How to plant and care for birds of paradise plants

How to plant and care for birds of paradise plants

With its tropical origami-like flowers and stunning colors, the bird of paradise plant adds a tropical touch to any home or garden. Named for their bird-like appearance in flight, these plants come in a variety of colors from sunset orange and purple to bright white. Although they may seem like the kind of high-maintenance houseplant that requires special treatment, bird of paradise plants are surprisingly easy to care for. Whether grown outside or indoors, plant expert Allison Futral, owner of Crimson Horticulture Rarities in Oakland, California, likes that they are adaptable and can thrive in almost any environment, as long as it's not a desert.

StrelitziaBird of paradise, the scientific genus, is a perennial flowering plant native to tropical and subtropical regions of southeastern Africa. However, it has been grown all over the world. If you're in the market for a great addition to your plant collection, look no further. Ahead, we'll break down everything you need to know about the bird of paradise plant and share Futeral's expert tips on growing. From the different color types to the exact plant care routine you need to follow, read on to learn how to keep your bird of paradise plant thriving.

Types of birds of paradise plants

There are five subspecies of bird of paradise plants, according to the University of Wisconsin at Madison (UWI) Horticultural Extension Department: Saint Queen, S. juncea, S. Nikolai, S. codataAnd S. Alba. While the first is the most common (and easiest to grow), all five are known for their distinctive flowers.

St Queen's (Mandela Gold)

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This bird of paradise species has broad, paddle-shaped leaves and produces bright yellow flowers with blue accents. It's the image most people envision when they think of a bird of paradise plant.

S. juncea

This species grows low to the ground and has much narrower, spear-like leaves than its own Saint Queen, according to UWI. Its flowers are similar but also a little smaller. It is very rare to find it for home cultivation purposes.

S. alba and S. Nikolai (white bird of paradise)

Bird of paradise white flower

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Also known as giant bird-of-paradise plants, these large species are tree-like and can reach 30 feet tall when grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 9b through 11, according to the University of Florida Gardening Solutions Program, which recommends the planting. These items are only available if you have a dedicated space for them. Like other tropical plants, this plant prefers full sun to light shade and moist, well-drained soil.

S. codata

Even rarer (as in a rare species that is almost never available), this variety resembles the white or giant bird of paradise except that it can only reach about six feet tall.

Where to plant bird of paradise plant

If you live in USDA plant hardiness zones 10 and 11, your bird of paradise plant will thrive outdoors. However, in hotter climates such as in South Florida, Texas, and parts of Louisiana, it may be too hot for this tropical plant; It can burn in the heat and does not bloom. Just be careful of parts of your garden that are prone to flooding or standing water, as excess moisture is not good for the roots.

Bird of paradise plants can do well indoors when outdoor conditions are not ideal. They grow tall — over five feet in some cases — and their leaves like to spread out, so just make sure your plant has plenty of space.

strelitzia nicolai in a pot next to the sofa

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What does a non-flowering bird of paradise plant look like?

When and how to plant birds of paradise outdoors?

Because the indoor environment is so consistent (for example, no freezes or heat waves overnight), it doesn't matter when you bring your bird of paradise home. However, you will need to follow the plant's outdoor growing season for the best chance of success. suggests the BBC's World Gardener Planting in late March or early AprilAs soon as the last frost occurs. Just as you would indoors, keep the soil moist and feed with fertilizer occasionally during the summer months.

Bird of paradise plants do well when root bound, according to the UWI: “These plants tend to bloom more profusely when pot bound, so don't be too keen on repotting your plant…just replace the topsoil every year or so.” For this reason, outdoor pots, planters or raised beds with walls may be best to give plants' roots a bit of structure rather than an open garden plot.

How to care for a bird of paradise plant

Bird of paradise plants are surprisingly hardy and versatile. Follow these growing tips to have a thriving plant with lots of flowers for its namesake.

Sun light

“The bird of paradise is a relatively hardy plant and will adapt to most light conditions,” Futerall says. “While they will tolerate low, indirect light, they will thrive in a nice, sunny location.” We recommend placing your plant near an east- or north-facing window where it can absorb the rays.


“It's important to be consistent with water and moisture,” explains Futral. “Water it enough to keep it evenly moist — like a wrung out sponge — but not wet.” It is important between waterings to let your bird of paradise plant dry completely. You can check this by sticking your finger into the soil about an inch to check for moisture. If any soil sticks to your finger, the soil is still moist and doesn't need more water yet.

