Growing Proteas

Proteas are native to southern Africa and belong to the same family of plants (the family Proteaceae) as the Australian-grown banksias, grevilleas and waratahs. 

The family Proteaceae i was one of the earliest groups of flowering plants,dispersing and diversifying throughout Gondwana before the supercontinent disintegrated. With about 1600 species, it is a dominating plant group through the southern hemisphere floras. 

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 and this fact sheet gives clues on how to grow these fascinating and beautiful plants.

Selecting Proteas

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

Soil requirements

Most Proteas prefer soils that are well-drained and acidic and we suggest to avoid heavy clay soils, as they need good drainage for healthy root growth. 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.

Planting Proteas

We recommended planting inautumn 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.

Fertilising Proteas

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.

Watering Proteas

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.

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.

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.

Proteas as pot plants

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