For those of us that have travelled west, the kangaroo paw or Anigozanthos can evoke strong memories of Western Australia, as not only are they quite unusual but are also endemic to south west Western Australia.
The flower head is actually made up many individual flowers that open sequentially. This is ideal for nectar eating birds that need a regular supply ‘on tap’. This of course means as a gardener that kangaroo paws will be delightful in the way they constantly attract birds to the garden.
One of the problems in the past with kangaroo paws is that the species that performed the best in gardens and are the easiest to grow tended to have pale flowers. Some species that are spectacular flowering plants in the wild tend to be a little more difficult in cultivation.
All that changed with hybridizing of the two. Most kangaroo paws you will see in nurseries now are hybrids and more seem to be added to the market quite often. The hybrid kangaroo paws take on the garden friendly traits of some species and the spectacular flowering traits of others. The other trait that seems to come to the fore is repeat flowering.
So we now have an unusual flowering plant that is quite easy to grow in a garden situation with a huge range of flower colour that blooms practically all year round. There must be a catch I hear you say. Admittedly there are a few things they need to perform at their best but all within reach of most gardeners.
Firstly the soils must be reasonably drained. To put it simply kangaroo paws grow best in sandy or sandy loams. As the hybrids flower so often, the watering and fertiliser application frequency also needs to be quite often. You can’t fertilise native plants I hear you say. (See my article on Australian plants and fertiliser on the Berri Native Plants web site to change your mind on that!) I have found that the best performing plants have received about weekly watering with higher output drippers and somewhat alarming quantities of organic fertiliser every time the spent flowers are cut.
This brings me to the important issue of pruning. The spent flower stems need to be cut as low as possible. This will force a new crop of flowers more or less straight away. The other way to handle the pruning is to cut the flowers at their best and use them as a cut flower. Better still; give them to family and friends. They will think you are marvellous and you will be disposing of your pruning waste at the same time!
The only possible warning is that the kangaroo paw hybrids are so varied and interesting is that you may end up a collector. The flip side of this sort of obsession is that the birds will love you for planting them and so will the recipients of your cut flowers, not forgetting the perennial display of colour in your garden.
This article first published in the Riverland Weekly © November 10, 2011.