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Plant type Shrubs

Best uses

This is an excellent plant for the garden and an outstanding and long-lasting cut flower. It can be used in African themed plantings along with other African species of ericas and restios or used in coastal plantings. There are many different hybrids available that all make great garden plants.

Physical characteristics

An evergreen shrub growing to around 1.5-2m tall and 1.5-2m wide.

Flowers and foliage

A fairly long flowering protea producing large flowers varying in colour from creamy-green through silvery pink to deep carmine which are produced throughout the winter months. A 'beard' of purple-black to pure white hairs sets off the colour of the inner bracts. Protea neriifolia has quite hard leathery leaves which are elongated and elliptical with smooth edges and a leathery hard surface texture.
As the days shorten and temperatures cool in autumn and winter the leaf edges blush red or rosy pink.

Preferred site

Proteas can be grown in a climate with wet winters and dry summers as well as in a climate with dry cold winters and wet summers even withstanding light but brief frosts. Open sunny positions with good air movement are beneficial as they can occasionally keel over with too much humidity. The soil must be well-drained loam and moderately infertile. Most proteas perform better in acidic soil with a pH below 6. The soil must be fast draining and porous as moist soils encourage fungal diseases. Established plants are tolerant of light frost and drought conditions.

Preparation for planting

Always choose healthy well-grown plants and plant after autumn rains. Shrubs may be planted at any time throughout the year provided they are watered during dry periods. Planting success is often improved on clay soils by adding extra topsoil and forming raised beds. Incorporate coarse sand, bark, compost or other organic material to improve soil structure. Planting after autumn rains when the soil is moist and warm allows shrubs to become established before winter. This enables them to withstand dry periods during the following summer. Before planting ensure the root ball is saturated and remove the planter bag or pot with minimal root disturbance. Trim any broken roots and plant at the same level as in the container. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the root ball and firm in and water once planted. As soil is placed in the prepared hole tread firmly to bring soil in close contact with the root-ball. Make sure plants are watered well until established if planting in a drier period. Plant with some general slow release fertiliser and then every spring apply an organic based fertiliser such as blood and bone at a handful per square metre as new growth begins. Planting too closely leads to spindly growth poor flowering and eventual decline so be sure to leave plenty of room.

Do not allow plants to dry out. Once established in your garden they will survive long periods of drought. Plants grow well in average well-drained soil. Small young plants are easier to establish than larger more mature ones and will grow quickly when planted in autumn when soil is moist and warm.

This plant is sensitive to phosphate therefore never apply fertilisers containing superphosphate or plant in soils which have received superphosphate within the last five years. Avoid cultivating near plants as their roots are easily damaged.

Maintenance tips

Apply mulch annually this will help suppress weeds and keep the soil cool. Proteas prefer to have a mulch of stones opposed to a heavy mulch which may hold too much moisture. Feed annually in spring with a balanced fertiliser such as blood and bone at a handful per square metre in spring as new growth begins.

Pruning of proteas doesn't just give you a nice bunch of flowers but helps keep the plant bushy and lush. Proteas will generally branch well naturally but can still be pruned to shape this is best done after flowering. Remove spindly and crowded stems up to half of the length of current vigorous stems. This can improve the appearance of the plant and promote the growth of next seasons flowering wood. Older plants can get woody and unattractive with short side shoots so to keep plants in shape and prune to encourage the development of new shoots and long stems.

If newly planted plants are located in cooler situations it may be a good idea to cover with frost cloth on particularly cold nights for the first winter as young plants can be susceptible to frost damage.

Plants require good watering in winter and moderate watering in summer. Do not allow plants to dry out but once established in your garden they will survive long periods of drought.

Ecological and biodiversity benefits

Attracts beneficial pollinators.

Pests and diseases

Protea neriifolia has quite hard leathery leaves which protect it against insect damage except for leaf borers. Like all proteas the most harmful and destructive diseases are fungal. Most losses occur during the summer months when a virulent root fungus Phytophthora can attack the plants. The best methods of control are cultural i.e. water the plants early in the morning; keep the soil surface cool by mulching; remove diseased plants immediately; do not overwater in summer and prune and remove diseased material and improve soil drainage.

Location at Auckland Botanic Gardens

African Garden

Interesting facts and tips

This plant was first discovered in 1597 was illustrated in 1605 and has the distinction of being the first protea ever to be mentioned in botanical literature. It took quite a while before it was officially recognised as a distinct species by botanists, and it was only described and named in 1810. Enthusiastic horticulturists in the meantime had already succeeded in growing it in glasshouses in Europe. In 1811, an illustration of a plant grown to flowering size in the Herrenhaus Gardens in Germany was published. During the early nineteenth century, it was possible to buy cream or pink flowering plants from a nursery in England and could be found in many private collections.

It is a very widespread species and occurs from sea-level to 1300 m altitude in the southern coastal mountain ranges from just east of Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. It grows mainly on soils derived from Table Mountain Sandstone often in large stands.