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How to Grow a Weeping Bottlebrush, Melaleuca viminalis (Callistemon)

The weeping bottlebrush is a stunning native tree that will produce masses of red bottlebrush flowers in spring. These are loved by native birds, especially honeyeaters and wattlebirds.

This native tree or shrub grows naturally along creeks and rivers and in wet eucalypt forests.

It does prefer moist soil and is useful for stabilising banks along water courses. It is therefore perfect for a damp spot in your garden. 

Here’s everything you need to know about growing the weeping bottlebrush in Australia.

Why Callistemons are now renamed as Melaleucas

You might be wondering why plants that you’ve always known as Callistemon are now known as Melaleuca.

Weeping Bottlebrush Melaleuca viminalis | Plant care
Melaleuca viminalis

Back in 2009, botanists determined that plants known as Callistemon were not distinct enough from Melaleucas and, therefore, all Callistemon species were officially renamed as Melaleuca.

However, you’ll still find them labeled as Callistemon in many nurseries and garden centres.

Common varieties of Melaleuca viminalis

Melaleuca viminalis hot pink | Plant care
Melaleuca viminalis ‘hot pink’

Thanks to commercial growers, there are numerous cultivars of Melaleuca viminalis that you will find available at your local nursery. Some of the more popular ones include:

  • ‘Captain Cook’ – a smaller cultivar that only reaches around 2 metres in height
  • ‘Dawson River’ – a pretty shrub with deep crimson flowers and an attractive weeping habit
  • ‘Wild River’ – a semi-weeping shrub or small tree with bright red flowers

Choosing your location and preparing the soil

Melaleuca viminalis grows best in full sun but can handle part shade. You’ll find that the plant will produce many more flowers when grown in full sun, though.

This species also prefers moist but well-drained soil. However, the plant is quite adaptable when grown in gardens and will tolerate some dryness once it has become well-established.

To prepare your soil, you should incorporate plenty of organic matter such as humus into the soil. For native Australian plants, humus and leaf litter is better than compost because you don’t want to add too much phosphorus.

leaf litter | Plant care

You can easily create your own humus by incorporating leaf litter with lawn clippings and letting this sit until it breaks down into lovely rich soil. This could take a year or more. 

In my last home, I had a lovely large oak tree in the backyard. As you would imagine, I had plenty of leaves to rake up in autumn each year. I would rake these into a large pile in the backyard and then scatter grass clippings over the top, layering as more leaves dropped and I had more clippings.

With time, this resulted in a lovely rich humus soil that was just perfect for adding to garden beds for growing native plants and other types of shrubs and flowers. 

So, if you have deciduous trees in your yard, don’t throw the leaves into your green bin. Either create a humus pile like I did or throw the leaves onto your garden beds or into the compost. 

How to plant Melaleuca viminalis

To plant your weeping bottlebrush, dig a hole that is large enough to accommodate the rootball of the plant. Generally, it should be twice as wide and as deep as the pot that your plant is in.

hole for tree | Plant care

Take the plant out of its pot, tease out the roots a little and place it in the centre of the hole. Replace the excavated soil back into the hole around the roots of the plant and firm it down. 

Create a moat around the perimeter of the planting hole and fill this with water. Mulch well around the base of the plant. 

How to care for Melaleuca viminalis

Native plants such as bottlebrushes really don’t need a lot of care once they’re established. However, while your plant is still young, you want to keep it well-watered and protect it from frost if you live in a cooler region.

Weeping Bottlebrush Melaleuca viminalis 3 | Plant care
Melaleuca viminalis

It’s also a good idea to tip-prune your bottlebrush while it’s still young in order to encourage bushier growth. Bottlebrushes can also be pruned after flowering by cutting just below the spent blooms. This will encourage additional bushy growth and more flowers the following season.

Although not necessary if you have humus-rich soil and mulch often, you can give your bottlebrush a slow-release fertiliser designed specifically for native plants in late winter.

Melaleuca viminalis problems, pests, and diseases

Weeping Bottlebrush Melaleuca viminalis 2 | Plant care
Melaleuca viminalis

Although the weeping bottlebrush is not prone to many problems, there are a few pests that you should look out for. These are mainly sap-suckers such as scale and caterpillars that can decimate a young plant.

Scale

Scale are small sap-sucking insects that have a hard brown or black coating. These will often be found along the young stems of your plant. They also secrete a sticky honeydew substance that will attract ants and result in a sooty black mould on the leaves.

To control these insects, spray your shrub or young tree with an oil-based insecticide such as neem oil or white oil.

Sawfly larvae

The larvae of the sawfly are brownish caterpillars with dark or black heads that can attack your plant in great numbers and will totally strip off the foliage. It’s important to treat your bottlebrush with a suitable insecticide as soon as you spot these pests. You can use something like neem oil to get rid of them.

However, if there are only a few caterpillars, you can pick them off the shrub and dispose of them. Make sure you’re vigilant and continue to remove any that you see. 

If these pests cover your plant in large numbers and defoliate it, it may not recover.

FAQ

How tall does a weeping bottlebrush grow?

The primary species of weeping bottlebrush (Melaleuca viminalis) can reach a height of around 6 to 8 metres. However, there are cultivars that are much smaller-growing.

Are weeping bottlebrush quick growing?

The weeping bottlebrush is not particularly quick growing. It only grows around 90 cm per year when it’s grown in ideal conditions.

Are weeping bottlebrush tree roots invasive?

Weeping bottlebrush trees do not have invasive roots.

Where is the best place to plant a weeping bottlebrush?

The weeping bottlebrush can be planted in full sun or part shade. Plants grown in a more shady spot won’t produce as many flowers. Choose a location that has moist, loamy but free-draining soil.

Photo of author

Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.

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