By: Liz Baessler
Leucadendrons are stunningly colorful plants native to South Africa but capable of growing around the world. They are known for their low maintenance tendencies and bright colors, making them a great choice for hot weather, drought prone gardens. Keep reading to learn more about Leucadendron care and how to grow a Leucadendron plant.
Leucadendron plants are relatives of Protea plants. While more commonly known as a conebush, the plant’s Greek name is actually something of a misnomer. “Leukos” means white and “dendron” means tree, but while white Leucadendrons can be found, the plants are most popular for their vividly vibrant colors.
Each stalk of the plant is topped with a large inflorescence – the flower itself is relatively small, while the brightly colored “petals” are actually bracts, or modified leaves. These inflorescences can sometimes reach 12 inches (30 cm.) in diameter.
Leucadendron plants have a shrub-like growth habit and usually reach 4 to 6 feet (1.2-1.8 m.) tall and wide.
How to Grow a Leucadendron
Leucadendron care is not difficult, as long as your growing conditions are right. Leucadendrons are not cold hardy and are only suited to outdoor growing in USDA zones 9b through 10b. As long as conditions are warm enough, however, having Leucadendrons in the garden is very low maintenance.
The plants are drought tolerant, and only need to be watered during particularly dry periods. Water deeply once per week instead of lightly every day. Try to keep the leaves from getting wet, and space them so that the leaves don’t touch any other plants. This should help prevent disease.
Plant your Leucadendrons in a well-draining spot with full sun. The plants don’t need extra fertilizer, though they prefer slightly acidic soil. They can be pruned back very heavily. After blooming, you can cut back ? of the woody material to just above a node. This should encourage new, bushier growth.
If you live outside their hardiness area, it may be possible to grow Leucadendron in a container that can be overwintered indoors or simply treat the plant as an annual in the garden.
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Leucadendron varieties are arguably the brightest flowering shrubs you’ll ever find. If you’re living in a warm region, growing this shrub would be such a stellar idea since it’s drought tolerant and low maintenance. So, you want to learn the groundwork needed to keep the Leucadendron plant alive? Read on to find out more.
'Winter Red' Conebush
Tough and eye-catching, Leucadendron salignum 'Winter Red' is a multi-stemmed evergreen shrub grown for its attractive bracts and dazzling foliage of narrow leaves, turning intense purplish-red in the cooler months. Often mistaken for flowers, leathery red and cream bracts surround cones at the branch tips. These bracts are long-lasting and stunning in fresh and dried arrangements. Native to South Africa, this pretty shrub is heat and drought-tolerant once established.
- Grows upright with an open habit to 3-4 ft. high (90-120 cm) and 4-6 ft. wide (120-180 cm).
- Easily grown in sandy, acidic, well-drained soils in full sun. Will grow in poor soils. Occasional to infrequent watering. Heat and drought-tolerant once established. Use little to no Phosphorus fertilizer.
- Deer resistant
- Great for Mediterranean gardens and xeriscaping. Perfect for screens or hedges.
- Virtually disease free and pest free.
- Prune back after flowering to encourage a bushy, compact habit and prevent leggy growth.
- Root semi-ripe cuttings with bottom heat in summer
- Native to South Africa
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Leucadendron salignum types are amongst the most California soils tolerant South Africa Proteaceae members to grow here, and are generally quite able to deal with most local clay soils if they are given good drainage and kept mulched and not fertilized except with alfalfa or cottonseed meal. They can also be prone to attack by Phytopthera if you water at the wrong times warm wet soil exacerbates this and they can die quickly. In general they are safest to plant on slopes or raised mounds, and if the existing soils were once fertilized with regular fertilizer you may have toxicity issues with residual phosphorus. Drip irrigation during the cool of the night, and late fall planting to minimize need for frequent irrigation is the ideal. You might want to also get your soil tested if you suspect soil problems are the cause. Even straight nitrogen can kill them if applied too heavily, I generally never fertilize them in the ground, but if I do I use only alfalfa or cottonseed meal, in combination with soil sulpher to keep the soil ph closer to neutral.
