Honey Myrtles particularly the bracelet honey myrtle and other very large Melaleuca can strike fear into some householders that have close encounters with them.

The sheer size and spread of them can be daunting next to a house. The speed of growth of them can startle even the most jaded of gardeners. As if that wasn’t enough, the root systems on them can seemingly penetrate the slightest crack in plumbing to make a mess enough to frustrate most plumbers. Incidentally, the bracelet honey myrtle Melaleuca armillaris was often recommended during the 1960’s and 1970’s as a fast growing screen plant. It did the job and kept growing, often to 8m plus to become a backyard monster.

The good news is that there are wonderful alternatives in the over 200 species of this generally very hardy group of plants. As I have pointed out some Melaleuca are simply too big for the average garden in town and unless you have plenty of room, they are best avoided altogether. Different Melaleuca grow over most of the different conditions in Australia. One grows above the snow line and the inland paperbark grows in ephemeral water courses in the dry pastoral country in the north of South Australia.

Most species are known for their ability to attract nectar and insect eating birds, many flowering over summer for a long period. The flowers themselves are not unlike mini Eucalypt flowers without the bud covering (bud cap) arranged either in bottle brush like flowers and some in ‘pom pom’ at the ends of the stems. Others like the claw flower have quite unusual shapes that are worth a close look. Flower colour is often in the pinks, mauves and purple but white, red orange and paler yellow are common. Some species are dazzling at flowering both in quantity and intensity of colour.

Culturally, the tougher species need very little attention once past their first couple of summers. A light prune each year after flowering is about it. Many will be happy with monthly watering and maybe a feed in early spring if you are so inclined.

Some good examples of these tough little beauties would include; M. coccinea goldfield’s bottlebrush (scarlet and around 2m), M. diosmifolia (green flowers and dwarf forms the best), M. elliptica granite honey myrtle (red with the most wonderful bark), M. incana nana Velvet cushion (small yellow flowers and usually less than 1m), M. ‘Little Nessy’ (purple flowers and very dense foliage up to 2m) M. pentgona (soft pink flowers in profusion, around 2m), M. pulchella claw flower (1m high with unusual pink flowers), M. spathulata (1m high pink flowers, tough as), M. thymifolia (lots of different forms under 1m, mostly pink, purple and white lacy flowers).

Think small Melaleuca for any garden for beautiful tough shrubs in almost any soil and situation.

This article first published in the Riverland Weekly © April 14, 2011.