Wattles, also called acacias, are wonderful native plants. In fact, Australia’s official floral emblem is a wattle (Acacia pycnantha). More than 850 species of wattle grow in Australia, ranging from ground covers and charming shrubs to giant trees that provide fine timber and screening. With this number of species and many cultivars there is a wattle for just about any garden in Australia.
In our segment, Don showed the beautiful Wyalong wattle (A. cardiophylla). This is a shrub or small tree to 5m (16′) with grey foliage. It also comes in a prostrate form (A. cardiophylla ‘Gold Lace’), which grows to about 1.5m (5′). It has silvery green fern like leaves and stunning, golden yellow flowers from July to January.
Wattles are great colonisers or pioneer plants, because they grow quickly and they grow readily from seed. They are excellent to use if you’re starting a garden from scratch, either as an instant screen or as ‘nurse plants’ to protect other slower growing plants while they are becoming established.
Most wattles are short-lived plants that will usually last for about seven to 12 years. Some species however are longer lived. If planted in a thicket, they will self-sow, which will mean that short-lived plants are quickly replaced.
Wattles are tolerant of a broad range of conditions, and they are adapted to cope with hot, dry climates. Most have modified leaves which reduce water loss. Technically these leaves are not true leaves but are leaf-like ‘phyllodes’.
Wattles are fascinating plants for their flower colour and foliage but also for their intimate relationship with ants. Some wattles produce little nectaries at the bases of their leaves. These provide food for ants. Other wattles produce food on their seeds, so that ants collect the seeds to eat the food and so spread the seeds around, thus propagating and spreading the wattle.
Wattles grow easily from seed. Most wattle seeds can be sown in spring or early autumn into clean plastic pots, seed trays or any plastic container with holes for drainage punched through the bottom. A good potting mix is 1 part washed coarse river sand: 1 part peat moss, or any mix that will re-wet easily, drains well and is coarse enough for good aeration and drainage. To plant seeds simply scatter them over the mix and lightly cover with mix. Once wattle seeds have grown their first true leaves they can be transferred into a tall pot. A cardboard milk container is a good shape for growing wattle seedlings.
Fertilising wattles is not generally considered necessary.
Mulching should be undertaken to conserve moisture, keep the roots cool, restrict weed growth, reduce soil compaction and improve soil texture.
Water only when plants are young or when older plants are showing signs of distress in a very dry period.
Regularly tip prune young plants to encourage more compact bushes and prune regularly after flowering, unless seeds are required.
Some wattles, such as the Cootamundra wattle (A. baileyana) and the Queensland silver wattle (A. podalyriifolia), are weedy in some areas. Check with your local nursery or local forestry commission nursery to see which species of wattle are best in your area. For the prostrate forms check with a specialist native plant nursery, such as the ones listed below.
Annangrove Grevilleas Native Nursery
Phone: (02) 9654 1380
Cranebrook Native Nursery
Phone: (02) 4777 4256
Sydney Wildflower Nursery West
Phone: (02) 9628 4448
Sydney Wildflower Nursery South
Phone: (02) 9548 2818
Palm Land & Sydney Wildflower Nursery
Phone: (02) 9450 1555
Kuranga Native Nursery
Phone: (03) 9879 4076
Mt Cassell Native Nursery
Phone: (03) 5356 6351
Fairhill Native Plants
Phone: (07) 5446 7088
Nielsen’s Native Nursery
Phone: (07) 3806 1414
Nellie Nursery, Mannum
Phone: (08) 8569 1762 WA
Phone: (08) 9454 6260