Bird of Paradise Care
PRO TIP: Trim away older leaves on the Bird of Paradise, as they droop over time and develop more splits. New leaves always emerge from the center and keep the plant full and balanced.
The Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia nicolai) boasts a stunning display of large tropical leaves that in the wilds of southern Africa can reach up to 20' tall! In human spaces, they're more likely to stand anywhere from 3’- 8’ tall, but still rank among most houseplant fans' favorites due to the remarkable size of their rich foliage.
Choose a location for your Bird of Paradise away from air vents and drafts where the plant will get at least four hours of southern, western, or eastern exposure. Though they can tolerate medium light conditions, the Bird of Paradise will not thrive long-term without adequate sunlight, so we always recommend placing them in bright light.
If you are unsure about lighting conditions in your home or office, we have a guide for how to measure light in your space.
Bird of Paradise plants are often confused with banana plants, but while bananas have a spiral leaf growth pattern, Bird of Paradise plants have an alternate leaf growth pattern.
PRO TIP: In the winter months when less sunlight is available due to the elliptical orbit of the sun, Birds of Paradise go through a “resting” period and require less water. October – February you can dial back the amount of water given provided you don’t have the plant near a dry heat source. In general it is better to adjust the amount of water given rather than the frequency of watering.
Always be sure to assess your plant’s watering needs upon receiving it. Before giving your plant a drink, it is best to check the moisture level in the soil first to ensure it isn’t moist right beneath the surface. A soil probe is a very handy tool for both checking the soil moisture deep within a planter and can also be used to aerate overly wet soil.
Birds of Paradise enjoy moist (but not soggy) soil, and being allowed to dry out slightly between waterings. Try not to let the soil dry completely through the pot, but also avoid overwatering. Allow the top 2" - 3" of the soil to become dry between waterings, but below that should remain moist. These plants do particularly well in our self watering containers.
The splits in the leaves of the Bird of Paradise are natural, and allow light to access the lower portion of the plant. Keep your plant away from drafts, and apply extra humidity with a humidifier, pebble tray, or mister to keep the splitting to a minimum.
Rotate your plant periodically to ensure even growth on all sides and don't be afraid to prune discolored or broken leaves. It is important to dust the leaves of Bird of Paradise plants often so the plant can photosynthesize efficiently. To dust, use a mister and microfiber cloth to throughly wipe down each leaf and take the opportunity to inspect the undersides of the foliage to keep an eye out for pests.
Remember each plant is a unique living thing and may have varying needs, especially in their individual locations. Pay attention to the condition of your Bird of Paradise and its watering needs and you will have a long and happy relationship.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are the leaves of my Bird of Paradise splitting?
A Bird of Paradise living free and in the wild in front of an apartment complex in Florida.
- Splitting leaves on the Bird of Paradise is totally normal and natural. The splits are an evolutionary adaptation of the plant that allow wind to pass through the leaves, meaning the leaves themselves don't function as giant sails. Over time, older leaves develop more splits and can be pruned as new leaves emerge and fill out the plant. If you notice the plant is developing splits rapidly, check that it is removed from air vents and drafts, and that it is receiving adequate light and water. Increasing the humidity around your plant with a humidifier or frequent misting can help prevent and slow leaf splitting.
Will my Bird of Paradise flower?
- Most often, Bird of Paradise will not produce flowers indoors. Only in their natural habitat of high humidity and high light conditions will the circumstances be right for them to flower. The variety Greenery Unlimited offers is the white flowering giant Bird of Paradise, as the leaves are much larger and more impressive than those of the orange flowering variety, which flower more commonly.
What is this spear emerging from the middle of my plant?
- A new leaf! New leaves always come from the center of the plant and shoot out in a tightly wound spear. Over the course of a few weeks the leaf will slowly uncurl and reveal a brilliant, shiny, bright green new leaf. Although tempting, do not assist the leaf to open as this can damage the leaf. If the leaf seems stuck in spots and is splitting, you may want to try to increase the humidity around the plant and mist the emerging leaf.
How can I tell if my Bird of Paradise is getting enough light?
- Bird of Paradise love lots of bright indirect light, and some direct light too. Some symptoms of the plant suffering from lack of light are extreme leaf splitting, drooping leaves, new leaves that won't open, and leaf browning. You may also find the plant has difficulty with water absorption through the roots and therefore will suffer from overwatering more easily if it is not receiving enough light.
