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Pink flowering waratah plants
Few Australian flowers are as instantly recognisable as the waratah, which makes a spectacular addition to any garden. The bright red flowers in spring not only attract birds, but also give you gorgeous cut flowers.

What you need to know about waratah

Name: Waratah, Telopea speciosissima.

Height: typically 3–4m high × 2m wide when fully grown. Dwarf forms to 1m are available.

Foliage: evergreen, wide, dark-green leaves.

Climate: cold temperate, warm temperate, frost hardy to –12.

Soil: deep, free-draining sandy loam soils with adequate moisture. Will struggle and die on poorly drained soils.

Position: morning sun, or dappled shade under trees with roots shaded. Protect from strong winds, especially during flowering.

Flowering and fruiting: striking large flowerheads in spring, with each including hundreds of individual flowers. Prune after flowering to encourage new shoots.

Feeding: feed with a low-phosphorus slow-release fertiliser for natives or with blood and bone in late winter.

Watering: water young trees regularly while they establish and for the first summer. Older trees may need watering in very dry periods.

Appearance and characteristics of waratah

There are several varieties of waratah available, in a range of colours. The most common variety of waratah is the red showy New South Wales waratah. There are new varieties in red, pink, yellow, white, and creamy white with a green centre, which grow from 1–4m tall. Look for varieties such as ”Brimstone Blush”, “Shady Lady” or “Golden Globe”. Many of these will grow in pots.

Close up of a pink waratah flower against a black background

Uses for waratah

Waratah is a showy garden specimen attracting a wide variety of nectar-eating birds and, in some areas, pygmy possums. It’s great for cut flowers, and cutting the flowers helps to prune and maintain the shape of the plant.

How to plant and grow waratah

Choose a sheltered spot in the garden that gets the morning sun. The soil should be loose and sandy—dig a hole and fill it with water, then time how long it takes to drain away. If it takes more than two hours, it’s not suitable. You can improve drainage by building a mound or a raised bed at least 50cm high and incorporating rich compost, or you can plant on a slope. Make sure you dig over an area about 1m wide around where you intend to plant. This will help the roots spread and penetrate the soil.

Gently tease the plant out of the pot, being careful not to disturb the roots too much. Place the plant in the hole and cover it up to the level it was in the pot. Mulch well with gravel, sandstone or leaf litter, then water with a seaweed or fish emulsion fertiliser.

If your soil has too much clay and gets waterlogged, some waratah varieties are great for pots. Fill a large pot with a good-quality native plant potting mix. Make sure your pot is well-drained, so it’s not waterlogged. Both waterlogging and letting your pots dry out will kill your waratah.

Caring for waratah

Part of the delight of growing waratah is the cut flowers it provides. Cut the flower stems by half to three-quarters of their length. This will help your plant produce even more flowers next spring. Mulch to help keep the roots moist and cool, and to prevent competition from weeds.

It’s important not to overwater your waratah, as this can lead to fungal problems, particularly around the roots. The best watering method is trickle irrigation under your mulch. Water deeply every couple of weeks during the growing season, then don’t water at all in late autumn and winter.

Feed in spring with blood and bone or a slow-release fertiliser that’s low in phosphorus and specially formulated for native plants for strong growth and plenty of flowers.

How and when to prune waratah

Cutting flowers provides regular pruning. In the wild, waratah is naturally pruned by fire, so after 8–10 years, cut yours back to the base to mimic this natural pruning. Prune after flowering to waist height to have flowers at eye level next spring.

Diseases and pests affecting waratah

The major disease affecting waratah is root rot, which is usually caused by the fungus Phytophthora cinnamomi. Perfect drainage will stop this from occurring. In some areas, scale insects can be a problem. In this case, spray with pest oil following the instructions on the label. Bud and stem borer can cause damage to flower buds—Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is an effective control.

How to propagate waratah

Although waratah is easy to grow from seed, to ensure you get the same variety, you need to grow it from cuttings. Take cuttings about 15cm long with 4–6 leaves from new spring growth. Dip each cutting into fungicide and root hormone gel. Place into pots filled with seed-raising mix, then place the pot in a warm place. In about six months you’ll have roots. You can plant out your cuttings in autumn.

If you like this then try

Grevillea: available in all shapes and sizes, this popular garden plant attracts birds and insects, providing year-round interest.

Clematis: an easy-to-grow climber with showy flowers in a variety of sizes and colours.

Bottlebrush (Callistemon): a woody native shrub or small tree that will attract nectar-eating birds and insects. 

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