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Kangaroo Paw Care

Kangaroo Paw or Anigozanthos, a genus belonging to the bloodwort Haemodoraceae family is indigenous to Australia. The genus contains 11 species with several other subspecies and was named by Jacques Labillardière in 1800. 

These herbaceous perennials range from 2 – 10 feet high and 12 – 24 inches in width, with a rosette of green or grayish-green long, thin leaves similar to the leaves of amaryllis or daylilies. Some species have hairy leaves, long leafless stalks emerge from the center of this rosette and end in a cluster of flowers. Stalk heights vary among the species, growing as high as 6.5 feet.

The stalks are frequently covered with colored hair in some species. The plant has short, horizontal rhizomes, with varying lengths among the different species, fleshy in some and fragile in others. These contain sap and allow the plants to endure extremely dry periods. Several species die back in summer and grow back in autumn. They are prevalent in the dry, sandy, siliceous expanses of Australia, but they are also found growing in different soil types and environments.

The unusual flowers grow in fan-shaped rows on stalks, are tubular-shaped, and look like a kangaroo’s paw – hence their common name. The flowers are covered by colored fuzz that determines their colors, including red, pink, orange, yellow, purple, and white. The flower tips spread into six petals. Mature plants often produce up to 10 flowers at the tip of the flower stalk. 

Several hybrids have been cultured and developed for floristry and cultivation. They grow quickly and don’t need much maintenance other than fast-draining soil. They are grown commercially in Australia, the United States, Japan, and Israel.

These plants can thrive in containers or outdoors. The smaller dwarf varieties are particularly suitable for cultivating in containers. It can be planted in the garden and come back for several years as perennials in zones 10 to 11. In cold climates, however, it has to be brought indoors during winter, or treated as an annual by letting it die in fall and replaced with a new plant the next spring. Longevity depends on the varieties – some last 2 to 3 years and others, including a few of the taller species, live longer.

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Sunlight

These plants naturally prefer growing under the full sun every day to produce healthy foliage and flowers. They can even handle hot, intense afternoon sunlight. Insufficient light affects flower production and can make tall plants flop over. 

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Water

These plants prefer moderate amounts of water, although they do have some drought tolerance. Water-logged soil causes root rot that can kill the plants. So wait for the topsoil to turn dry before watering. However, they will appreciate additional watering in spring and summer, when the plants most of the flowering takes place.

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Humidity

They naturally thrive in drier environments but can handle some humidity as well.

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Temperature

These plants grow well in hot weather but frost is fatal for them. They prefer temperatures between 70 – 80°F.

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Soil

They prefer slightly acidic sandy soil but they can grow in different types of soil, as long as it drains fast and doesn’t retain water.

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Repotting

Choose a smaller dwarf variety or hybrid to grow in containers. They need repotting in spring when they get root-bound. You can either move them to a larger container or divide the rhizomes, planting them in several other pots with a potting soil and sand mix. Keep watering regularly until new foliage appears, a sign that the roots are established. During this time, keep them in a bright area but out of sharp sunlight. Once they are established, they can be relocated to a permanent location in your garden or continue growing in pots under full sun.

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Propagation

You can propagate these plants by dividing them or from seeds. These plants benefit when they are divided every 2 – 3 years or so, as this helps them produce healthy foliage and flowers.

Propagation from seed

You will need some patience to propagate these plants from seeds as this generally takes some effort and time than division. Also, remember that seeds from hybrid varieties generally won’t produce the same flower colors as the parent. 

Seeds are better sown in spring. First, soak the seeds for 2 hours in water to get the seed coat to soften – this increases their chances to germinate. Place them on moist soil – you can either use a seed tray or pots. Keep the soil damp and wait for them to germinate. This takes time so don’t give up until 6 weeks have passed.

Propagation by division

Dividing plants is the easiest method of propagation and less time-consuming. Dig up mature plants and divide the rhizomes/roots with a sharp blade/knife. Plant each separated section using suitable soil in your garden or containers and water well. 

Additional Care

These plants do not need to be fed. Adding compost in spring is sufficient to promote healthy growth.

These plants respond well when heavily pruned. Cut down the plants to 6 inches above the soil when the flowers fade and die. This helps prevent foliage from attracting diseases and promotes dense growth in spring. 

These plants can’t tolerate cold. Bring the plants inside when the temperature dips below 50°F and keep them under bright light and water judiciously as the soil should be drier in winter without becoming completely dry.

Gradually increase the watering frequency in early spring when the growing season resumes. When temperatures stay consistently above 50°F, move them back outdoors but keep them shaded from direct sunlight for a few weeks until they get used to strong sunlight, otherwise, the plants might get leaf scorch.

Common Problems

While these plants don’t have serious problems with diseases or pests, watch out for ink spot disease. This fungus establishes itself on stems and leaves and causes blackening in affected foliage. Remove affected foliage and keep the plants under full sunlight, providing sufficient air circulation along with fast-draining soil.

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