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Growing Heliconias

Heliconia, derived from the Greek word Ἑλικώνιος (helikṓnios), is a genus of flowering plants in the monotypic family Heliconiaceae. Most of the 194 known species are native to the tropical Americas, but a few are indigenous to certain islands of the western Pacific and Maluku.

Growing Heliconia’s in your garden creates a tropical cool feeling all year round.

Selecting plants for location in your garden

Choosing the right heliconia for the right location.  Heliconia plants can range in sizes from 50cm the smallest plant to the largest plant 10 meters tall. Most varieties of Heliconia will grow well in full sun and part shade. Plants grown in full shade tend to grow taller. Heliconia plants also need to be planted in a protected area away from strong winds.

Soil

Heliconia plants prefer humidity, light and freely draining soils with high organic matter, with a soil PH between 5-6.5. Mulching is very important, Heliconia plants love high organic matter. Best types of mulch is hay or cane mulch. This protects the soil from drying out, and enhances the soil’s micro-organisms.

Fertilisers and Watering

Heliconia plants are heavy feeders, fertilizing them in the growing season with a complete fertilizer every 6 to 8 weeks and watering 10mls a day when plants are established will get the best results of plant growth and flowers. You can add extra potash when plants are flowering.

Pest and Disease

The only significant pests for gardeners are grasshoppers. Diseases are rare but wet feet, especially in winter from over watering, can cause rot  root, Phytophora. In the cooler months, plants can get leaf spot a fungal disease.

Maintenance of established plants

Pruning your Heliconia, as the ‘stem’ is actually made up of rolled leaf bases. Each stem will only flower once, so after flowering you can cut that stem out. Cut out any leaf damage.

This is recommended, to encourage more new growth for more flowers, and to increase airflow in between the stems of your plant, and also to generally tidy it up and improve the appearance. If plants grow outside the designated area cut to 30 cm then dig them out. Most Heliconia plants are shallow rooted to about 40 cm.

Propagation

Most Heliconia plants prefer temperature’s above 20C.

The best propagation times for Heliconia is between September-February

The colourful bracts, are in shades of red, yellow, orange, pink and green, which protect the true flowers that lies inside the bract.

The size and weight of Heliconia rhizomes varies depending on the species or variety. Smaller species, such as psittacorum rhizomes, may weigh only 50 to 70g. Rhizomes of large Heliconia like Caribaea varieties may weigh 300g to 700g and more. The rhizome should have growing ‘buds’ or new shoots.

Planting instructions

Rhizomes are sent free of dirt and properly disinfected according to set standards. Your rhizome is carefully packed in damp newspaper and plastic bag so that it won’t get damaged during shipment.

growing heliconia 2

When you receive your rhizome you need to plant it as soon as possible.  Notice the line in the photo.  Plant the rhizome in earth or pot up to this line so that you don’t bury it too deeply. Keep the soil or pot mulched and free of weeds. Water the plants weekly with a week Seaweed solution until plants establish themselves. Then use a complete fertilizer product every 6 to 8 weeks throughout the growing season. It’s important that you don’t over water new plants as it may cause root rot.

It is best not to interrupt the rhizomes while they are growing, as the roots and new shoots that develop at the base of the rhizome are delicate. It is normal for the old stem to decay and die, and a new shoot will emerge from the base of the rhizome. Some rhizomes will shoot within days, others can take months. Do not give up if nothing appears to be happening – it can take time.

If you have planted into a pot you will need to have a free draining medium, if the medium is too dense or wet plants will die.