Plant Care  |  October 17, 2019

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 Plant Leaf

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.

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. 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.

Note if you are using a container made from organic materials to pot your Bird of Paradise in, we highly recommend using a waterproof saucer underneath to protect your floors, as humidity may accumulate beneath the pot and can damage wood floors and carpeting.

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?

Why are my bird of paradise leaves 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. 

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 should you purchase your plant from us you 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. If you think you may have overwatered, a soil probe can help you assess how we the soil is at the root level and aerate the soil to release excess moisture. One great way to help prevent overwatering is to plant your Bird of Paradise with aeration stones at the bottom of the planter. Proper drainage is essential for long-term root health and aeration stones can absorb excess water at the base of the planter helping to ensure your roots are never in standing water.

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. 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

All of our Standard Planters include a removable drainage plug to give our customers the option of drainage. While no drainage is sometimes preferred for its aesthetic simplicity, we don't recommend this option for beginners as watering mistakes can be hard to rectify.

Whether you choose to use drainage or not, we always recommend using a layer of drainage (such as our Aeration Stones) at the base of the planter. A drainage layer allows the plant's roots access to oxygen in the pockets between the drainage medium, and a lack of drainage can cause anaerobic damage to your plant.

If you decide to utilize the drainage hole for your pot, make sure to include a Plant Saucer beneath your pot to collect excess water. For most plants in standard planters, we recommend watering about once a week. Water the soil mass until water begins pooling in your Plant Saucer.

With no drainage hole, you will need to be more precise in your watering. While we would love to give you a specific measurement of water to provide for your plant, the reality is that a plant's water requirements vary wildly depending on factors such as light exposure and the overall health of the plant. You will need to learn to tell when the plant is thirsty based on how its foliage looks. Droopy foliage is usually the first sign: when your plant looks a little slumped over that's usually a visual indicator that it's thirsty.

The best solution for checking your plant's moisture level, drainage hole of not, is to use a Soil Probe to determine the moisture content of the soil at the bottom of the planter.

Self Watering Planter Instructions

The Self-Watering Planters require a deep and thorough watering of the topsoil after they are first planted. This is important because the roots of the plants first need to grow into the reservoir in order to drink from it. Water your plant from the top for two to four weeks before using the reservoir. During the dormant seasons, or for plants that have slower growing habits, consider top watering for longer.

TEST: After the initial top water period, fill the bottom water reservoir. If the water in the reservoir is absorbed into the planter, 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 plant has started drinking from the reservoir.

RESERVOIR SERVICING: Once the reservoir empties on its own, do not refill the reservoir right away. Similar to how humans need a breath of air between gulps of water, most plants require a drying out period. Allow for the reservoir to empty all the way between watering. All plants are different in their needs so the amount of time the reservoir sits empty will need to be determined, but know that for most plants this period is between 1-3 days. 

From here on out, you should rarely topwater the plant while using the reservoir system. Watering from below allows the plant to drink at its own pace, and can help combat certain issues like fungus gnats by allowing the top layer of soil to dry out more. Please note that if your plant's soil dries out too much, it can impair the wicking ability of the Aeration Stones in your planter. If your soil becomes too dry, we recommend giving it a thorough watering.

For more information on our Self Watering Planters include planting instructions, visit our blog post on How to Use Our Self-Watering Pots.

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