Melaleuca - Cultivation

With so many species and such a wide natural distribution, a Melaleuca can be found that is suited to just about any garden. However, the wide distribution also means that the species cover a wide range of climatic zones and problems may be experienced when trying to grow a species in a different climate to that of its natural habitat. As a general guide:

  • Species native to south western Australia when dry summers and wet winters are experienced may prove unreliable in tropical and sub tropical areas and areas of wet, humid summers.

  • Tropical species may be difficult to maintain in cold districts.

   Webbing caterpillar
   Webbing caterpillar.
Photo: Ben Walcott

Despite this caution many species have proven to be adaptable in seemingly unsuitable climates. For example, the western species M.fulgens, M.nesophila, M.lateritia, M.diosmifolia and M.huegelii are grown very successfully in coastal areas of New South Wales and Queensland while the tropical species M.viridiflora will grow successfully in colder districts if it is protected from frost when young.

Given that melaleucas are often found on moist sites, it should be no surprise to find that they enjoy a reasonable amount of moisture under garden conditions. This does not mean that they require anything like daily watering...once established, they will grow happily with just the occasional watering to help them through dry periods. A sunny position will usually produce the best flowering but plants will tolerate anything except total shade.

Most species respond favourably to pruning, particularly a light annual trim to promote bushy growth. Some will withstand severe pruning if they have outgrown their allocated space, even tolerating being cut back to near ground level. Two species which have been observed growing away vigorously from such treatment are M.decussata and M.nodosa.

There are several pests which can attack melaleucas although healthy plants can usually cope without human intervention. The most serious pest is probably webbing caterpillar. These grubs encase themselves in a web-like structure comprised of foliage and droppings and can cause severe defoliation. They also attack related genera such as Leptospermum and Callistemon. Physical removal or the use of a strong jet of water is effective treatment in many cases. The use of general insecticides is possible if effective contact with the caterpillars can be achieved. This is often difficult. Webbing caterpillar attack is most severe with fine leafed species. For further information on webbing caterpillar, see the article Teatree Web Moth (Webbing Caterpillar)

Melaleucas are fairly tolerant of fertilisers, unlike some other genera of Australian plants. The use of a slow release fertiliser after flowering will usually be sufficient.

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