Q. I need a focal point for my garden. What are some dramatic plants that I might use?
A. Heliconias and bird of paradise are among our most architectural plants. Spectacular blooms and foliage are trademarks with these perennials. Heliconias come in varying sizes from 2-3 foot dwarfs to giants almost 20 feet in height. Some heliconias are running types and others make slowly spreading clumps. Flowers vary in conformation, but are spectacular _ generally in the orange, red or yellow color range. Visit Flamingo Gardens in Davie to see the different types available. They also host Heliconia Society plant sales from time to time. Shade or part shade and good moisture levels are essential for heliconias. They make spectacular flower arrangements, as do bird of paradise. Some flowers can last as long as three weeks in arrangements.
Birds of paradise includes the giant white bird of paradise with blue and white flowers to 25 feet tall and 20 feet across, and the orange and blue bird of paradise to 6 feet tall, 6 feet wide that we are more familiar with. Birds of paradise like sun to partial shade and a medium to dry location. A lot of organic material or mulch is appreciated by all of these plants. The orange bird of paradise is often a shy bloomer. An azalea/gardenia fertilizer, will encourage bloom.
Q. I live in the western part of Broward County and have planted a white bird of paradise in my yard. What is the best way to trim it when the fronds get torn up by wind?
A. White bird of paradise is cold sensitive and you are pretty far west for it to be considered a major permanent accent plant. It will suffer from cold every few years that far west. Enjoy it while the warm weather is with us. Use lopping shears or a good saw (the Felco is superb) to cut off old leaf stubs to the base or trunk of the plant.
. I have a bird of paradise that gets water daily from the sprinkler system nearby. It has a fungus but I sprayed it with a fungicide. Is there any more I can do?
A. Your bird of paradise is being drowned under your present watering regime. Spraying copper fungicide is good but won't be effective with your overwatering schedule. Bird of paradise likes sunny dry conditions. It comes from South Africa where the plants receive 20-30 inches of rain yearly at most. We get 50-60 inches of rain before we turn on the sprinklers. During the rainy season turn the sprinklers off unless the plants indicate a need (wilting). You might consider half or three-quarter heads to keep your bird of paradise dry when other plants are getting irrigated. If it is crowded in with other plants consider moving it to an area with better air movement to minimize fungus.
Q. The leaves of my two bird of paradise plants have curled up. What should I do?
A. They are in water stress. Water right away.
Q. Can I plant bird of paradise under my queen palms?
A. Bird of paradise and queen palms are generally quite compatible. They both like sun and dry conditions. Give your queen palm an annual treatment of manganese sulfate; it won't hurt the bird of paradise either. I would use azalea/gardenia fertilizer on the bird of paradise. Bird of paradise has a reputation for being a slow starter. We have received numerous success stories from owners whose plants were six or more years old that were performing beautifully. Generous fertilizing and maturity makes all the difference with these plants.
Q. Can I grow pampas grass from seed in South Florida?
A. Pampas grass grows in south Florida, but usually seems to decline
here. It looks much better from central Florida north. We probably are
a bit too far south to grow it well. The beautiful plumes you see are from
female plants. The male plants do not put up pretty seed panicles. Pampas
grass is grown from seed, so you do not necessarily know if you are getting
a male or a female plant until it blooms. The plumes appear in the summer
and fall here. The plant is green year around. Cut it back to about 1 to
2 feet in height in late January or February for fresh new foliage. The
leaves are like razors, so wear a long sleeve shirt and gloves when working
with it. Add about 50% peat moss to the existing soil to encourage moisture
retention if you are on sandy soil. Give pampas grass full sun.