If you’re looking for a burst of colour to set off your tropical garden, then look no further than the vibrant heliconia range. In this article, we cover everything you need to know about choosing the right plants, how to plant them and take care of them, what diseases to look out for and our top 3 growing tips for success.
Heliconias are tropical and sub-tropical plants (herbs) of the Zingiberales (flowering plant) order with native origins from Central and South America, the Caribbean and South Pacific Islands total. They are vigorous growers and with more than 500 species. As hybrids and cultivars plants, varieties can range in height from 60cm to 6m producing inflorescence bracts (flowering stems) that are usually red, yellow or both, but can also sometimes be pink or green. They make exceptional cut flowers with long lasting characteristics, which are widely enjoyed in home and public landscaping situations.
Choosing the right plants
When choosing heliconias for your garden or patio area, look at the form and future density of the plants. It’s also good to keep in mind choosing your plants based on their foliage and architecture. You will get 12 months of foliage 24/7, but flowers are a bonus.
It’s also important to carefully consider the space when the plants have fully matured. Do research on spacing and what species can survive where before you buy. These are tropical plants and only have cold tolerance relevant to where they’re originating from. Growing time in the subtropics of Queensland is from October when the ground temperatures comes up with planting stopping in about March.
Heliconias can flourish in a range of soils, but prefer rich organic materials that are well-drained. If it’s a sandy area, it’s important to add in a lot of composted material and organic fertilisers to enhance soil quality with trace elements for magnificent flowers; they need good nutrition. Fertilizing is 90% of the care recipe. We recommend the Organic Link product to ensure the healthy life of the plant. It’s also great to top dress potted heliconias with it.
High soil fertility is ideal and a subsoil which holds sufficient moisture to keep the plant well during dry periods, while not impeding drainage. Mulching is vitally important to help maintain consistent soil temperature and to impede weed growth. A light mulch such as hay, lucerne or cane is ideal.
A good knowledge of your soil type is important. Soil tests can assist and local garden suppliers have a good range of soil enhancers. The desirable PH for heliconias is around 6 to 6.5. As most soils are more acidic dolomite can be applied without burning.
Spacing and maintenance
For screening, 1.5m is a good average distance between plants. This can be adjusted to suit your budget. The distance apart you choose is a time versus budget proposition. The closer together you plant, the quicker the screen. As the plants mature be sure to prune off dead flowers and foliage as it occurs to encourage new growth.
Avoid overwatering heliconias. They can be ruined easily by overwatering, so be mindful of loving them too much! Water them a couple of times a week when first planted in, then ease off depending on climatic conditions. A good soak once or twice a week and misting if low humidity as they love that moisture.
Growing tropical plants in sub-tropical conditions can mean a little extra effort and care is required, but nothing overly strenuous.
Picking and keeping heliconia flowers
It’s best to pick heliconia flowers early in the morning and place in water immediately. Do not refrigerate as the bracts will turn black. Like most flowers, a cool, non-breezy spot to place your flowers will keep them lasting longer. A sturdy vase half filled with water and a heavy base is best to showcase heliconia flowers and they do not require trimming daily.
Dealing with diseases
Heliconias are normally free of pests and diseases in the ground, but some problems to look out for include:
Phytophthora and stem rot:The worst enemy for heliconia is fungus, which is usually caused from overwatering or if soil drainage is poor. A good preventative measure if growing rhizomes is to dip the plant in systemic fungicide before planting.
Leaf spot: Of fungal origins and more prominent in colder regions.
Leaf eating bugs:Including grasshoppers and clustering caterpillars. In a garden situation, it is advisable not to spray chemicals if it can be avoided.
In shade-house conditions red spider mite, aphids, mealybugs can occur. Use insecticidal soaps such as eco oil.
Top three planting tips:
Know your soil type and the ratio of sun and shade for optimal growing conditions. Prepare the soil well first and look to achieve a PH of 6 to 6.5. You can do this preparation several weeks in advance of buying a plant.
Be mindful of the height and width you want the plant to be and get that worked out before you buy – make sure you have the space!
Choose the right plant for your conditions. Don’t try to grow something which is too hard and will never grow.
Ready to get planting?
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