Growing a Woolly Bush Hedge

Update: please see this comprehensive post about growing Albany Woolly Bush.

woolly bush hedge then and now

I’ve been asked for an update on the woolly bush hedge I planted behind my house. The back of my house faces west, very bad in terms of passive solar design, because when the back verandah was enclosed, some clever person put in a wall of windows. Every summer afternoon my back room bakes, lightly toasting the rest of the house. It’s a nice place to pass a sunny winter afternoon, but for half the year my house is unpleasantly hot. A hedge of locally endemic plants was my solution.

It hasn’t been five years, by which time my woolly bushes should be fully grown, but after almost four years, my hedge is well on its way. It’s not yet blocking the setting sun, but I love this green wall and it’s become a haven for wildlife. Red wattlebirds (Anthochaera carunculata) and singing honeyeaters (Lichenostomus virescens) love the nectar and it flowers for a large part of the year (July-January). Insects and spiders have taken up residence in abundant variety. My cat and dog think under (or on) the lowest branches is a great place to nap.

Cider the dog napping among the woolly bushes

The Albany woolly bush (Adenanthos sericeus) is usually used in garden planting if you want a hedge. It’s more widely available in nurseries, easier to propagate and looks “prettier.” I used Adenanthos cygnorum, a species endemic to Perth which I bought from Lullfitz Nursery in Wanneroo. What I didn’t realise was this species can grow up to 4m, but may be low growing.* As my plants grew, two of them didn’t grow tall. I don’t mind because as I prune the tall woolly bushes they spread sideways and it’s above the fence that I want them blocking sunlight. My hedge is just a bit unusual.

Albany woolly bush hedge in my neighbourhood

If you’re growing a hedge for aesthetics as well as enclosure, I recommend the Albany woolly bush. It’s available from most nurseries so you won’t have to go to a specialist native plant nursery. If you want a lower growing hedge (waist height) use Westringia. There are a number of Westringia species but the Perth endemic Westringia dampieri grows well in our sandy soils. I have one in my garden and it looks very much like rosemary, but with pretty white flowers.

Native species should be planted at the start of winter, with some non-phosphorous fertilizer (eg. sheep manure). The rains of winter get them off to a good start, but in their first summer they will likely need some watering (once or twice a week). After their second winter, woolly bush and Westringia dampieri shouldn’t need further watering or fertilizer because they have evolved with our dry climate and nutrient poor soil. If the winter is dry or you’re planting at other times, the plants will need supplementary watering, every day during the hot summer. While many native plant species are drought tolerant, not all are. It’s best to choose locally endemic species if you don’t want to have to water or fertilize.

woolly bushes make great Christmas trees

Woolly bushes look very like Christmas trees, so prune some branches before Christmas and put them in a bucket of water for a living Christmas tree. It doesn’t matter that it won’t be after the flowering period, woolly bushes are tough and you can prune them any time of year, whenever they’re growing out of the hedge shape you desire.

Someone asked if woolly bush roots grow into underground pipes. They have shallow root systems and I’ve never heard of this. I have an Albany woolly bush (not part of my hedge) growing next to the garden irrigation solenoids. The roots of palm trees cause problems with these pipes, rather than the woolly bush. My pond is also next to this woolly bush and the roots have never caused problems with the hard plastic lining.

*There’s also a subspecies Adenanthos cygnorum subsp. chamaephyton from the Darling Scarp which has prostrate growth, but it has Conservation Status Priority 3 so my plants aren’t likely to be this.

If you want to ask a question about growing woolly bush please comment on this more recent post Albany Woolly Bush.

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17 thoughts on “Growing a Woolly Bush Hedge

  1. is there any time of the year that you can’t plant these woolly Adenanthos sericeus plants in Melbourne or is one month the same as the next.

    • i recommend planting in autumn or spring. march or april would be ideal. an established woolly bush is frost & drought tolerant but when newly planted it needs time for the roots to establish. make sure the soil is free draining because they like sandy soil. if you have clay soil add some gravel when planting

  2. The woolly bush has been recommended to me to grow as a screening plant close to sewerage line. I live in adelaide. Soil is alkaline and heavy. Will it do well?

    • hi Lynette,
      the woolly bush grows in soils with limestone, so alkaline should be fine. but they prefer sandy soil. add some gravel when planting to make a clay soil more free draining

  3. Hi Lynette, I have one of these (4m high, a real monster), another next to it that is on it’s way at just over a meter tall but another one I’ve planted (actually the second as the first one died), doesn’t seem to grow well. Any ideas to get the last one growing nice and full?

    Thanks

    • hi Kaza, is the third woolly bush in the same soil as the first two? sandy alkaline is what they like. dig some sheep manure in around it to fertilize
      cheers, Clare

  4. silver streak woolly bush not looking healthy drooping in a pot is this over watering

    • I have had the same problem and it seems I have been over watering too. I’ve killed two already. They need to be well drained and not water too often. After all they are a native in the driest continent in the world and evolved in sandy soils so go lightly. I was advised no more than once a week and not too much.

  5. Hi. I have tried growing these for a screen hedge. I’m in Adelaide. The soil in the bed is sandy loam for about 200mm then hard clay. I’m not much of a gardener but love a good one. I managed to kill two and then found out I was overwatering and as they died I panicked and added more water! I’ve learnt my lesson and the remaining ones are OK. But in planting more how deep and wide should I make the holes to give them enough drainage. I’ll have to dig down in to the clay and fill with sandy soil, Can you advise on the best way to prepare this ground? What can I do for the ones already in this shallow sandy soil on top of clay so the roots don’t sit in a wet layer over the clay?

    • Hi Barry, i recommend not watering the established plants at all. rainfall is sufficient and they are used to dry summers. when you plant replacements try digging 50cm deep and fill the hole with sandy soil mixed with gravel. the gravel should help with drainage. water the new plants in, but winter’s rainfall should be sufficient. good luck

      • Thanks Clare. I stopped watering some time ago and the remaining ones are OK as I said. I have gravel so I’ll do that. Thanks for the guidance.
        Barry

  6. Hi
    The roots of a well established woolly bush are lifting some pavers. Can I trim or reposition the roots?
    Thanks.

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