Proteas, Pincushions and Ericas

Proteas, Pincushions and Ericas

The wonder of our Cape Flora; the Proteas, Pincushions and Ericas, are not only for the visitors and tourists visiting the western corner of the Cape, a glimpse at a floral arrangement or some wishful dream while paging through pictures in a magazine.

The extraordinary richness and diversity of these plants are available to be successfully grown in your own gardens, to enjoy the tremendous beauty of the blooms on the bush and to pick the long-lasting flowers for your home. So let us see if we can, with some practical hints and tips give you the confidence to put this unique plant group into your landscape and ensure a successful addition to the garden.

In nature, this range of plants is best suited to an open sunny position with a very loose sandy, well drained, and almost poor soil.

The first thought that comes to mind is, “where on earth am I going to plant my new protea or pincushion?” The ‘earth’ or soil is where you will get started and the most important aspect of the soil is the drainage. A loose sandy mix is needed where the water can easily drain past the roots into the deeper subsoil. If you have a heavier clay soil, do not despair. Add in a generous measure of washed river sand to the soil you have removed to create the planting hole, and plant back with this mix. Also add some good organic compost to the soil as this will slow the rate of the water as it drains past the roots allowing for absorption and allowing the excess to drain lower down. The protea will then send deeper roots to look for this water.

Do not be nervous to containerize. A deep and large enough pot, with the correct soil mix and a working drainage layer; and you will have our national flower right on your patio. Add to all this a sunny position where the shrub will enjoy at least six hours of full sun per day, and you have done enough for a hugely rewarding bush.

I did mention that the proteas and pincushions enjoy a dry environment in which to prosper. This is however once the plant is well established and growing well in its new environment. At planting, water very well and keep watering regularly, at least twice a week. A deep watering is always preferable to a light sprinkling and if you are using an irrigation system, a drip or low spray is far better than the overhead watering. Wet leaves are an invitation to fungus diseases. Once the plant is well settled and the new roots have spread out, the plant will be happy with a good soaking once a week.

Proteas and pincushions begin to bloom in late winter and early spring. Flower production means that the plant will require more water. From early July make sure your plants are not in a drought situation as the flower buds will not begin to swell. A layer of rough mulch will help to keep the soil moisture from drying out to quickly; and will also act as a warming blanket against the worst of the winter cold and a cooling layer in the summer heat.

If pruning is required, it is only to keep the bushes neat and low enough so that the blooms can be picked without the help of a step ladder. When picking the blooms or removing the old flowers, cut the stems leaving about 10cm still on the plant. Old and weak branches should be removed to minimize the spread of pests and diseases. Well established plants will survive a light frost, but it is advisable to cover young plants for the first two winters.

The Protea family certainly lives up to its name’s sake, the Greek God Proteus who could apparently change his shape at will. Together with the pincushions and ericas and with so many shapes, colours, sizes and textures, they are indeed wonders of the floral kingdom.          

For any further information and general gardening questions contact Louis at Garden World or visit us on Beyers Naudé Drive in Muldersdrift.

Happy Gardening!