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Growing Waratahs

The New South Wales Waratah, Telopea speciosissima is a large, long-lived shrub or tree that generally grows to 3m in height.

After fires, which are common in its natural habitat, a Waratah can regenerate from a 'lignotuber' - a woody swelling of its stem that lies partly or wholly under the ground.

Cultivation

Waratahs should be planted at least 1.5m apart, or into very large pots, in a partially shaded area that is able to receive morning sun.

Regular watering is necessary and mulch soil with compost leaf should be used to prevent roots drying out. It can be beneficial to mound up topsoil - up to 50cm high - and to incorporate leaf mulch into the soil.

We suggest fertilising with a low-phosphorus slow-release fertiliser or 'blood and bone' in late winter or early spring.

Cultivated Waratahs require heavy pruning once established, as well as pruning off any weak stems.

About 3/4 of the plant should be removed immediately after flowering to reinvigorate the plants. New shoots should flower the following year.

Propagation

The easiest way to propagate waratahs is from seed - the fresher, the better - but it is also possible to strike them from cuttings.

Seedling plants take about five years to flower. Cuttings may only take two years.

Seed pods take about six months to mature at which time they turn brown and split open. Seeds are winged for wind dispersal and there may be more than 250 seeds on one flowerhead in a good year.

Flowering

Waratahs flower over a six-week period over spring in the Sydney region. They will flower later in cooler areas.

The size and shape of the blooms can vary considerably as can the range of naturally occurring colours, although the majority are red and pink.

A commercially available white variety, known as 'Wirrimbirra White', is not a true white but a creamy yellow or greenish colour.

The main pollinators of waratahs are birds, which are attracted by the copious amounts of nectar and bright colours.

Bract Browning

Bract browning occurs prior to waratah harvest and is caused by direct sun exposure.

Considered to be the most serious impediment to the development of an export market for the product. We suggest using a shade cloth to protect plants from light damage.

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