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Bird of paradise is a gorgeous plant easily recognizable by its bold, funky and bright flowers. In the state of California, it is just ubiquitous and grows alongside sidewalks, parking lots, by the sea, many gardens. etc.
It is so popular and common that it is the official flower of the city of Los Angeles.
Before we start talking about tips and tricks when it comes to Bird of Paradise plant care, let us first get to know it a little bit.
Strelitzia Bird of Paradise Plant Varieties
Bird of Paradise belongs to Strelitzia genus, but is much more known for its common name, since the spiky leaves resemble tropical birds in flight.
It is native to South Africa, and the genus itself consists of six species of plants, with two of the species Strelitzia Nicolai, the giant bird of paradise and Strelitzia Reginae, the standard sized plant, being homegrown the most often.
The difference between these two is the color of their flowers – the first one has the white ones, and the latter very bright orange ones.
What makes these plants stand out besides their phenomenal and characteristic flowers is their height that can reach up to 10m (30ft) in certain species and the size of their leaves which can be from 30 to incredible 200cm (10-70in) long and from 10 to 80cm (4-35in) broad.
Now that we got to know this gorgeous lady, let us get familiar with all the important information on how to take care of Bird of Paradise plant.
Lighting That Bird of Paradise Plant Loves
Birds of paradise are tropical plants, thus full sun and light shade sooth them. Since these plants thrive in USDA zones 9 through 12, that is exactly what they get when they grow outside.
They truly are a gorgeous addition to gardens, parks, etc. However, since they can be grown indoors and many people do it, it is crucial to provide as much natural light as possible.
Plants should be near the source of the lights and rotated around, so every part of its gets the necessary light to grow equally. You should also dust the leaves approximately every two weeks for the plant to photosynthesize better.
What is important to know is that the plant shouldn’t be right next to the window that receives a lot of direct light, because when shining through the glass, the light’s ultraviolent rays get amplified and can harm the leaves.
If there isn’t enough light, it could easily happen that your plant’s leaves start turning yellow, which means that you should move it to a brighter room, or if it already is in that one, adding a full-spectrum fluorescent bulb directly over it will help.
It is often the case that people keep their indoor plants outside, on the porch, for example, so they can receive enough light, and then move them inside during fall and winter since they need warmth.
The air temperature should be kept above 16 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit). If you are not sure if there is enough light in your home, office, etc., there are methods for measuring it.
Watering Bird of Paradise Plant
We mentioned above that the leaves could turn yellow from the lack of light. However, this also occurs due to improper watering. Unlike most plants that could tolerate being more dry or wet, this is not the case with the bird of paradise, which needs to be in between – not too dry, not too wet.
The best scenario would be if it were deep watered every few weeks, instead of being just splashed more often.
For the ones growing indoors, it would be wise to keep them slightly moist by giving them regular water.
When it comes to fall, and winter periods, the plant needs less water, thus should be let alone to dry about 2 inches before doing it again. The reason is that too much water causes root rot and birds of paradise are very susceptible to it.
Our homes are often dry, and that is something that doesn’t affect us, however with these beauties it’s different – they are used to humidity, thus misting them a couple of times a week would be a good thing to do.
What is important to know is that after repotting or planting (which we will talk about as well) the plant can be extra sensitive and needs time to relax from the stress, which leads to being sensitive to any fluctuations in available moisture.
What helps is adding two to three inches of mulch around the plant to prevent drying. However, the mulch shouldn’t, in any case, get in touch with the plant’s stem, since it could cause rotting.
I would suggest obtaining a self-watering pot, in case you are often away from home and can’t provide the proper watering. This way you can travel calmly and go on about your activities carefree.
Another solution in case you work a lot, travel, or have a busy schedule, in general, is purchasing a self-watering system. It might be a jackpot for your lifestyle and love for the plants.
What to Feed Bird of Paradise Plants
Even though they are tropical plants, bird of paradise plants don’t require anything extravagant for feeding. They will be quite grateful for a layer of mulch (5-7cm thick (2-3 inches)).
You can create mulch from organic materials such as bark, leaves, pine needles, etc. These are all the ingredients that through decomposition feed the wild plants in nature.
As we said, mulch shouldn’t be in touch with the plant, thus there should be an area between it and the plant of around 5-7 cm (2-3 inches).
When it comes to fertilizers, these plants like fertilizers with equal parts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium and steer manure offers just that.