The Bird of Paradise plant develops thick, tuberous roots that can fill up the empty space in a pot relatively quickly. Plants grown in their nursery pots will generally take up the entire pot, so it's always important to buy a container with a larger interior diameter than the size of the grow pot. We find the Bird of Paradise looks best in either low planters that show off its foliage, or higher tapered planters that show off its height. Almost all of our large planters feature removable drain plugs with optional matching plant saucers as well.
Standard Planter Instructions
There are two types of standard planters offered by Greenery Unlimited—those with drainage holes, and those without. Within these two categories are an array of sizes and styles to choose from. The presence of drainage holes and the size of the planted vessel both play a role in the quantity and frequency of water given to your plant.
Plants purchased in pots without a drainage hole have been set up with a built-in drainage system. A layer of Aeration Stones (porous, absorbent material made of recycled clay) has been placed beneath the soil to act as a reservoir for any excess water that flows through the soil. You will need to be slightly more cautious not to pour too much water into these containers as there is no way for the excess water to escape. We suggest slowly pouring small amounts of water in bit by bit, until you have reached the desired moisture level in the soil.
For plants potted with drainage, water until the excess begins to come out the bottom of the pot and into the catch tray.
Self Watering Container Instructions
The self-watering containers require a deep and thorough watering of the topsoil after they are first placed. This is important because the roots of the plants first need to grow into the reservoir in order to drink from it. Follow the standard planter instructions for at least four weeks, before testing the reservoir. During the dormant seasons, or for plants that have slower growing habits, consider top watering for up to ten weeks.
TEST: After the initial top water period, fill the water reservoir until the red indicator reaches half way between the MAX and MIN line. If the indicator goes down over the first few days, it means the plant is ready for regular reservoir servicing. If not, be sure to continue top watering for a few more weeks, until the red indicator goes down, meaning the plant has started drinking from the reservoir.
RESERVOIR SERVICING: Once the indicator goes down, do not refill the reservoir right away. Similar to how humans need a breath of air between gulps of water, almost all plants require a drying out period. Always allow for the reservoir to empty all the way, and after a drying out period of a few days, be sure to refill it until the indicator reaches the MAX line.
From here on out, you should NEVER topwater the plant while using the reservoir system. If you water from the top, it can drown the plant. In the Self Watering Container, the top layer of soil will eventually become extremely dry and hard, and may even pull away from the edges of the pot. This is not a cause for concern, but simply because the plant is drinking directly from its roots in the water reservoir. You may opt for adding fresh soil into the gaps between the soil and planter, so as to give the plant a nutrient boost. You may annually, or bi annually, top water the plant to flush the foot system. Only do so when the reservoir is empty and the plant is ready for more water.
Step 1: Top water for four to ten weeks. The indicator will look empty, like the picture above.
Step 2: Fill the reservoir until the red indicator reaches the MAX line.
Step 3: Watch the indicator over the next day or two. If it goes down on its own, it means the roots of the plant have grown into the reservoir. From here on out, ONLY water into the reservoir.
Aeration Stones promote healthy root growth by creating air pockets in the soil and absorbing excess water in the basin of your planter. These porous clay stones are a natural, efficient and invaluable material to set your plant up for success. We always suggest using these when working with a planter without drainage holes.
We've tried countless pruners over the years, and none surpass the ARS. Our team uses these pruners daily for all manor of indoor and outdoor plant work and we'll never go back to another brand.
Neem Oil is an all purpose insecticide, miticide, and fungicide used for organic gardening. It's systemic, which means the plant will absorb the neem oil into its circulatory system and poison pests from within. Be careful not to overuse, as this can weaken plants and cause discoloration.
Plants do poorly without air to the roots. Overwatering causes the air to be pushed out of the soil, compacting the soil around the waterlogged roots of the plant. Using the Soil Probe aerates the soil as it checks for moisture.
Watering cans come in all shapes and sizes, and the perfect one for your home is the one you're happiest living with. Look for long spouts and a container volume that's appropriate for your plant collection.
Fox Farm Ocean Forest contains all the features we look for when aiming to ensure the long term health of a plant: excellent water retention, breathability, texture, and is made from organic materials.
10-4-3 fertilizer is a great, gentle choice for indoor foliage. Simply mix this in to your watering can using the supplied directions every other week. Ensure that your plant is receiving a good amount of light, otherwise it won't have the energy to process the nutrients and burnt tips may occur on the foliage.