they can be kept indefinitely and will be a standout in any flower arrangement.
How do you grow a King Protea?
Another plus of proteas is that they are extremely hardy plants that have very little maintenance requirements and they’re low water users making them a great option for a xeisicaped garden. To produce the best protea flowers they need to be in full-sun and not underneath hanging trees that may drip water onto the flowers themselves.
They need a loamy soil that is more acidic (preferably between 5-6 pH) and that can drain freely. Proteas can be fertilised and this is probably best achieved by using a slow-release fertiliser as opposed to a liquid variety.
When and how to prune?
Pruning should begin in late-winter to early spring and really only needs to be done to retain the desired shape of your bush. Once your protea flowers, pruning may not be necessary as you start to cut these flowers either for your arrangements or because they’ve stopped looking their best.
When do proteas flower?
Leucadendron’s usually flower in their second year while proteas, banksias and waratahs flower in their third.