Kangaroo Paw Plant – How To Plant And Care For Kangaroo Paws
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Growing kangaroo paws can be a rewarding endeavor for the home gardener due to their brilliant colors and exotic form with flowers resembling, yes, a kangaroo paw. If you’re interested in knowing what a kangaroo paw needs to live in your home, keep reading to learn more about the exciting kangaroo paws plant.
Kangaroo Paw Plants
Occurring naturally in southwest Australia, kangaroo paws belong to the genus Anigozanthos, of which there are eleven species – Anigozanthos flavidus being the most commonly grown. Size, stalk height, and color of kangaroo paws are dictated by the different species, and arise as a result of hybridization. Kangaroo paws are moderately growing specimens commonly used for cut flowers that are exported all over the world from commercial growing sites such as the USA, Israel, and Japan.
Kangaroo paws’ bloom color is influenced by the fine hairs surrounding the flower (and on occasion the stalk), ranging from black to yellow, orange and red. Spring and summer bloomers outdoors, kangaroo paws may bloom anytime when grown indoors.
Pollinated by birds, the long flower stalks rise above the foliage and act as a red flag, attracting the birds to the nectar and providing them with a perch. Kangaroo paws pollen-laden anthers allow pollen to be deposited on the feeding birds and thus, transferred from flower to flower as the birds feed.
How to Plant Kangaroo Paws
So what does a kangaroo paw need to live? The care for kangaroo paws requires either a growth habitat indoors, or a climate in USDA zone 9. Because of its tropical origins, kangaroo paws will probably need to be overwintered indoors to prevent freezing. To care for kangaroo paws during this dormant phase indoors, keep the plant on the dry side unless actively blooming.
Kangaroo paws do well in a variety of habitats and soil types, but prefer well drained, slightly acidic soil in sun exposures. Kangaroo paws work well in containers or as accent plants in borders during summer months.
When considering how to plant kangaroo paws, keep in mind its grass-like clumping habitat and size of 2 to 4 feet ( 61 cm. to 1 m.) by 1 to 2 feet (30+ to 61 cm.). Depending on your climate, they are semi-deciduous to evergreen plants with 1- to 2-foot (30+ to 61 cm.) long sword-shaped foliage of light to dark green fans.
Also known as cat’s paw and Australian sword lily, growing kangaroo paws spread from rhizomes. Propagation of kangaroo paws then can be accomplished via spring division or by sowing ripened seeds.
There is limited care for kangaroo paws with regards to pests, as they are resistant to most insect marauders. When grown as indoor specimens, however, they may be susceptible to spider mites.
Types of Kangaroo Paw Plants
There is a Christmas season plant on the market and its name is the Red and Green kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos manglesii), otherwise marketed as Kanga. Known as the floral emblem of Western Australia, this plant is referred to as reindeer paw in the United States and has unique red and green flower coloration. The cultivar Anigozanthos ‘Bush Emerald’ has similar colored flowers and is generally easier to grow.
Other kangaroo paws worth considering are:
- ‘Bush Ranger’ – a drought tolerant cultivar with orange flowers, which can also tolerate mild frosts.
- ‘Dwarf Delight’ – a long living, frost hardy variety
- Anigozanthos flavidus or ‘Tall Kangaroo Paw’ – a type that adapts to many types of soil conditions and climates, although still delicate in heavy frost
- ‘Pink Joey’ – a variety with salmon pink flower spires
- ‘Black Kangaroo Paw’ (Macropidia fuliginosa) – which should be grown in well-draining soil in full sun and is particularly susceptible to frosty climes. It has black hairs through which its green can be seen.
How to Grow Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos) Flower
by Matt Gibson
Native to southwest Australia, the kangaroo paw plant flower has found its way into the hearts and garden beds of flower gardeners all over the world. It is grown commercially in the USA, Japan, and Israel and also sold as a cut flower all over the globe.
In Western Australia, the kangaroo paw is the floral emblem of the region, as it’s endemic to the area and is traditionally used in Aboriginal folk medicine. The brightly colored blooms are rather large and odd looking, similar in shape to a kangaroo’s paw—hence the name. The flower gets its unique texture from the fine, brightly colored hairs that cover the petals and the stalk, which influence the color of the blooms. Kangaroo paw is usually found in varying shades of red and orange, and more rarely, in yellow. There is also one special variety from a different genus that is called the black kangaroo paw for its midnight hue.
