How To Grow Waratahs In The Garden

By: , Certified Urban Agriculturist
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Telopea speciosissima is more commonly known as the Waratah flower. It is indigenous to New South Wales in Australia. The plant is cultivated for the cut flower trade, as the blooms last an extraordinary long period after cutting. The flowers are also astoundingly beautiful, generally large, and deeply red, but other cultivars come in pink and white tones. Here are some tips on how to grow Waratahs.

Australia is home to a vast array of botanical species. Red Waratah, or Telopea, is one of the more spectacular. It is difficult to cultivate because of its specialized needs. However, it is widely grown in its native range, both as a crop flower and in home gardens. The plant is a member of the legume family and produces a woody, bean-like pod after flowering. 

About Telopea Speciosissima

The Waratah flower grows wild only in a small area outside Sydney. It blooms in spring over a period of six weeks. Telopea develops into a large shrub with slender, oval leaves of nearly 10 inches (25 cm.) in length with small teeth on the edges. The bush grows in sandstone, deep sand, or a sandy-loam mixture. Poor soils seem to suit the plant, but it does need sun to thrive and flower. Flowers are just under 4 inches (10 cm.) wide, round, and surrounded by bright bracts. While Red Waratah is the wild form, there are other hues available. Wirrimbirra White is probably the most noted of these, being bright white. Waratah is hardy only in zones without much freezing and generally warm annual temperatures. 

How to Grow Waratahs

Telopea is adaptable to many soil types, but prefers loose, well-draining, acidic, low fertility sites. A mixture of loam and sand is an excellent medium. Soil should be kept moist but never soggy. Select a site that can accommodate a plant that grows up to 13 feet (4 m.). This is a slow growing bush that will achieve its mature stature in 10 to 20 years depending upon site conditions. A south or west facing area is ideal, but in very hot climates, some shade protection in the heat of the day will prevent browning of the leaves and blooms. It will flower in spring and blooms are encouraged by deadheading

Waratah Care

Telopea is unbothered by most diseases and pests. Once established, prune 3/4 of the plant to form a dense shape. The heavy pruning doesn’t damage the plant due to a lignotuber, which holds many dormant buds ready to sprout. Cut flowers as needed or after they fade to promote more flowers. Once flowering is over, feed the shrub with a high phosphorus plant food. The species may be cultivated from cuttings which result in faster flowering, but seed is more reliable. Seedlings will flower in approximately five years, while cuttings can bloom in just two years. 

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