Every type of bird of paradise is different, thus it is different how and when they should be fed. Since we mentioned two of the most common species, we will talk about their feeding.
- Strelitzia Reginae – the best choice for this species would be manure or blood meal. When these plants grow outside, then granular landscape fertilizers are a very good choice.
Fertilizer should be applied every three months during the growing season, and the plants should be watered right before and after that process.
There is, however, a different schedule for the bird of paradise plants growing indoors – you should fertilize them every two weeks during the growing season and once a month during the winter.
- Strelitzia Nicolai – as we said these are the giants of the bird of paradise plants, and if fertilized, they can grow a lot. So, unless you wish to nurture a giant, their fertilization is not necessary. On the other hand, if you wish to have a giant plant, it should be fed once a month during the growing season.
How to Transplant a Bird of Paradise
The most important part of this process is being careful. These plants are truly gorgeous, and it is understandable than transplantation occurs, however, there are certain things to know:
- Bird of Paradise plants can grow very large and can be very heavy and hard to move around. Thus transplanting the very large ones should be avoided or done carefully with someone’s help.
- Water the roots because that will help the plant deal with the shock of being moved.
- You should dig around the plant and go out about 30cm (12 inches) for every 2.5cm (1inch) diameter of the main trunk.
- You should try to dig deep in order not to hurt roots, at least not the major ones.
- It would be wise to have a sheet near the plant, so when you take it out, you can lay it along with the roots. That way you can carry it easier to the next hole.
- You should have the new hole ready before removing the bird of paradise plant from the old one, so when you take it out, the new one is ready for it right away. It shouldn’t be deeper than the first hole.
It is crucial that you take very good care of the plant after the relocation. The thing is, It will take a few months for it to fully recover from the shock. You should water it regularly during that period and fertilized as well to encourage growth and blooming.
Insect Pests on Bird of Paradise Plants
Now that we have covered all of the important things in order to prepare you to take care of your beauty, there is another one, less pleasant we need to familiarize ourselves with: the pests.
Just like any other plant, bird of paradise has them as well. However, they are pest-free in general, which is great news. The most common ones that this plant is in touch with are mealybugs and scale.
Mealybugs are the pest you have probably seen many times. They leave a white cotton-like residue on the plant’s surface or better-said leaves. This dusty-like cover can consist of either the bugs themselves or their egg sacks. In a bit less common cases, this residue can be sticky, and it is called honeydew. Honeydew is secreted by the mealybugs and can easily attract ants.
If there is a small number of mealybugs, they will not do much harm; however, if there is a lot of them, they will suck your plant dry. When they mature, they stick their suckers in the plant’s tissue, causing it to become dry, and in very extreme cases, killing it.
There are certain steps to follow if you see these boring little creatures on your plant:
- isolate it first
- remove all of the white residues that you can see
- wash your plant with a home-made solution consisting of alcohol and water (1:3) and some dish soap (without bleach). Wash the entire plant with it and let it sit with the solution on it for a few days, and then repeat the process.
- another helpful solution is the application of the neem oil and pesticide to the plant (here, you can find my guide on how to make neem oil spray at home)
The second most common pest is the scale, which includes three types:
- armored scale
- soft scale
Since we already mentioned the mealybug as its subtype, we will familiarize with the scale.
Scale insects are small, oval and flat bugs with tan to brown shell-like covering (scale). They are very destructive as they suck sap from plants, stealing the most valuable nutrients from it. You can find them on undersides of leaves and around leaf joints.
Armored scales are much harder to get rid of, while the soft bugs secrete abnormal amounts of honeydew, attracting ants and causing the growth of sooty mold and fungus.
There are several solutions to this common problem, however, you will need to be very persistent.
The easiest one is to remove them from the plant and then wash it with alcohol-soaked pads.
The other remedies are the neem oil and insecticide sprays or insecticidal soap.
Some of the other pests that can harm your bird of paradise plant are spider mites, aphids, whiteflies, and crown borers. These are all most common for outdoor plants since the indoor ones rarely get in touch with them.
Another important fact about this fabulous plant is that it is mildly toxic to humans and animals. It is important to know this if you have cats, dogs or other animals wandering around your home.
In case they consume small bites, smaller irritation of mouth and stomach might appear, but if larger amounts are consumed, they might get a strong stomach ache. The same goes for humans.