Though the blossoms do not produce any significant aroma, birds seem to love flitting around kangaroo paw plants, whose sturdy stems provide a natural perch for them to sit on. It’s a good thing that the birds like the flowers so much, because kangaroo paw depends on them greatly for pollination. A single kangaroo paw bloom sits atop each tall stem, attracting birds with its vibrant hues and elevation above the greenery. Each flower’s anthers are covered in pollen and positioned in such a way that pollen lands on the head of the birds when they are feeding. The birds then carry the pollen from plant to plant as they make the rounds to get their fill.
Though their velvety appearance would lead you to believe that kangaroo paw flowers are soft to the touch, they are actually a bit rough and bristly and are known to irritate the skin. We recommend wearing light gardening gloves when handling these plants, especially when transplanting, as the hairs cover not only the flowerheads but the stems and leaves as well.
The genus name, Anigozanthos, comes from the Greek word “anises,” which means unequal, and “anthos,” meaning flower. The reference to inequality is probably due to the lopsided paw-shaped flower head.
Varieties of Kangaroo Paw
Eleven of the 12 different species of kangaroo paw belong to the species Anigozanthos. The most commonly grown variety is the Anigozanthos flavidus, also known as tall kangaroo paw. These massive perennials sprout up to 10 stems per plant, and each one can produce as many as 350 flowers. The tall kangaroo paw comes in red, orange, yellow, green, and pink hues, though it’s most commonly seen in red and green. Once established, the hefty plants are usually there to stay, with some records of the hardy beauties showing a lengthy 30-year lifespan.
The odd fellow of the species is the black kangaroo paw, which produces black and green flowers. Though the black kangaroo paw shares many similarities with the other varieties of the plant, it hails from a different genetic family altogether, the macropidia genus.
Try out these varieties of kangaroo paw for zones 10 through 11:
Cape Aurora: This spring and summer bloomer sprouts bright yellow fuzzy flowers atop long, tall stems.
Bush Pearl: Highly prolific, this variety produces seemingly nonstop silvery pink blooms all season long and performs splendidly in containers.
Pink Joey: This variety is similar in size and blooming tendencies to the Cape Aurora but has salmon-colored flowerheads instead of yellow.
Dwarf Delight: The dwarf varieties of kangaroo paw live almost twice as long as the larger perennial versions of the plant and can survive frosts. They are also available in every color imaginable.
Growing Conditions for Kangaroo Paw
Kangaroo paw thrives in tropical growing conditions and is suited to USDA zones 9 to 11 especially. These sun-loving flowers do not require any shade, but they will tolerate a small amount if need be. Kangaroo paw does not need tons of nutrients, but they do require a light and lean soil that has adequate drainage. The more you water them, the more blooms you will see. If you don’t live in the right area to grow kangaroo paw outdoors, try growing them inside. They work well in containers and perform wonderfully as cut flowers. Dried kangaroo paws retain their shape and color, too.
How to Plant Kangaroo Paw Flowers
The best way to start your kangaroo paws is by division. It is possible to grow them from seed, but that method requires quite a bit of patience. You’ll need to soak seeds in hot water for two hours to soften up the seed coat, then allow up to six weeks for germination to occur (if it’s going to at all). Pick out a spot with lots of sun and light, lean, well-draining soil. There is no need to add any fertilizer. Just amend the planting site with a healthy dose of compost. Keep the soil moist until seedlings sprout. It will take four to six weeks to see the first growth. Let the sprouts grow to an inch tall before moving them into their own pots or transplanting them into their permanent homes.
Care for Kangaroo Paw
Kangaroo paw evolved to be pretty hardy and drought tolerant in its native land, but to get the most out of the blooming season, a little extra care and attention will go a long way. During the blooming seasons of spring and summer, provide at least one inch of water per week. Doing so will promote early blooming and more blooms per growing season as a result.
Prune the plant back after blooms begin to fade, cutting off six inches, including the leaves, and you may see another small burst of blooms in return, as well as strong new growth. For smaller varieties, avoid trimming back the stems, but remove fans of foliage and bloom stalks instead. Divide the plant in the spring, or save the seeds for the next season. Division is essential every few years to promote new growth even if you plant from seed, however.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Kangaroo Paw
Kangaroo paw is resistant to most pests when grown outdoors. If grown indoors, however, keep an eye out for spider mites. If you notice small yellow or brown spots on the leaves or see any traces of webbing, spider mites are most likely the culprit. For a quick fix, or even as a preventive measure, take the plants outside occasionally and hit them with a blast of water. Other effective treatments for spider mites include spraying the plants down with a neem oil spray or a miticide, or releasing predator insects, such as ladybugs or lacewings, to go to battle with the spider mites.
