Winter is the best time of all to enjoy wattles – in the bush or in your garden.
The words everyone associates with planting a wattle are “fast-growing but short-lived”. Wattles are quick because many are pioneer plants. They spring up in disturbed areas or after fire, their nitrogen-fixing roots helping the soil, and their flowers and leafy branches offering food and shelter for animals, insects and birds.
Then after a few years other trees and shrubs have arrived and those first, eager-to-please wattles start to wind down, often attacked by borer.
The fast-growing but short-lived species shouldn’t be dismissed as being no good. They are a great plant to use to establish a garden, and make fast windbreak and privacy plants. And plants are cheap. Planted at tubestock size, and given care during their first spring and summer, they soon begin to grow. Provide water and give protection from browsing animals to see a tube-sized plant reach an impressive metre or more in a year.
To buy wattle or other plants for your garden head to
Useful wattles for screening include Acacia howittii, which has a weeping habit and grows to around 8m tall, and Cootamundra wattle, A. baileyana, which can reach 3.5–8m in height. Space wattles about 2–3m apart for screening.
For a fast-growing shade tree plant one of the tall, stately wattles, which have the plus of being fairly long-lived. Options include black wattle, A. decurrens, which can reach 6–12m tall, cedar wattle, A. elata, at 12–30m tall and blackwood, A. melanoxylon, at 10–30m tall with dense, bushy growth and good timber. These trees grow best in a moist, sheltered spot.
Plant breeding and selection has come up with some low-growing wattles including the new ‘Mini Cog‘, a compact shrubby form of the tree-sized narrow-leaf bower wattle, A. cognata, which is native to south-east Australia.
With its lime green leaves ‘Mini Cog’ is a striking garden plant. It forms a low mounding shrub under a metre high and spreading up to 1.8m across. Give it a well-drained spot in sun or part-shade and an occasional light tip prune. It is moderately frost tolerant but may not survive a severe frost.
Use it as a low informal hedge, a groundcover spilling across a sloping site or to soften the edge of a path or steps. It is also a great choice as an accent plant, as its lime green foliage adds drama and colour.
Not what they seem
Although we talk about wattle leaves and flowers, these descriptions aren’t strictly true in botanical terms. Indeed, wattles have pared themselves down for survival in the harsh Australian climate.
For many species their ‘leaves’ are phyllodes. These are modified petioles, the stems of true leaves, which give wattles a greater ability to withstand heat and drought than a normal leafy tree or shrub. The flowers lack petals and are made up of clusters of pollen-bearing anthers.
September 1 is Wattle Day, a national celebration with a chequered history. Once popular in schools, Wattle Day languished until revived by wattle enthusiast, Maria Hitchcock, who also made sure wattle was officially recognised as Australia’s floral emblem.
August 1 and September 1 had both been celebrated as Wattle Day in different parts of Australia, possibly reflecting the blooming times of local species. September 1 won the day and the day was gazetted as Wattle Day in 1994.
The species that is our floral emblem is golden wattle, Acacia pycnantha. Native to Victoria and South Australia, it has large yellow balls of flowers and thin, curved green leaves.
To find out more about Wattle Day see the website of the . To read more about the history of the wattle in Australian culture see Wattle by Maria Hitchcock.
Related gallery: 12 best winter flowers