THE LEAFLET

Plant Care  |  October 17, 2019

Bird of Paradise Care

Placement

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 Plant Leaf

Bird of Paradise plants are often confused with banana plants, but while bananas grow from a central stalk, Bird of Paradise plants have many leaf fronds.

Routine Maintenance

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. Also, consider aerating the soil of your plant before the initial watering. We compact the soil to avoid shifting during transit, so aerating can help the soil breathe and allow moisture to be released.

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 dust the leaves often so the plant can photosynthesize efficiently. When dusting the leaves, also take the opportunity to inspect the undersides and 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?

  • 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.

 

Will my Bird of Paradise flower?

  • Most often, Bird of Paradise will not produce flowers indoors. Only in their natural habitat and high light conditions will the circumstances be right for them to flower. The variety Greenery Unlimited provides 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.

 

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. 

Browning on a Bird of Paradise plant (Strelitzia nicolai), due to lack of light.Curling brown leaf of Bird of Paradise due to lack of light. LEFT: An example of a Bird of Paradise drooping, browning, and splitting due to lack of light. RIGHT: A brown curled leaf the Bird of Paradise plant. This kind of browning is similar to severely under-watered plants, but in this case it is from lack of light.

How often should I fertilize my plant?

  • In general, houseplants will thrive when they are fertilized spring through fall. Fertilize once a month with an organic houseplant fertilizer, following the package instructions for dilution and administration. Greenery Unlimited uses an organic potting mix with a slow release fertilizer in the soil, so your plant will not need fertilizer within the first 6 months of receiving it.

How can I tell if my Bird of Paradise is being overwatered?

  • In proper lighting conditions, the Bird of Paradise drinks plenty of water. Although it does require a drying out period and is susceptible to root rot if the soil remains overly moist. If your plant is not receiving enough light, it is more susceptible to overwatering. Some indications that your plant could be overwatered are droopy leaves, excessive splitting, and browning edged leaves with a yellow line. 

Drooping Bird of Paradise plant from overwatering.Bird of Paradise brown and yellow leaf margins overwatering.LEFT: An example of a Bird of Paradise drooping, browning, and splitting due to overly wet soil. RIGHT: A new leaf with yellow and brown margins from overwatering. The leaf began to brown and yellow while it was still curled up, and upon unfurling presented discoloration and damage

ABOVE: Curling edges and brown and yellow leaf margins from root damage due to overly wet soil.  Note the browning is on the outer most edge preceded by a thin line of yellowing on the interior of the leaf. 

How can I tell if my Bird of Paradise is not getting enough water? 

  • Underwatering most commonly presents as dry crispy tips or edges on the leaves, leaf splitting or breaking with brittle edges, and brown shriveled basal leaves. Underwatering is easy to bounce back from, so determine if the quantity or frequency should be increased to help nurse your plant back to health. 

Browning on a Bird of Paradise plant (Strelitzia nicolai), due to underwatering.Curling brown basal leaf of Bird of Paradise due to underwatering. LEFT: An example of a Bird of Paradise leaf tips curling and browning due to lack of water. RIGHT: Shriveled, curled, and browning crispy basal leaves as seen in this photo are a clear indication that the plant is thirsty. .

 

How often should I repot my plant?

  • For larger floor plants, we suggest repotting every 18-24 months — although the Bird of Paradise prefers to be slightly pot bound, so you can hold off on repotting for 28 months if the plant is in healthy condition. Typically you want to choose a potting vessel 2”- 4” larger in diameter to allow for growth. Don’t choose a pot much larger than the previous as this could drown the plant's roots. If you prefer to maintain the current size of your plant, repot it into the same vessel, providing new soil and trimming away some roots and foliage. Spring or summer is the ideal time for repotting as the plant is at its strongest.

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 clary) 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 the first four weeks, then the reservoir is ready to be tested.

TEST: After four weeks, fill the water reservoir until the red indicator reaches the MAX 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. 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.

Additional Care Guides