How to Grow and Care for Bird of Paradise

Strelitzia reginae bird of paradise
Photo:

Denny Schrock

Bird of paradise plants are hard to miss, with their large leaves and beautiful, spiky, colorful blooms that resemble birds on the wing. With indirect sunlight and weekly watering, a bird of paradise can grow well as a houseplant. It makes a bold focal point, adding a tropical touch wherever you grow it. A moderate level of maintenance is required to keep your plant healthy. Here's how to grow and care for a bird of paradise, including indoors versus outdoors growing tips, propagating, pruning, and dealing with pests.

Bird of Paradise Overview

Genus Name Strelitzia
Common Name Bird of Paradise
Plant Type Houseplant, Perennial
Light Part Sun, Sun
Height 6 to 30 feet
Width 3 to 5 feet
Flower Color Orange, White, Yellow
Foliage Color Blue/Green, Gray/Silver
Season Features Spring Bloom, Summer Bloom, Winter Bloom
Special Features Cut Flowers, Good for Containers
Zones 10, 11
Propagation Division, Stem Cuttings
Problem Solvers Deer Resistant

What Is a Bird of Paradise Plant?

Bird of paradise is a common name that’s attributed to several plants in the Strelitzia genus. Of the 5 recognized species (S. reginae, S. juncea, S. nicolai, S. caudata, and S. alba), the first two are the most "easily grown as houseplants," says Dan Pogust, co-founder of the Portland Botanical Gardens. All bird of paradise plants are native to tropical and subtropical areas of southeastern Africa.

Bird of Paradise Care Must-Knows

If you’re growing a bird of paradise inside (all year round or only during the winter), you might want
to invest in a grow light. Pogust notes that if you have a bright, sunny window and decent winter sunlight, you can skip the artificial light. He says that the plant "will make it through the dark winter indoors, but by keeping it in active growth, you can better avoid getting pests,” he says.

For watering, give the plant a good soaking and let it dry out over a week in the summer months. During the winter months, bird of paradise requires less frequent watering. Pogust suggests "a good all-purpose fertilizer for your Strelitzia, but you don’t need to fertilize it often. You can get something like a 5-5-5 or a 10-10-10.”

Growing Bird of Paradise Indoors vs. Outdoors

Strelitzia species prefer to have ample sunlight but as an understory plant, direct sunlight can burn
their leaves
. Whether you're growing them indoors or outdoors, bird of paradise do best in very bright indirect sunlight with shaded protection during the most intensely sunny times of day.

In containers, bird of paradise plants can be kept to manageable houseplant sizes. For example, when grown indoors or as potted patio plants, S. reginae tends to be shorter, which makes it great for smaller spaces. S. nicolai is much taller and has leaves that can reach 2-3 feet long, which makes it better for bigger spaces like malls, stores, or offices. In the ground, in warmer climates, both species can grow to upwards of 30 feet.

You’re more likely to get pests when growing Strelitzia indoors. “They are most susceptible to mealybugs and scale,” advises Pogust. “If you find pests on your indoor Strelitzia, you should address it right away." Use a cotton bud or paper towel dipped in isopropyl alcohol to wipe off pests. Pogust also recommends neem oil for a more passive pest-eradication method.

Propagating and Repotting a Bird of Paradise

Similar to bird of paradise’s close relatives, bananas, gingers, Maranta, and Heliconia, you can propagate it by cutting off a piece of its rhizome (thick underground stem). Place the rhizome into another pot of moist potting mix, where it will start growing roots and leaves.

To repot a Strelitzia that has outgrown its container, choose another pot that's a little larger. Use fresh potting mix to fill in around the roots and water well. Pogust recommends using a cactus potting mix because “you want the soil to be fast draining/drying during the plant’s less active time of year (winter) when it’s getting less sunlight. You can always water more if needed. It’s easier to kill a plant by giving it too much water than by giving it too little."

More Varieties of Bird of Paradise

'Mandela's Gold' Bird of Paradise

Strelitzia reginae bird of paradise
Denny Schrock

Strelitzia reginae 'Mandela's Gold' is a yellow blooming variety of the commonly orange blooming bird of paradise. Zones 10-11.

Orange Bird of Paradise

Orange Bird of Paradise
Edward Gohlich

Strelitzia reginae offers brilliantly colored flowers on 3-foot-tall stalks in winter, spring, and summer. It grows 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Zones 10-11.

White Bird of Paradise

White Bird of Paradise
Gordon Beall

Strelitzia nicolai grows like a tree with a fan of 5-foot-long leaves. It produces white flowers in spring and grows 30 feet tall and 15 feet wide. Zones 10-11.

Bird of Paradise Companion Plants

Daylily

Daylily Hemerocallis 'Little Grapette'
Peter Krumhardt

Daylilies are so easy to grow you'll often find them growing in ditches and fields, escapees from gardens. And yet they look so delicate, producing trumpet-shape blooms in myriad colors. Although each bloom lasts but a single day, superior cultivars carry numerous buds on each scape so bloom time is long, especially if you deadhead daily. The strappy foliage may be evergreen or deciduous.

Kangaroo Paw

red kangaroo paw Anigozanthos
Edward Gohlich

Make a bold statement in your garden with kangaroo paw. This unusual perennial comes from Australia and bears strappy green leaves and upright spikes of fuzzy flowers in radioactively brilliant colors. The blooms last a long time and make great cut flowers.

Sago Palm

sago palm Cycas revoluta
Edward Gohlich

Complete the tropical look by pairing bird-of-paradise with a showy sago palm. Although this plant looks like a tiny palm tree with its glossy, stiff fronds, it's actually a cycad. It's easy to grow as a houseplant, but be careful because the sago palm is poisonous if ingested.

Society Garlic

Society Garlic Tulbaghia violacea
Peter Krumhardt

The leaves of this South African native bulb look like chives, and if you brush its foliage while walking by, you'll catch a whiff of garlic. However, the beautiful clusters of lavender-pink flowers have a sweet fragrance, similar to the scent of hyacinth blossoms. They open on tall stems from early summer until late fall. Noted for its drought tolerance, society garlic has become a staple in southern California landscapes.

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