The Q&A Archives: Bird of Paradise Maniac Seeking Detailed Cultivation Advice

Question: My name is Glenn and I live in Victoria, BC, on the west coast of Canada. I have been growing something or other since about the age of 5 and I'll be 43 this year. My main areas of interest are orchids, carnivores, brugmansias, and my new OBSESSION...Bird of Paradise. I have 3 reginae and one Mandela's Gold. I've had the three orange, regular ones for about 10 years now and have had some good years with them. I also grow, outside here in our mild climate windmill palms and eucalyptus, even keeping a cymbidium outside on my balcony all year round...

The main point of this note, however, is that I would like to become an EXPERT Strelitzia reginae grower and I was wondering if you could offer some tips or if you know anyone who could help me. I have read EVERYTHING that I can find on the internet and have been growing my specimens for years now with intermittent success. My goal is that I would like to know EXACTLY what conditions to provide my plants with to ensure that they bloom profusely and consistently each year. I've never had such hit or miss results with any of my other plants but my Strelitzias continue to confound me.

One problem that I seem to have had over the last 2 years is that I can see, with the help of backlighting from a flashlight, buds developing in the leaf axis, but they only get to a certain length, never fully developing, and just turning brown and die. A sort of blasting in a way. I don't know what I'm doing wrong...

Here's what I know...Lot's of sun, which they get as I face southwest. Plants are outside from March until November and get full sun from about noon until sunset. We have those great, dry, cloudless, California type summers here and I know that the plants love it. I also know about keeping them rootbound. I water and fertilize regularly and thoroughly during the summer without keeping them soaking but never letting them go bone dry until about September. I've been told by an experienced grower that one or two severe water restrictions in the early fall will promote bud formation. But I've also read that you're supposed to keep the plants very, very dry all winter long, but in the same piece of information,

Answer: The Bird of Paradise plant, Strelitzia reginae, is native to the subtropical areas of South Africa. For years, it was considered a collector's plant because it was difficult to find a nice specimen. With modern growing practices, Bird of Paradise plants are available more often, but are still a much-prized plant. They begin to bloom when they are about 4-5 years old and live on for years and years.

When selecting a Bird of Paradise plant, look for a full, healthy-looking plant with lots of new growth. Plants that are slightly crowded in their pots will bloom better.

They need lots of light and will even do well with full sun if they have been introduced to it slowly. Provide sufficient light indoors during our short day, dark winter by locating them in the sunniest window and giving them supplemental artificial light.

The soil will need to be kept moist all spring and summer but should be allowed to dry out slightly between watering in the fall and winter.

Average indoor temperatures are fine. Try to avoid temperatures below 50?.

They like high humidity during the growing season. Spray them every day in the summer but cut back to just once or twice a week in the winter.

Feed your Bird of Paradise every other week during spring and summer with a liquid such as Schultz's Instant Plant Food or a water-soluble fertilizer such as Bachman's Excel-Gro. Cut back to once a month in fall and winter.

A quality peat-based potting soil such as Bachman's Exceloam is perfect for this plant.

When they are young and actively growing, repot them every spring so they will have plenty of room. As they reach 4 or 5 years old, just replace the top soil every year or so. They will perform best if they remain root-bound.

Their large leaves will tend to collect some dust. Simply wipe them off with a soft cloth. The leaves naturally have a flat, matte finish that you shouldn't try to wipe off. Do not use any leafshine products.

The most common reason a Bird of Paradise won't bloom is that it is too young. It also needs to be crowded in its pot, so don't repot it after it is 4-5 years old. If the plant is mature and potbound and still fails to bloom, try using a fertilizer higher in phosphorus such as Schultz's Blooms Plus. If the above doesn't apply, your plants may be suffering from too little light. Nearly full sun is required for blooming. The Strelitzia reginae prefers full sun, 4000-8000 ft-candles, but can tolerate 2000 ft-candles. However flowering will be diminished at 2000 ft-candles. You might try some supplemental light. It is a warm temperate plant preferring 65-70 degrees F during the day and 50-55 degrees F at night. They prefer moderate humidity, around 60%. This may require some daily misting during the dry winter months.

In its normal growing region, Bird of Paradise does experience dry winter months. I would water sparingly during this time, both to mimic its normal growing region and to signal the plant that it is time to produce flower buds.

Hope this information answers all your questions!

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