How to grow and prune a bird of paradise

Hardy, easy to grow and architecturally dramatic with some of the most stunning and bizarre flowers you will ever see—that’s the awesome bird of paradise.

What you need to know about bird of paradise

Name: bird of paradise, strelitzia , crane flower, bird’s tongue flower (Strelitzia reginae)

Plant type: evergreen, forms a trunkless clump

Height: to around 1.2m tall by 2–3m wide with age

Foliage: similar to a small banana leaf but on a stem, very rigid, green to grey-blue.

Climate: tropics, sub-tropics, warm temperate and sheltered areas of cold temperate.

Soil: light, free-draining with additional compost at planting time.

Position: warm and sunny with protection from harsh or cold winds, will tolerate some shade.

Flowering and fruiting: instantly recognisable bird’s head–like flowers are carried on long, leafless stems. The plumes are vibrant orange and electric blue–violet. Appear in April to November, but can spot-flower randomly.

Feeding: annual application of controlled-release fertiliser.

Watering: must have reliable moisture during hot, dry weather.

Growing bird of paradise

Are you looking for a plant that give you the most amazing results even if it’s all but neglected? Then the bird of paradise is the plant for you! It will happily flower away with very little attention and care. It has an enormous amount going for it beyond just being easy-car—it makes a brilliant landscape addition thanks to its bold foliage, it does superbly well in pots, and the flowers are just breathtaking. A favourite with florists, they will last for weeks on the plant or in the vase, and can only be described as stunning.

Appearance and characteristics of bird of paradise

Older plants will form a large clump, with the central leaves being held very upright while the outer leaves gently bow down. The foliage is distinctly tropical-looking, semi-glossy above, green-grey below with large banana leaf or paddle-like blades. The actual leaf blade will be up to 50cm long by 20cm wide. From a distance a clump may look all leaf, but on closer inspection you’ll see that the leaf blade is on a stem that’s around 50cm to 1m in length.

The flowers are just stunning. Held on tall, leafless stems to just above the foliage, they sport upwardly fanned plumes in vivid tropical hues of oranges and blues. The body of the flower is almost tubular and pointed, giving the whole structure the appearance of a colourful bird’s head. The blooms all point in random directions so a large plant in bloom looks for all the world like a flock of long-necked birds looking quizzically in every direction.

There are number of species of strelitzia so make sure you select the right one for your needs:

  • Small-leafed strelitzia (Strelitzia x parvifolia): similar to S. reginae discussed here, but leaf blades only 15cm or so long by 5cm wide.
  • Rush-leaved strelitzia (Strelitzia juncea syn. S. parvifolia): similar to S. reginae when young, but as they mature the leaf paddle reduces down to only 6cm or so long and 4cm wide. They resemble a spoon on a long handle.
  • White-flowering or giant strelitzia (Strelitzia nicolai): the flowers are often not seen as they are only borne on the top of the plant, which can reach heights of 10m or more. Often mistaken for a traveller’s palm (Ravenala madagascariensis).

Uses for bird of paradise

Bird of paradise can be grown for a variety of uses, including:

  • Hardy landscape plant for gardens or larger pots
  • Excellent for dramatic impact against walls silhouetted against walls
  • Feature planting
  • Tropical-look gardens
  • Cut-flower gardens.

How to plant and grow bird of paradise

Bird of paradise likes full sun, but it’s not unusual to see them performing well in shadier spots. The best position for flowering is in full sun. In shadier spots flower will be fewer, but larger.

A warm and sheltered aspect is best, especially in cooler regions. Bird of paradise is happy in most free-draining soils, but it prefers quality soil.

Tips for planting bird of paradise

1. Open up a planting hole at least twice the size of the pot. 
2. Blend in some quality compost or composted manure and add a controlled-release fertiliser.
3. In pots, use a premium-quality potting mix.

Caring for bird of paradise

You’ll often find strelitzias described as drought or dry tolerant. While they are very hardy, younger plants in particular will suffer if they don’t receive adequate water. During hot and dry times ensure that they are well watered. Water use can be minimised by keeping plants well-mulched.

Although not essential, annual applications of a controlled-release fertiliser will improve performance. Also consider side-dressing with some well-composted cow manure when you top the mulch up every year.

To prolong the life of a flower, as the petals (the purple-blue parts of the flower) and sepals (the orange part) wither, gently pull the cluster towards the stalk-end of the flower. It will come free and a new set will arise from the head. This can often be repeated a few times.

bird of paradise plant

Pruning bird of paradise

Pruning is not required beyond removing dead or damaged leaves and flower stalks once they have finished.

Diseases and pests

Bird of paradise is widely considered to be pest and disease-free.

How to propagate bird of paradise

  • Growing bird of paradise from seed: this is rarely seen in areas other than the tropics or sub-tropics. The seeds germinate quite readily if sown when fresh in a quality seed-raising mix and kept moist in a warm environment.
  • Dividing bird of paradise plants: older clumps can be lifted and divided up with a sharp spade in late winter. The removed sections will need to be kept in a warm sheltered location until they establish. If a clump is too large or difficult to lift, sections can be split from the sides.
  • If you like this then try

    Liriope: a brilliant border and feature plant that will complement your strelitzia. 
    Agave: looking for another awesome and hardy feature plant? Check out the agave.
    Clumping bamboo: grow it alone or as a hedge or screen; clumping bamboo makes a brilliant backdrop planting. 

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