Name: kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos species and hybrids).
Plant type: clump-forming, evergreen perennial.
Height: varies with variety, from less than 50cm to more than 1.5m.
Foliage: long, strappy leaves around 2cm wide.
Climate: frost-free. Warm temperate, protected micro-climates in cold temperate. Some varieties suitable for sub-tropical.
Soil: most varieties require free-draining soil, however some can tolerate clay.
Position: full sun to part shade.
Flowering: mainly spring, some year-round.
Feeding: annually with a controlled-release fertiliser balanced for native plants.
Watering: regular and reliable watering during peak growth times.
The catalogue of Australian native plants is filled with some botanical oddities, but the kangaroo paw stands out for both its beauty and its uniqueness. From among the handsome foliage, tall flower spikes emerge bearing tubular, velvety flowers in virtually every colour of the rainbow. While not the easiest plant to grow, this beauty is certainly worth the effort.
All varieties of kangaroo paw have a similar appearance, with the major differences being in overall size and flower colour. The plants form a clump of foliage, with leaves that are typically long and thin (only a couple of centimetres wide), quite leathery and deep green. As they age they tend to droop a little. From this clump emerge the tall flower spikes. These may rise to just slightly above the foliage, or they may tower to 3m or more.
Don't be surprised if your kangaroo paw flower colours differ from the label or even from year to year. Intensity of colour can change with temperature. The colours are stronger in cooler times, and the level of sunlight affects colour too.
Kangaroo paw can be used in a variety of ways, including:
There is great variation in requirements between the different kangaroo paw species and hybrids, so you will need to check the label carefully. As a rough rule of thumb, you can expect your kangaroo paw to prefer:
Sunlight: full sun to part-shade.
Soil: good drainage with reliable moisture.
Aspect: protection from strong and drying winds is desirable, but not essential.
Growing kangaroo paws in the garden
Very little soil improvement is required. Simply dig a planting hole to twice the pot size and open the soil up by turning it over.
Growing kangaroo paws in pots
Many people find that they get the best results from the newer, smaller hybrids when they are grown in pots. This is because it is much easier to manage watering. When growing your kangaroo paw in a pot, follow these tips:
Use a premium free-draining potting mix that is tailored for Australian natives.
Don't put a saucer underneath the pot.
Monitor watering needs daily in hot weather.
Some varieties of kangaroo paw are short-lived (under two years), while others, particularly the tall A. flavidus x hybrids, can thrive for over 20 years. This means maintenance requirements vary widely between the different species and hybrids. Read the label and retain it for future reference.
Watering is the biggest challenge with kangaroo paws. The aim is to provide reliable moisture, especially during times of peak foliage and flower growth, without them becoming wet. There is a widely held, mistaken belief that the kangaroo paw likes dry conditions. While many will tolerate occasional periods of dryness, and this is in fact desirable across the cooler months, they will not thrive if they are not adequately watered while in their growth stages.
An annual application of a quality native-safe controlled-release fertiliser is all that's really required. If you like, this could be supplemented occasionally with a liquid, organically fortified product during peak growth and flowering times.
Remove any leaves that are looking damaged or diseased. The larger or tall varieties grow from a substantial rhizome (like a fleshy root structure) that is often partially visible above ground. After flowering has finished and foliage is looking tired you can cut these right back to ground level (avoiding damage to the rhizome). Professional growers will actually run a lawn mower over large, old clumps!
Remove flowers as they finish. Trim the stems off down near the base. Some of the smaller hybrid forms can keep flowering almost year-round, and regularly removing stems will help encourage more blooms. When you trim the flower stems, take the leaves associated with each stem, as this encourages new foliage too.
The taller forms tend to have a single, annual short-flush flowering period. To extend this flowering time, trim off the top third to half of the flower stem as the flowers start to open. This will trigger small buds lower down the stem into flowering. And don't throw away the cut tops. They'll look brilliant in a vase indoors.
The major problems a kangaroo paw is likely to encounter are fungal disorders. Most of these can be avoided by ensuring the soil is appropriate for the variety you plant, and through watering appropriately.
For problems such as crown rot, where the plant rots away at soil level, the sensible option is to remove and destroy the plants. It’s advisable to avoid planting back into the same area for at least a couple of months. In the mean time, improve soil drainage by adding organic matter and gypsum.
For plants affected with ink spot disease (caused by Alternaria alternata), remove the affected foliage and gently feed plants to help them recover. Alternatively, look for varieties resistant to ink spot.
Leaf rust appears as surface spotting with clearly visible fungal lumps on the leaf underside. This can be treated. Talk with a plant care specialist in your local nursery.
Kangaroo paw can be propagated through either division or seed. Division can be used on taller varieties that form a distinct rhizome—this can be divided up when large enough.
Most varieties will not produce seed, however some specialist seed companies do sell species form packet seed.
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