Kangaroo paw is susceptible to ink spot disease. If affected, the fungus will begin to blacken the stems and leaves of the plant. If you see signs of ink spot disease, don’t panic—just take action. Kangaroo paw is quite hardy and tends to bounce back when given the proper care. Remove any damaged foliage, then make sure that your plants are in direct sunlight, in light soil and are not overcrowded in their containers or beds.
Companion Planting for Kangaroo Paw
There are many different options for companion planting with kangaroo paw. The most important thing to consider when selecting companion plants is to find other plants with similar needs, growing condition preferences, and care instructions as the plant you are working with. In this case, kangaroo paws need to be paired with other drought tolerant, heat loving plants that enjoy a tropical growing environment.
The California poppy makes a great garden bed partner with kangaroo paw if you are looking for a flowering plant. If you want the kangaroo paw to be the standout in the bed, however, you might want to select a succulent or cacti that works well with kangaroo paw instead. Blue Chalksticks (Senecio mandraliscae) is a nice choice for a subtle succulent to pair with kangaroo paw. Blue Fescue or Agave desmetiana are both great choices for foliage plants to play a supporting role while the kangaroo paw plays the lead.
Want to Learn More About Kangaroo Paw
This video introduces the mini kangaroo paw hybrids made by Bush Gems:
This video shows off a bunch of different hybrids of the kangaroo paw:
Check out this video for care and maintenance tips for the kangaroo paw:
This short video gives you a quick course in growing and caring for kangaroo paw:
Growing conditions for kangaroo paw
Hello from west Texas. The area I live in gets freezing temps in the winter, and the soil is a heavy clay and alkaline, although I do improve the soil with compost and expanded shale. Can I grow kangaroo paw in the ground here, or should I plant it in a pot and overwinter it indoors? Thanks!
There are some Kangaroo paws that tolerate frosts but freezing temperatures may be too much. Clay can be overcome by choosing the correct species.
I think you have one of two choices:
1) Grow as an annual in your garden. You need to choose a species that flowers in its first year. ie: Anigozanthos manglessi. As you may grow this in a garden bed then you need to take the clay soil into account also.
2) Grow in a container. Choose a well drained soil (1:1:1 Coarse sand, Perlite, Peat moss) but you need to keep it in a well lit position especially in winter.
Thanks, Danili. I potted it up. Our winters are generally mild, with a few freezing spells, so I'll try just bringing it in as necessary and keeping it outside as much as possible. It is a beautiful plant.
By the way, it is way cool to be able to talk internationally with just a click of the mouse. It really is a small world, isn't it?
Again, I appreciate the help.
As Aussies living in the Middle East we are trying to create our own Australian garden.
I'd like some help with Kangaroo Paws. I've had three in tubes brought over from Australia and want to put them in our garden. As we get extreme heat here in the summer - 50 Degrees C + - I'm worried about getting them through the summer. I've potted them and they are in the shade right now but the temperature is climbing every day. Will they survive if I take them indoors?
Can't tell you how great it was to find this site!
Another Hello from the States
I am always interesting in trying new plants and love the sound of Kangaroo Paws. I have very sandy soil and it gets quite hot here in the summers - ranges between 85 F to over 100 F most days and VERY cold with lots of wind in the winter. Do KP's take lots of water? Do they need shade? I would like to try Anigozanthos manglessi as it is an annual. Are they easy to start from seeds? and how do I get some?
Here in Wyoming we are in a bad drought just as most of AU is, if anyone has any other suggestion for drought resistant garden's, I would love to know about them.
Kangaroo paws are from Western Australia, where it is generally hot and dry. Most rain falls in winter. The plants need full sun, and can generally srvive on minimal water (although make sure they have adequate water when flowering). The do best in well drained, slightly acid soil.
Growing Anigozanthos manglesii in heavy soil will be a waste of time and I fear a short life span even in a container.Personally, I think the only KP to begin with is A.flavidus. It is the toughest of the whole range of Anigozanthos tolerating a far wider degree of growing conditions. Growing A.manglesii first off will only discourage you from progressing to the more difficult varieties. It is correct to say that KPs requires full sun but K flavidus does respond to a little summer moisture for best results. A manglesii on the other hand suffers badly from Altenaria alternata or "Ink Spot Desease" and succumbs if too much water is provided and that is why they are quite difficult to grow even in a container. A manglesii is sold in punnets as seedlings these days but I have yet to see garden beds boasting "drifts" of them and I live in Western Australia where the plant comes from.If you were to see where and how they grow in their natural environment,almost pure sand in baking heat it would be easier to understand their requirements.
