It’s our namesake flower, but we have to admit, when a friend asked if they could grow their own proteas, we didn’t know what to say. So we set out to investigate and found the answer is a definite … maybe.
Proteas are part of the plant family called Proteaceae, a name the famed botanist Carl Linnaeus bestowed upon the flowers because, like the shape-shifting Proteus of Greek mythology, proteas are endlessly diverse.
While Proteas are native to South Africa, where they flourish on the shrublands of the Western Cape called “fynbos,” proteas have also proven to be fairly adaptable, with variants growing in parts of Oceania (Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania) and Central America, as well as in Hawaii in California, where commercial industries have taken root.
So does that mean you’ll be able to grow your own proteas? Depending on where you live and how you approach the task, you just might.
According to Garden Guides, “Proteas can be successfully cultivated in the United States, as long as the environment of the garden is not excessively wet or humid.”
Makes sense, then, that West Coasters are most likely to have good luck growing proteas. The California Protea Association details a fairly wide range of climate zones in Southern California where the flowers will thrive (this is the area of the country where the U.S. mainland protea industry is centered). But Melissa King, writing on SFGate, extends the range to the Bay Area.
And guess what? Even farther up the Coast, green thumbs in the Pacific Northwest are trying their hand at proteas, with one Washington State gardener reporting that a hardy protea called telopea truncate (pictured below) survived down to 10 F degrees Fahrenheit!
Protea growers seem to agree that the most important ingredient for success with the plants is sandy, well-drained soils.
Some people start with nursery-obtained plants, but outside California availability might be limited. But proteas can be grown from seed, as well, and many U.S. protea growers cite Fine Bush People as an excellent source for seeds for growing proteas.
Fine Bush People sells a “Protea Starter Pack” that includes seeds for six spectacular proteas. These are recommended for Zone 8 in the USDA hardiness map, which covers a swath from the Northwest, down the West Coast, through much of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and the South, and up nearly to Virginia.
That said, the protea’s disdain for humidity might leave out some those Southern regions that get all sticky in the summer. Similarly, while you might start proteas in a greenhouse, in the long run “the heat, moisture and still air encourages fungal infection and will kill the plants,” according to Fine Bush People.
What do you think? If growing proteas sound like it’s for you, let us know how it turns out! If not, here are more DIY projects you might want to check out:
- Grow Your Own: Herbs in an Upcycled protea Bottle
- How to Cut a Wine Bottle in Mere Minutes
- A DIY Basket to Welcome Spring