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Growing Waratah (Telopea)


May 4, 2023


The Searles Gardening Team

The stunning red flower of the waratah is iconic, as an Australian flora and the state emblem of New South Wales.Waratahs are a group of small trees that are endemic to Australia, specific to cooler south-eastern areas. They are known as Telopea species, and not to be confused with the Queensland tree waratah, Alloxylon flammeum which grows in warmer regions.

Waratahs are a member of the Proteaceae family and follow many of the rules of this family.  Well drained soil is a must, wet feet are the most common reason for the home gardener to lose a new waratah plant.  As with other members of the family, they are sensitive to phosphorous, and it is imperative that they be planted in a low phosphorus native mix such as Searles Native Specialty Mix and only fertilised with a fertiliser sensitive to their needs, Searles Native Food. Never tease or disturb the roots of waratah when transplanting them, they have very sensitive roots, and this disturbance can cause the plant to dieback.  If you are unsure of your garden soil condition, then plant the Telopea by creating a mound.  This keeps the roots higher, similar to remedying citrus trees in heavy soils. Telopea do not like wet feet but do require regular watering. Do not let the soil completely dry out, especially when young or in the heat of summer. If they are in pots, remove the saucer to aid good drainage and not hold water.

When choosing a position for the waratah, it is wise to remember where they naturally grow, which is facing the morning sun and protected from harsh afternoon heat. They enjoy high air circulation around their branches, so do not over crowd them when choosing a planting position. Mulching is also important but never leave any against the trunk, as this can cause rot to set in on the trunk.

Pruning the plant after flowering serves a few purposes. It keeps them in a tidy shape and removes the spent flowers. If allowed to keep flowering, it will focus on producing seed at the expensive of plant development.  Waratah have adapted to Australia’s harsh climate and if in an area that is savaged by bush fires, they will sprout new shoots lower down the plant, and not be killed off. With this in mind, they are tolerant of being pruned back by a third when pruning.

With a little forethought they are a wonderful addition to the cooler regions’ gardens. Aside from being a striking garden plant, the waratah flower is used as a cut flower. With a little practice they can be grown by cutting or seed. If you strike them by cuttings then they should be a duplicate of the parent plant in flower and shape.