Chamelaucium are tough shrubs that will produce billowing clouds of flowers from late winter to spring with such abundance that you can pick them by the bucket full. Go all out for Geraldton wax!
Two species that are indigenous to the semi-arid regions of Western Australia have become the plant parents of magnificent hybrids of flowering shrubs supplying cut flowers that are loved and valued the world over. They are Chamelaucium uncinatum (Geraldton wax) and Chamelaucium megalopetalum (large wax flower). They are members of the Myrtaceae family, in which the well-loved bottle brushes, tea bushes and other melaleucas also find themselves.
Whereas the species, with their hues of pink, white and purple flowers, require a Mediterranean type of climate with dry, hot summers and well-draining, relatively poor sandy soil, the modern hybrids sport a wider colour range and different flower shapes, and are also more tolerant of other climates. They are even frost-hardy and can cope with temperatures of down to -2°C, although in frosty climes it is recommended that plants should be planted in a protected area or covered with frost-protection fabric in winter. The only conditions they really do not like are high humidity and very wet summers.
Improved breeding has also resulted in an extended blooming time, with hybrids flowering in succession from late winter well into early summer. Some hybrids also have a more dwarf and compact growth habit, which makes them suitable for containers – we can promise you that a Chamelaucium ‘My Sweet Sixteen’ in a large pot will take your breath away in September and October, when it flowers with gusto!
The evergreen, multi-stemmed shrubs have thin woody stems with bright or dark green needle-thin leaves that give off a pleasant lemony smell when crushed. Shiny, berry-like tight buds are arranged in open sprays along the ends of stems, opening up into lush clusters of waxy star-shaped flowers with great staying power. They last exceptionally well in the vase. The flowers have a sweet honey scent and nectar that attracts butterflies and bees on balmy winter and spring days.
- Plant them in open, sunny spots. Due to their dense growth habit, they can be used as screening plants, windbreaks (they love coastal conditions) and flowering hedges.
- The soil must be sandy and very well-draining. Amend planting holes with quality compost. Since they have the same requirements as fynbos, you can use a commercial fynbos potting mix for pots.
- When well established, they have low water needs. Young plants must, however, be watered regularly for the first two years after planting them. Plants in pots will need daily watering.
- Geraldton wax are low-maintenance plants with virtually no disease issues. A light pruning after their flowering phase, just to shape and neaten the plant, is more than enough. Picking the flowers regularly will keep the plant in shape and encourage dense new growth as well.
- After planting, supply an organic mulch around the plants and keep renewing it. Never dig around the root system as it can cause root disease and the demise of the plant.
Varieties to try
‘Strawberry Surprise’ – stunning pink flowers with a frilly petal formation in July to September. Size 2 x 1.5m.
‘Morning Delight’ – white flowers with a tinge of pink in July to September. Size: 1.5 x 1.5m.
‘Cotton Candy’ – masses of soft pink flowers from July to September. Size: 1 x 1m.
‘My Sweet Sixteen’ – pure white flowers in early spring maturing to a rich crimson colour. This gives it a bi-colour appearance with all the shades in between. Flowering in September and October. Size: 1.5 x 1.5m.
‘Dawn Pearl’ – white flowers with yellow-green centres. Flowers from July to September. Size: 1.5 x 1.5m.
‘Purple Pride’ – purple flowers maturing to dark magenta. Flowers from August to October. Size: 1.5 x 1.5m.
‘Dancing Queen’ – unique double wax flowers ranging from soft pink to vibrant candy pink. Flowering from July to September. Size 2 x 1.5m.
‘Moonlight Delight’ – masses of red buds in mid- winter opening up to white flowers with dark crimson centres in July to September. Size 1.5 x 1.5m.