There are two species of Coleonema that feature prominently in most South African gardens.
Coleonema Pulchellum, or the white confetti bush, which has masses of soft pink flowers and Coleonema ‘Sunset Gold’ which is a very compact hybrid (about 50 x 30 cm) with needle-like lime-green foliage and pink flowers.
Coleonema is one of our prettiest indigenous shrubs and really comes into its own in spring, although it starts to put on its extravagant display of tiny flowers early on in the cooler months.
Coleonemas grow in the wild in the Eastern and Western Cape, and there are also a few garden hybrids. These woody evergreen shrubs grow to about 1,5 x 1 m and have many thin, lateral branches. The branches and needle-like leaves are very aromatic, and essential oils are extracted commercially from Coleonema alba. The aromatic and deodorizing qualities of the stems and leaves can be used to repel mosquitoes and ants, and to remove odours from hands.
When does the Coleonema bloom?
Hundreds of tiny star-shaped flowers appear at the end of each branch from late autumn, through winter and deep into spring. They make it look as if the plant has been liberally sprinkled with confetti, and they also attract a multitude of insects and butterflies.
Most suitable climate for the Coleonema
Coleonemas are best suited to winter rainfall regions, but they do need additional watering during the dry summer months. They cope well in very warm, arid regions, but in humid regions that experience intense heat and excessive summer rainfall, they can fall prey to a root disease called Phytophthora which can be fatal. They will not survive heavy frost and extremely cold winters.
What they need
Location: they thrive in a warm place in full sun. Plant them in fynbos gardens, rockeries, shrubberies and amongst swathes of grasses.
Plant them in uneven groups in a garden where you want to create a calm, oriental atmosphere. They respond well to heavy pruning and can be shaped into the forms so characteristic of oriental gardens, such as low clouds, green balls and sharply defined cubes. You can also use Coleonema for formal and informal hedges.
The yellow foliage of Coleonema ‘Sunset Gold’ is sensitive and can burn in climates with a fierce summer sun so position the shrub where it can benefit from some afternoon shade.
The bright foliage of ‘Sunset Gold’ makes it a useful shrub for providing contrast in the foreground of mixed borders.
Soil: well-drained, compost-enriched soil with a neutral to slightly acidic pH-balance is best. Mulch with coarse compost or bark to help protect the delicate root system.
Water: Coleonema is relatively water-wise and will survive amongst other plants with low water requirements, but regular deep watering during the warmest parts of summer will keep them lush.
Fertilizing and pruning: prune them immediately after they have finished flowering to keep them neat and to stimulate dense new growth and the formation of more flower buds. Do not allow the seed capsules that emerge after the flowers to develop – remove them when you prune. After pruning, apply a slow-release organic fertilizer like 3.1.5 and renew the layer of mulch around the plants.
In a nutshell
- Full sun;
- Needs well-drained soil;
- Excellent flowering shrubs that provide colour in winter and early spring