Outdoors, a new bird of paradise plant needs frequent watering during the first six months to become established and stay healthy, according to the University of Florida's Gardening Solutions Program. “A newly planted bird of paradise will need frequent rainfall or irrigation for six months to help establish it,” the report explains. “Once established, frequent watering is only needed during the warm growing season. Watering is only necessary in winter if the soil is dry.”

Soil and fertilizers

The ideal soil for a bird of paradise plant is well-drained. You can add fertilizer sparingly during the winter months to help promote growth. During the growing season, fertilize the soil every three to four months to help promote flowering.

Temperature and humidity

Due to their tropical nature, bird of paradise plants like to be warm but not hot; I think pretty much room temperature, or between 65 and 75 degrees, according to Futural. If you notice that your plant's leaves are becoming wavy or droopy even though it has just been watered, it probably needs a burst of moisture and a day of shade to recover. Futeral recommends giving your plant a good mist every few days. “You can create more humidity with a humidifier or a tray of pebbles if you feel like it,” she says. “Moisture will help keep the leaves healthy and reduce leaf cracking. Finally, rotating your plant every few weeks is helpful in maintaining a nice, even growth pattern.”

Common problems with bird of paradise


Bird of paradise grown outdoors will have more pest problems than one grown indoors, but pests are quite controllable with proper maintenance, and University of Florida Horticulture Solutions reassures us that major pest problems are becoming increasingly rare. For good pest prevention, we recommend spraying neem oil on your plants once a month to deter pests whether they are indoors or outdoors. Fortunately, deer and rabbits don't like bird of paradise plants, so you don't have to worry about them eating the outdoor varieties.

Brown or wrinkled leaves

Brown, crunchy, or curled leaves are a common sign of underwatering or too much sun. Your bird of paradise just needs a little more moisture! Water them extra and consider adding a humidifier or surrounding them with more plants to increase humidity. If your plant is exposed to direct sunlight, move it to another location for a few days to allow it to recover. Remember: too much direct sunlight is not suitable for this adaptable but sensitive plant.

Cracks in leaves

According to plant retailer Bloomscape, cracks or holes in the leaves of your bird of paradise plant are completely normal: “These cracks occur naturally in the wild to help the plant become more aerodynamic in wind and rain,” he says. Bird of paradise plants have evolved to withstand tropical storms, so don't worry if your plant develops some backup locations.

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According to the University of Florida's Garden Solutions Program, propagating a bird of paradise plant is very easy. Follow their steps below to double the fun with your bird of paradise.

The first step: Dig and separate mature clumps in late spring or early summer.

The second step: Separate them into single stems, then replant the stems at the same depth as before.

The third step: Irrigate the sections to keep the soil moist for three months (until the roots are established), then begin fertilizing. Within a year or two you will enjoy mature flowering plants.

Companion planting for birds of paradise

While Futeral says planting another variety in the same pot is never a good idea, she recommends pairing bird of paradise with plants with a similar nature and care routine. “Indoors, they need a lot of space, but you can plant something next to it,” she says. “The banana tree will look great and has a similar care structure with light and water requirements.” Outdoors, we recommend surrounding it with plants low to the ground to let the bird of paradise's height shine. Additionally, choose complementary or more neutral colors so as not to distract from the plant's stunning blooms.

Frequently asked questions

If you have a problem with your bird of paradise plant, read on. We've found answers to the most common concerns.

Are birds of paradise poisonous?

Yes, birds of paradise (yes, that's plural) are toxic to cats, dogs, and horses. Its tough, straight leaves aren't the most tempting to nibble on, but if you have a curious pet, be aware that bird of paradise plants can be harmful if ingested.

How long do bird of paradise plants live?

Contracts. Bird of paradise plants are known to live for over 50 years with proper care and in the right growing conditions.

Do native bird of paradise plants produce flowers?

Yes, birds of paradise plants can produce their namesake's spiky flowers outside the tropics. However, it needs consistency in terms of sunlight and water to flower. In addition, they need to reach maturity before they can flower regularly. This means five or six years for a new plant.

Why doesn't the bird of paradise bloom?

The most common reasons why the bird of paradise plant does not bloom are too much shade and irregular watering. It is also important to remember that if you are growing bird of paradise from seed or working with a fairly young plant, it will not flower until it reaches maturity at an average of five or six years old.

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