How to Grow Protea Plants

A gorgeous genus of 1000+ species

Protea plant in bloom, with pink flowers.

Southern Lightscapes-Australia / Getty Images

Coming from the Proteaceae family, the Protea genus includes more than 1,000 species. Consider welcoming protea plants to your outdoor space if you are a seasoned gardener in a warm, dry climate. These evergreens can grow low as shrubs or tall as trees depending on the variety. Goblet-shaped flowers bloom in large clusters, with fluffy centers, surrounded by bracts that are bright and spiky. To dry them for flower arrangements, simply pick them at their brightest and biggest, snip off the bottom leaves, and hang them upside-down indoors in a dark place with decent air circulation for about two weeks. Because they bloom in late winter to spring, some gardeners include them in holiday wreaths.

Common Name Protea plant
Botanical Name  Protea spp.
Family   Proteaceae
Plant Type  Blooming evergreen shrub or tree
Mature Size  6-26 ft. tall depending on variety
Sun Exposure  Full sun
Soil Type  Sand or loam that is very well-drained
Soil pH  Acidic
Bloom Time  Late winter and spring
Bloom Color  Pink, white, cream
Hardiness Zones  9-12, USA
Native Area South Africa
Toxicity Toxic

Protea Plant Care

Plant proteas in raised beds and sunny banks. Or pot them in a sunny, north-facing site.

Light

Provide plants with lots of air circulation and full sun—the more sun, the more flowers.

Soil

Protea plants need very well-draining soil. As long as the soil drains well, they will thrive in just about any soil, including sand or loam. The plant's roots can grow almost horizontally, just below the soil surface, making them ideal plants for a rocky part of the garden. Avoid letting water sit on the soil because the roots may become waterlogged, likely causing the plant to die. When planting proteas outdoors, increase drainage by mixing bark and grit into the soil.

Water

While plants are starting to become established, water them regularly. Water established plants just every two to three weeks. After the plant is about a year old, water once a week when the weather is dry and when it buds and flowers.

Temperature and Humidity

When planted in the correct climate and hardiness zone noted for the specific variety, proteas may tolerate temperatures as low as 23 degrees Fahrenheit (sometimes lower). They may tolerate temperatures as hot as 100 degrees, but may die if exposed too long to temperatures any higher. Avoid planting proteas in particularly humid zones.

Fertilizer

Proteas usually don't need fertilizer. Too much phosphorus can actually kill them. Since the roots are so shallow, take extra care not to disturb them. Apply a mulch of leaves or bark away from the trunk. Gently pull any weeds by hand.

Types of Protea Plants

"King Protea" (Protea cynaroides L.), which resembles a crown, and symbolizes beauty and resilience, is a well-known member of this genus (and South Africa's national flower). One popular compact variety is Protea "Little Prince," and another beloved type of protea that blooms bountifully is called "Special Pink Ice."

Most Protea plants do not self-pollinate. However some Leucospermum and Serruria, as listed below, can self-pollinate and produce seed.

Leucospermums are also called pin-cushion proteas because their flowers curve upwards. Grow them as low shrubs in the ground or welcome them to a planter arrangement in wide shallow containers. If you live in a more temperate zone such as a cooler mountain region or on the coast, this type may be best for your garden.

Serrurias include the cultivars "Blushing Bride," which produces gorgeous creamy flowers, and "Pretty in Pink," the flowers of which are thought to resemble pink-cheeked bridesmaids. Serruria protea plants grow well in well-draining containers, though they might not last more than one or two seasons.

Pruning

Bold in color and lush in shape and texture, protea flowers are wonderful for fresh bouquets and for dried arrangements. Picking the flowers helps keep the plant neat. Remove spent flower heads along with most of the stem, allowing for new growth. To encourage bushiness, prune young plants in spring and summer. Do not prune unflowered stems; they are next season's blooms.

Potting and Repotting

For potted proteas, mix even parts peat, bark, grit, and styrofoam beads.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Proteas are quite resistant to pests. These woody evergreens are neither herbaceous nor annual. Leaves are large, hard, and leathery. When bent, a mature leaf tends to snap rather than fold. Because the leaves have adapted to conserve water, resist drought, and hold carbon and nitrogen, most insect pests tend to avoid them.

FAQ
  • Can protea plants be grown indoors?

    In the United Kingdom, some gardeners have had success moving protea plants indoors in the cooler months and covering them with fleece until late spring.

  • What are alternatives to protea plants?

    When exploring other flowers that bloom as fully and as vibrantly, consider football or cremone mums. Zinnias also offer a range of color, texture, and shape. Leucadendrons are very closely related to proteas. Commonly called cone bush, flowers are shaped like tulips and the foliage tends to be very bright in color. "Safari Sunset" offers a vibrant red aesthetic and "Inca Gold" comes in mellow yellow. Newer varieties include "Burgundy Sunset" and "Gypsy Red."

  • How long will a protea flower last in a vase?

    They will last one or two weeks at most in optimal conditions.

Article Sources
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  1. Leonhardt, Kenneth W.; Criley, Richard A. “Proteaceae Floral Crops: Cultivar Development and Underexploited Uses.” Purdue University

  2. “How to Grow Proteas.” Better Homes and Gardens, 9 Sept. 2021, www.bhg.com.au/how-to-grow-proteas.