New England gardening: Magic of melaleucas

Rosy honey myrtle: Melaleuca diosmatifolia produces masses of mauve, cylindrical spikes up to four centimetres long.
Rosy honey myrtle: Melaleuca diosmatifolia produces masses of mauve, cylindrical spikes up to four centimetres long.

The melaleucas are an under-rated group of native plants. These close relatives of the bottlebrushes come in a range of heights, foliage shapes, flower arrangements and colours.

Melaleucas blooms come in virtually every colour except blue. Flowering is often prolific and blooms are usually held for long periods. Flowers are rich in nectar and attract many birds and insects.

Australia-wide there are about 200 species with the south-west corner of Western Australia having the lion’s share.

Melaleucas have proven to be fast-growing, free-flowering and once established, have low water requirements. They appear to be frost tolerant.

This time we will concentrate on shrubby melaleucas with a view to using a number of varieties to create a diverse hedge. This type of hedge will provide a screen, attract a range of birds feeding on the nectar and the dense foliage will provide secure nesting sites.

Melaleuca armillaris, the bracelet honey-myrtle, grows into a tall, spreading shrub. The foliage is light green. This complements the white bottlebrush-like flowers. The bracelet honey-myrtle is widely cultivated in Tamworth.

Melaleuca decussata, the cross-leaved honey-myrtle, is a rounded shrub that reaches a height of two metres. Small leaves are arranged in two pairs of opposite rows forming a cross when viewed from above. Mauve flowers are carried in small cylindrical spikes that fade to white when they age. The flowering period extends from late spring to summer.

The cross-leaved honey-myrtle is widely cultivated and is hardy and free flowering.

Melaleuca diosmatifolia, the rosy honey myrtle, is a tall, upright shrub with linear, light green, aromatic leaves. In summer plants produce masses of mauve, cylindrical spikes up to four centimetres long. The spikes also age to white. The flowering period extends for many weeks. A continuous procession of native insects visits the flowers.

Melaleuca ericifolia, the swamp paperbark, is a tall shrub with grey-brown papery bark. Flower heads are cylindrical, white to cream, and bountiful blooming occurs in spring.

The swamp paperbark, as the name implies, occurs in moist areas. In cultivation, this species survives and thrives in dry, well-drained sites. Melaleuca ericifolia is found in coastal NSW.

Melaleuca incana, the grey honey-myrtle, is a native of Western Australia. This tall shrub has soft, eye-catching, grey-green, pendulous foliage. Small, yellow, bottlebrush-shaped flowers appear en masse in spring. The foliage provides a contrast with the flowers.

This is a beautiful shrub with attractive growth habit, foliage and flowers. As well as used in hedges, this species could be grown as a “stand-alone” shrub.

This range of melaleucas could be grown together to form a diverse hedge.