What Is Bird of Paradise?
Fabulous and flashy, bird of paradise blooms bring sizzling tropical color to a vase or your landscape. This eye-catching perennial is native to South Africa. The blossoms resemble a bird in flight or an artfully folded origami sculpture. The spiky explosion of petals from the flower bud also mimics the head of a crowned crane, giving rise to another common name, crane flower. Whatever you call it, this bloomer is beautiful.
Bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae) craves heat, growing best in temperatures over 50 F. Winter hardy in Zones 10 to 12, bird of paradise adapts readily to containers. In colder regions, ɱaпy gardeners tuck it into a pot they can shift outdoors during the summer. Bird of paradise grows 4′ to 6′ tall and wide. A healthy, mature plant can produce up to 36 flower spikes each year.
Planting Bird of Paradise
Give bird of paradise a spot in full sun for best growth and most flowers. The exception to that is in the hottest regions, where partial shade protects plants from strong sun and heat. Plants in full sun tend to be shorter with smaller flowers, while part-shade plants grow taller with larger flowers.
Fertile, rich soils with good drainage produce best growth and flowering. Add compost or other organic matter to soil prior to planting. Avoid planting in a spot with poor drainage. Plants tend to fan out as they grow, and more flowers form along the outside edges of the plant clump. Space plants 4′ to 6′ apart to allow for ample spread and flowering. If planting near a walk or driveway, position the plant 4′ to 5′ away.
How to Grow Bird of Paradise
During the first six months after planting, plants need regular watering to help them establish in the landscape. Aim for a balance — not too wet and not too dry. Yellowing leaves signal both too much and not enough water. Rely on touching the soil to see if it’s dry before you water. Once plants are established, water plants deeply during the growing season, letting soil dry before watering. In winter, as growth slows, water only when soil is very dry to the touch.
Start fertilizing a month after planting. Apply the fertilizer of your choice to plants every three months during the growing season. Follow label instructions to apply fertilizer properly. Or you can mulch with compost, which nourishes both plant and soil.
You don’t need to prune bird of paradise on a seasonal basis. Simply remove dead leaves and old flower stalks, cutting them to the ground. This helps prevent fungus outbreaks.
Getting more flowers
A newly planted bird of paradise often doesn’t blossom for a few years. To encourage a plant to bloom, start fertilizing. Apply liquid fertilizer once a week for three weeks. Don’t fertilize the fourth week. Repeat this process until the plant starts flowering. Be sure to water the plant well an hour before you fertilize. When the plant starts blooming, let it become fully dry (even extra dry) before you water, and it will flower more. Crowded plants produce more blooms, so don’t rush to divide clumps.
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Design Ideas for Bird of Paradise
Bird of paradise is a fixture in Florida yards where it’s often grown as a shrub. It’s also the official flower of the city of Los Angeles, where it’s literally everywhere: by streets and sidewalks, and in gardens and parking strips.
Because leaves are evergreen, bird of paradise is an ideal plant for places where dropping leaves create a maintenance issue, such as beside a swimming pool or in a courtyard. It makes a terrific accent plant in a landscape or anchor shrub in a garden bed.
You can cut blooms to bring indoors, where they last up to two weeks in a vase. Most gardeners plant bird of paradise for the flower show, but it’s also a terrific wildlife garden plant. The blossoms lure hummingbirds and orioles, which visit the bright blooms to sip nectar.
Good companion plants for bird of paradise include low-growing, drought-tolerant plants, such as mondo grass, Carissa, Asiatic jasmine, bromeliads and juniper.
Growing Bird of Paradise Indoors
Bird of paradise gives any room a tropical punch. Follow these tips to keep your indoor plant healthy.
- Bright light. Provide the highest natural light you can. Supplement with plant lights, too. High light is vital for strong growth and flowering. If sunlight only hits one side of your plant, turn the pot weekly to keep growth even.
- Rich soil. Use a potting mix designed for use in pots. Types that contain coco coir provide the right amount of moisture retention and drainage that help a bird of paradise plant to thrive.
- Watering. To avoid root rot, let soil dry between waterings. This is especially important in winter, when plant growth slows. Using a clay pot enhances soil drying by allowing air flow to roots.
- Humidity. Bird of paradise is a tropical plant, thriving with high humidity. To increase humidity, run a humidifier, mist your plant every other day, or place it on a saucer of pebbles with a little water added.
- Tight quarters. This plant likes to be crowded. In the landscape it forms a thick shrub. In pots, skip repotting and let stems multiply.
- Feeding. Apply a layer of worm castings and/or compost to soil in spring and midsummer. Or use plant food at the same ᴛι̇ɱes.
- Cleaning. Paddle-shape leaves accumulate dust indoors. Wipe both sides of leaves with a damp rag occasionally to keep them dust-free.