Most plants of the Proteaceae family, native to Africa, need to be pruned to keep them tidy and to encourage more flowers. This rule is especially true in the case of the Protea tribe.
Within this genus there are three main groups that we cultivate in our gardens. Protea cynaroides ‘King Protea’ and P. speciosa grow from lignotubers which are new shoots that come from the base of the plant. This allows the plant to regenerate from the base if damaged by animals, machinery or burnt by fire.
These two species don’t require pruning as each new shoot arising from the lignotuber will bear a flower. The flower can be cut or left to fully develop and then die naturally.
In both cases just cut the stem back to within 10 centimetres of the ground. This will encourage fresh new growth. These beautiful plants will live for up to fifty years in the garden.
The group containing P. nerifolia; repens; pudens; compacta; aura; longifolia; laticolour; punctata; lepidocarpodendron and cornonata all need tip pruning. New growth begins in September and March and this is the time to tip prune just before the new growth starts.
Tip prune for the first couple of years wherever the shoots have reached 20 to 30 centimetres without branching. Let the plants flower in the third year with no further tip pruning. Cut the flowers with a stem, leaving a bit of stem about 10 centimetres in length behind on the bush.
It is important to know that all the species mentioned in this group will send up shoots from just under the flower.
When picked for a cut flower, these stems are usually cut away. If the flower is left to die on the plant most gardeners will just remove the spent flower and leave these stems to grow.
This is the fastest way I know to finish up with a straggly bush. Cut off the dead flower by all means but leave only 10 centimetres of stem on the plant. The result of this cutting back will be a lovely, compact shrub with long-stemmed blooms.
The next group is made up of P. magnifica ‘Queen Protea’ and P. grandiceps.
These two develop their own branching thus tip pruning is not needed. Every now and then P. grandiceps will send up a single stem without any branches, so in this case, cut the shoot back by about 15 centimetres from the top.
The main task with this group is to remove the stems which tend to run out at ground level as well as any that grow downwards.
When picking flowers do so when the buds have just opened and put in a vase with no water and they should last for a long time.
Cultivation of Proteas
Proteas prefer a warm, frost-free, well-drained position and a mulch of leafmould or compost.
While proteas do not like excessive moisture, they must not be allowed to dry out at any time.
Proteas will generally strike from seven-centimetre cuttings taken in summer from well-ripened new growths.
Put into pots containing a mix of 1 part clean sharp sand and 1 part peat moss or leaf mould.
October 17: Australian Plant Society meets at Max Fry Hall on Gorge Rd, Trevallyn at 7.30pm. Mark Wapstra will be the guest presenter and visitors are most welcome.
October 21: Cherry Blossom Celebrations at the Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden at Romaine, Burnie from 10am to 3pm. Visit this world-renown garden and help celebrate the splendour of spring in all its glory. Garden opens daily from 9am to 5pm. Tea room open from 10am – 4pm.