I agree that A. flavidus would be better than A. manglesii. My excusion with A.manglessii almost turned me away from 'roo paws - but thankfully, I am a revived believer. I also live in Perth, WA, where the 'roo paws originate.
I thought some of the 'roo paws also grow in the South west, where it can get pretty cold (but not snowy cold) and does get a bit more temperate summers. As WA is such a large state, our temperature conditions do vary considerably, so although most of the state is hot and sunny, there are big chunks of it (generally south), which are not.
I think modern gardeners can grow almost anything, provided that they try and mimic the plant's optimal growing conditions.
Muscat trish - I don't see why you can't take them indoors provided that they get some sun from a window. Alternatively, have you tried shade cloth? Make sure you keep up water. I found that my 'roo paws needed water in our hot summers.
Marie from Wyoming - I am not sure about how you could source some 'roo paws - but you could try some of the online Aus. nurseries. As for wind and rain, certainly A. flavidus is ok with it. As Follicle says, A. manglessii does not cope with humidity too well.
As for drought resistant gardens, I know nothing about locally indigenous plants from Wyoming, but have you thought about what local plants grow well? If you want to venture into Australian plants, there are plenty of Australian plants which are fantastic in drought prone climates, but still need watering for the first year or two. Thereafter, they literally fend for themselves. Depending on what type of garden you are after - you can also think about some other exotic plants which need little summer watering (eg figs, olives, rosemary).
Australian National Botanic Gardens
Growing Native Plants Number 2, 3rd edition
Australian Government Publishing Service, 1981.
Elliot, W.R. and Jones, D.L.
Encyclopaedia of Australian Plants Suitable for Cultivation, Volumes 1 & 2,
Lothian Publishing (various publication dates).
Society for Growing Australian Plants
Australian Plants, Volume 16 (126), March, 1991.
Wrigley, J. W. and Fagg, M.
Australian Native Plants, 4th edition
This iconic Aussie plant is loved for its stunning flowers which attract birds and also make great cut flowers.
There are thirteen different species of kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos and Macropidia species) but all are native to southern Western Australia. They range in height (50cm up to 2m), water requirements, soil types and frost tolerance. Choosing the right one for your garden can get quite confusing especially as there are now many different hybrids to choose from as well. To simplify things lets break them down into two groups:
The Tall Guys (growing up to 2m)
These are the easiest of all kangaroo paws and will tolerate a broad range of soils (even damp ones) and climatic conditions (including humid summers). They are perennials which form large clumps over time and produce many flowers in spring and summer.
The Short Guys (under 1m)
Many of the shorter plants are prolific flowerers with some flowering year round in warmer climates. The downside however is that they aren’t as tough as the tall types and require more care. They are shorter lived and more susceptible to fungal diseases. They do very well in pots where it’s easier to give them extra care and where they don’t have to compete with more vigorous plants in a garden bed.
In a nutshell kangaroo paws come from regions which experience cool wet winters and warm dry summers. If you can replicate this then your plants will thrive. If your climate is different to this then try the taller varieties as they are more adaptable. Alternatively grow the smaller types in pots and view them as short-lived perennials. With this in mind you can get happily grow them in cool, temperate and subtropical climates around Australia.
For all types plant in a full sun position with good drainage. Do not plant too deep as this increases the risk of fungal crown rot. Plant at the same level as it was in the pot and water in with eco-seaweed to reduce transplant shock.
For potted plants use a premium quality potting mix. It doesn’t have to be a special native mix as kangaroo paws are not phosphorus sensitive. The sole exception is the black kangaroo paw (Macropidia fuliginosa). In areas with high rainfall add some sand or perlite to ensure better drainage.
Taller types can be given an all over hard prune to remove ratty foliage and finished flower stalks. Large clumps of taller growing types will also benefit from being divided every few years to keep them vigorous. Go easy on the smaller types and only remove finished flower stems and connected foliage. Leave all other foliage untouched as a hard all over prune usually kills these types.
