Quick to shine
Wattles live life in the fast lane, growing rapidly from seed and flowering profusely from a young age. On the flip-side, they can also be short-lived, lasting between seven and 12 years. However, you can use this to your advantage.
Great colonisers (meaning they’re good at growing in disturbed or freshly cleared soil), wattles can be planted up and used to protect more delicate understorey plants from above.
For gardeners confronting bare land, wattles are a quick screening plant to use while slower plants establish. In fact, to see their colonising habits in action, you only have to watch an area of bushland after fire, as wattles are often the first seedlings to pop up – they’re the true pioneers of the bush.
How to care for wattles
Wattles grow happily in any sunny to semi-shaded spot. They have good tolerance to extremes of both heat and cold, however, if your garden is prone to heavy winter frosts, it’s worth planting species indigenous to your area, as these will be the most robust growers.
Wattles aren’t fussy about soil types but do need it to be free draining, so don’t plant in soggy spots that are slow to drain after heavy rainfall.
Water young trees regularly while they’re establishing. Once settled, wattles are hardy, waterwise plants that will get by on natural rainfall. During heatwaves and droughts, give them a drink to keep them going.
Because they can ‘fix’ their own nitrogen, it’s not necessary to feed wattles. However, if planted among other native plants, they won’t mind a small amount of blood and bone or a low-phosphorus native plant food.
While plants are young, and directly after flowering, tip pruning helps keep wattles bushy and compact, prolongs their life, and removes seed heads. But avoid heavy pruning – don’t cut into wood any thicker than a pencil.
Apply a layer of natural leaf litter or chunky bark over the soil to keep the roots cool, conserve soil moisture and restrict weed growth. Just keep it well back from the trunk itself.
Wattles for small gardens
Many wattles may be too large or straggly when not in flower to be suitable for your garden. But breeders have now produced a host of smaller wattles suited to the Australian garden. Tall, small, elegant or cute, they can be tumbling over a wall, rippling along a border, standing proud as a specimen or even standing out with a blaze of scarlet flowers.
Check with your local council first
Check with your local authority before buying a wattle. Despite being "Australian natives", some may be considered a weed in your area and not encouraged. For example, Cootamundra wattle (Acacia baileyana) is discouraged outside NSW and the silver or Mount Morgan wattle (A. podalriifolia) outside Queensland.
After flowering has finished, wattles are covered with hundreds of dangling seed pods. A staple of Indigenous diets for more than 60,000 years, they can be used in multiple ways. Try the flour in damper or bread - or try this recipe for kakadu plum and wattleseed brownie.
Wattles for your state
Cootamundra wattle (A. baileyana)
Mudgee or Pilliga wattle (A. spectabilis)
West Wyalong wattle (A. cardiophylla)
Mallee wattle (A. Montana)
Sydney golden wattle (A. longifolia)
Queensland silver wattle (A. Podalyriifolia)
Weeping myall (A. pendula)
Flinders Ranges wattle (A. Iteaphylla)
Barrier Range wattle (A. beckleri)
Drummond's wattle (A. drummondii)
Swamp wattle (A. dimidiata)
Sweet-scented wattle (A. suaveolens). Also throughout mainland east coast.
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