California Protea Management
Cultural Care
Home Page About CPM Protea History Flowers & Plants Cultural Care consulting Protea News


Caring for



Caring for Protea

The common names for different proteas promise extravagance, and proteas deliver. Their "flowers" (actually a head or cluster of long, narrow, tubular flowers, often surrounded by colorful petal-like leaves or bracts) come in unbelievable sizes, shapes, textures, and color ranges.

These bizarre plants are native to South Africa and Australia. Many people have never seen (or felt) a protea or tried growing one.

High Gold Leucospermum

But proteas are coming on scene. They're easier to find in nurseries, but you still must go to specialist nurseries to find more than three or four different kinds. More are on the way.

Growers in the West have just begun hybridization of these showoff bloomers. The reason? There's just not as much mystery any more (for commercial or home growers) as to why proteas suddenly turn suicidal. Keep them thirsty, not soggy, and they'll probably thank you with good growth and bloom.

Who can Grow Proteas?

One protea grower told us, "Neglect them!" Most members of this plant group do best where temperatures are moderate; they may tolerate extreme 100°f to 105°f for a day or two, but developing flower buds or new growth may be burned; give them a drink during these times. Below 25°f, most proteas will suffer damage ranging from leaf burn to death.

Give proteas a spot on a southwest- or southeast-facing slope with good drain age, except in hottest inland areas, where a north-facing slope would be cooler. Cooler locations will give more intense colors.

Plants should get full sun for at least six hours a day. They do best in an open location where air moves freely to moderate the temperatures.

Successful protea growers cite well-drained soil as the key to winning with these feisty plants. Proteas grow lateral roots near the surface, and water must not stand around those roots. Decomposed granite and other sandy-textured soils are ideal. Drip irrigation, or hose a basin but no overhead watering.

Most kinds of proteas do best in slightly acid soil (pH 5.5 to 7); some tolerate alkaline conditions (see chart).

Buying Proteas

At a nursery you can find proteas in container sizes from 2- inch to 5-gallon. Plants in 4-inch pots to 1-gallon cans have the best chance of surviving (they're young enough to adapt to new conditions but have root systems developed enough to sustain them through transplanting). Select protea with some new growth and healthy-looking leaves (not off-color or burned).

Protea are grown from seeds or cuttings. How do you tell the difference? It's tricky, so most gardeners rely on nursery staff to tell them. It's important to know. Proteus started from seed grow just leaves and branches for about two years or so, developing substantial size and shape before they bloom. It is impossible to tell exactly what the flowers or the plant shape of seedling proteas will look like; you might grow something new.

You know what you're getting with plants grown from cuttings: they'll be just like their parent plants. These plants bloom sooner- perhaps after a year or so in the ground- but they grow more slowly than protea started from seed.

Planting Proteas : Nothing too Tricky

Dig a hole about two or three times the diameter of the plant's pot and two or three times deeper. In poorly drained or slightly heavy soil, add some gypsum, organic material-fir bark, peat, or forest humus works best-to the planting hole and back-fill soil. Plant directly in well-drained soils. Keep the rootball intact, slightly above soil line, not in a basin.

Silver Tree Protea






Water to settle the soil around the roots, then spread a mulch such as pebble bark at least 1 inch deep around the plant, away from main stem. Since proteas develop best when their roots are cool, keep a thick layer of mulch around plants for at least two years or until plants are large enough to shade their own roots. Also, to keep very young plants cool, shade them with newspaper or a wire cage. Palm fronds are excellent.

A few kinds of proteas will grow and even bloom in large containers. If you don't have the right conditions in your garden. Try growing them in large tubs or pots. Where you can control soil type, drainage, temperature, and watering.

Early Care

Soil for Protea

Most of the difficulty in growing proteas probably results from over watering. Soil around roots must be slightly heavy soil, add some organic material; fir bark, peat, or forest humus works best; to the planting hole and back-fill soil. Plant directly in well- drained soils. Keep the rootball intact.

Compost for Protea

Water to settle the soil around the roots, then spread a mulch such as pebble bark at least 1 inch is permitted to dry out almost completely between watering or roots could rot. Check soil before watering; very young plants shouldn't dry completely. Check every three days when young.

Menziesii Protea

To stop gophers, consider lining the planting hole with chicken wire.

Freshly cut flowers will last two weeks or more in water. Change water daily, add 7-Up, and cut about 1/4-inch off stem ends every three of four days to lengthen their vase life or a floral preservative. To dry flowers, remove them from water when blooms are fully open and still fresh. Place them in a container or hang them in a bunch upside-down for two or three weeks.

Avoid dry fertilizers; they can burn sensitive roots. Seek professional advise before fertilization.

Insects don't seem to bother proteas. Deer and rabbits may browse on plants; protect young proteas with a wire cage. Remove after the first year. © 1997 - 2017
Ben Gill.
Contact Information
760-535-8499 |