As mentioned above kangaroo paws aren’t sensitive to phosphorus (except the black kangaroo paw) so you can use regular fertilisers on them. Fertilise when the plants are actively growing with a slow release organic fertiliser, compost or aged manure. Potted specimens will especially benefit from regular doses of eco-aminogro to support their flower production. Use eco-seaweed as well to encourage thicker cell walls which makes it harder for fungal diseases to take hold.
Pests and Diseases of Kangaroo Paws
Snails and slugs may attack fresh growth but the biggest problem comes from fungal diseases. These appear when the growing conditions aren’t ideal or when the plant is losing vigour at the end of its life. Crown and root rots, kangaroo paw rust and ink spot are the major culprits. Remove affected leaves and improve growing conditions (eg more sun, better drainage and air flow). In a home garden situation keep plants vigorous and healthy with regular applications of eco-seaweed and eco-aminogro as your first line of defence.
Kangaroo paws will tolerate light frosts but they can damage new foliage and flower buds. If yours dies right back after a hard frost leave it until spring before doing anything. There’s a good chance its underground rhizome has survived and will reshoot in the warmer weather.
Once established these plants are relatively drought hardy however to have them looking their best ensure they receive water during their main growing periods (winter and spring). Lack of water during that time will result in fewer flowers and with many turning into dry brown clusters. Potted types with extended flowering periods will require watering for longer.
Our plant of the week, kangaroo paw, comes from KLRN San Antonio viewer Janet Morrow. She reports that this Australian plant does quite well for her in containers and in the ground. Listed as hardy only to Zone 10, Janet reports that they may or may not come back after winter in her Zone 9A garden, though hers have returned when pruned to the ground in winter, treating them as a perennial.
Kangaroo paw needs full sun, good drainage, and very little water. There are many varieties of sizes and colors. Some may get to six feet tall in other climates, like California, but Janet’s are smaller ones which she jokingly calls “Wallaby Paws.”
Kangaroo paw bears tubular velvety flowers that spike from grassy foliage. Janet tells us that they bloom continuously in warm weather if you remove spent flower stalks from the base. Hummingbirds and butterflies love them, and they also make long-lasting cut flowers.
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March To Do List
Plant: ornamental & wildlife
- Annuals: It’s a tricky month for annuals since we get hot days. But the soil is still cold and freezes could still arrive. Late: plant cosmos, sunflowers, morning glory, gomphrena but keep an eye on upcoming freezes. Avoid planting caladiums.
- Wildflower transplants: early in month, you can still plant bluebonnet, larkspur, poppy and other transplants.
- Perennials & vines
- Ornamental (clumping) grasses like muhly and Mexican feather grass (late month)
- Trees, shrubs, roses (as soon as possible before heat sets in)
- Nasturtiums, chives, catnip, comfrey, fennel, horseradish, feverfew, oregano, thyme, rosemary, Mexican mint marigold, peppermint, lemongrass (after last freeze)
Plant: food crops
- Chard, corn, cucumber, eggplant, endive, Malabar spinach, mustard, peppers, pumpkin, summer & winter squash, tomatillos (you need at least two!), tomatoes, beans, cantaloupe
- Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Vegetable Planting Guides (Central Texas)
- Roses (early)
- Evergreen shrubs
- Prune dormant perennials and ornamental (clumping) grasses.
- Trees: DO NOT prune red oaks and live oaks unless damaged. Spray immediately with clear varnish.
- No need to apply pruning paint to other trees
- Avoid topping crape myrtles: simply remove sprouts or entire limbs at the trunk.
- Dormant perennials, roses, shrubs and trees. Still time, but don’t wait!
- Citrus with high nitrogen fertilizer like Citrus-tone. Fertilize every few weeks through growing season.
- Add compost to beds as you cut back dormant perennials. Fertilize with slow-release granular late in the month or as dormant perennials leaf out
- Add compost around trees and fertilize. Be sure to dig out grass several feet from the trunk, ideally to the drip line of the tree canopy.
- Watch for powdery mildew. Apply a natural fungicide like Serenade.
- Mow weeds before they set seed. Do not fertilize at this time except with compost!
- Plant native Habiturf seeds after soil prep
- Plant other turf late in month once freezes aren’t coming
- Add compost to vegetable gardens along with organic fertilizer in prep for more summer crops
- Soil test
- Keep floating row cover available avoid covering plants with plastic
- Mulch, but avoid touching the base of trees and roses
- Till in winter cover crops
- When planting, dig hole twice as wide as root ball but no deeper than where it sits in the pot.
- Backfill and water until it sinks in.
- Continue filling in.
- Water again until it sinks in and pack the soil down.