Sara Malone Zone 9b
Bahia - thx. As luck has it, my garden is as you suggest - all of the Leucadendron (and many others) are planted on mounds with good drainage and mulched. The garden is irrigated with drip in the wee hours. I never fertilize anything. Before I read the UC Bot garden post, I suspected overwatering as the reason for the death of the large 'Safari Sunset'. I had foot surgery last year and was on crutches for two weeks and could not easily get out and about in the garden. My husband cranked the watering to 120% of normal as it was a heat spell (in the 90's, unusual for here) and the first time that I went out I could see that the SS was 'off' and it was dead within a week. That could have been Phytopthera per your comment.
Now that I see Deeproots photo I realize that I saw a huge SS at the Gamble Garden in Palo Alto, so Bahia your comment that these are more tolerant than most of the other Proteaceae mitigates UC's blanket statement. I will make sure not to overwater or water during the heat of the day.
Kaveh Maguire Garden Design
Sometimes they just like to drop dead for no apparent reason. I live in an area on the central coast with very sandy well drained soil and often you see a yard with several planted together and one dead in the middle of a bunch of perfectly healthy ones.
Sara Malone Zone 9b
Thanks clematis. I think that bahia's comments may be the answer. If they are prone to Phytopthera when watered incorrectly, that would explain the 'dropping dead for no apparent reason'. I will try to be vigilant about watering properly.
And then, of course, they are frost tender, so I'm sure that once I get my watering to their liking, we'll have a hard freeze (which we virtually never do) and that will do them in. As Gilda Radnor said, 'It's always something. '
Calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9
My Safari Sunset was planted on a bank above my access road, where it survived more than 5 years with no water at all. The native planting which grew up around it must have also competed for the soil water. The jungle got beyond what I could keep cut back, but I don't think this plant is still alive in there, and that was the last one of my Australian plants. Al
I'd love some advice from those who know leucadendron, even though I'm in the Pasadena area, not the Bay Area. About two years ago I put in two varieties of two plants each, Jester and Salignum Blush, on the side of my house, which gets strong southern exposure.
They were all doing well, but then over the last six months or so, one of the Salignum Blush seemed stunted and then browned at the edges. I thought it was drying out more than the others so I tried giving it extra water. But it's looking worse and worse.
I would appreciate any thoughts on what I could be doing wrong. I'm attaching photos of the two Salignum Blush, put in at the same time, about four feet away from each other. The one on the left is gorgeous, the other looks like its days are numbered. Thank you!
Calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9
I doubt lack of water was your problem. Being in the ground for two years and doing well, in what is essentially a concrete cubical there should be plenty of moisture, maybe too much. I think you can't do anything now but watch it die, or recover. If you read this whole thread you can see many possible problems.
I have just finished clearing the bank containing my last Safari Sunset. It was hopelessly compromised by native growth. A combination of California Bay, poison oak, and blackberry. If properly maintained it may have survived, as it had a trunk of more than 4 inches, with a large amount of foliage, cascading down the bank to the north. Al
Sara Malone Zone 9b
I can't add any more than I've noted already. I am now treating these plants as short-lived, like lavender and such, and consider them accents in the garden (which is how they function anyway, given their dramatic coloring). So now I'm sure they'll survive to spite me, and outgrow their locations!
Just to add my own experience: I am also in the SF Bay Area, and over the last few months (summer/early fall) two of my leucadendrons went from vibrant to dead in the course of a few days. One was a leucadendron Safari Goldstrike. We had a heat spell in the middle of the summer, and I noticed one afternoon during that heat spell that the plant was suddenly looking noticeably wilted, so I doused it with a good amount of water in the middle of the afternoon. Over the next few days it went from wilted to totally dead. The other sudden death was a leucadendron Jester. Again, it died the week after a late summer heat spell. I didn't water it during the middle of the day like I had with the Safari Goldstrike, but I did turn the drip watering up to 120% that week. When a plant pro looked at the Jester after it died, she noted it had black spots on its leaves, suggesting some type of mold/mildew infection.
Meanwhile, in another part of the yard, due to an irrigation problem that we didn't find out about until just a few weeks ago, a leucadendron Safari Sunset continues to thrive despite receiving NO irrigation for all of August and September.
In summary I think it is highly likely that what killed my two leucadendrons this summer was indeed Phytopthera exacerbated by heat/excessive watering. Hope this can serve as a cautionary tale for others in the future.