The Q&A Archives: Growing Proteas

Question: I recently obtained some Proteas seeds from Capetown South Africa. Do you think they would survive if planted at my house on the NC-SC line? Any suggestions for starting seeds and caring for plants if seed starting is successful?

Answer: Protea are spectacular plants when in bloom! They are native to South Africa and can be difficult to grow even in the most mild areas of the U.S. Once established, they are hardy to about 25F. They need good drainage, protection from wind, good air circulation, acid soil, and a fertilizer high in nitrogen but low in phosphorus. Until they are mature, protect them from strong, midday sun. You might do well to plant them in containers so you can move them to a protected area if you get nasty winter weather.<br><br>Seed takes 4-6+ weeks to germinate even in the best of conditions. Outdoor germination is preferred - start in spring after danger of frost has passed. Sow seed in a flat filled with a mixture of just-moistened of equal parts peat/soil/sand, and cover with a thin layer of sand. The trick then is to keep the medium just moist without it drying out. If frost is expected, cover the bed with a heavy blanket or feed bags, and remove first thing in the morning. As soon as the first true leaves show, transplant seedlings to 4" pots of the same formula as above. Transplant again as they get larger.<br><br>Since the plants are pretty picky with their cultural requirements, don't take it personally if they refuse to grow for you! If you get throughthe first year, you're golden.

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