Sensitive waratahs love some shelter from the afternoon sun

PERHAPS one of the most spectacular of all Australian native flowering plants is the floral emblem of New South Wales, telopea speciosissima.

The Aboriginal name for Telopea is waratah, and it is by this name that it is most commonly known. The leaves are large and leathery, and may have irregular serrations on the edges. The new growth on the dark flowering forms often has some dark tones.

Some beautiful hybrid forms of the telopea have been developed in recent years. The Shady Lady series is a cross between Telopea speciosissima x T. oreades. These plants only grow to about 3m tall by 1.5m wide, so there's room for one even in a small garden.

Their long-lasting flowers appear from late winter into spring. They will sometimes produce some flowers in autumn, too. The red and crimson forms make a spectacular wind break, whereas the white and yellow forms prefer a bit more protection. All do best in full sun or semi-shade, and are bird attracting.

Waratahs prefer a well-drained position with plenty of air circulation, and full to partial sun. The Shady Lady waratahs will appreciate a position which is protected from the hot afternoon sun. The soil pH should be slightly acidic, around 6.5-7. They prefer a sandy loam, so if your soil is a bit on the clay side, improve it before you plant. Mound it up, digging in compost and gypsum, but no fertiliser. Mulch well to help keep the soil moist, reduce weed growth, and keep the surface roots cool. Waratahs are not as drought tolerant as some other native plants, so you'll need to water during particularly hot or dry spells.

Like all other members of the proteacae family, waratahs are very sensitive to phosphorous, so make sure you use a fertiliser which is safe for native plants. Don't plant them in old flower beds that may contain residues of other fertilisers. The amount of phosphorous in normal fertilisers and potting mixes can quickly kill phosphorous-sensitive plants.

Waratahs will grow well in a large pot, at least 250mm in diameter. They have a relatively wide and deep root structure so a pot which has a diameter about equal to the pot height will be ideal. Avoid tall, slim pots and shallow bowls.


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