Bird of paradise flowers
(Image credit: Photos from Japan, Asia and othe of the world / Getty Images)

The bird of paradise is thought to be one of the most beautiful of exotic flowers, so it can be disheartening to have problems come up while growing the plant, like non-blooming. This is why Gardening Know How came to be - a desire to help fellow gardeners in their time of need, and that includes answering the gardening questions that plaque us all. Here are the top questions about bird of paradise that many gardeners face. 1) How to get blooms on bird of paradise plants? Young bird of paradise plants can take 4-10 years to bloom, depending on propagation method. Newly potted or transplanted bird of paradise may also not bloom for a couple years. Container grown plants bloom best when they are slightly pot bound. To ensure blooms on bird of paradise plants, fertilize them every other week with a general purpose, balanced fertilizer during the growing season, and at least once every other month during winter. Bird of paradise can also fail to bloom with insufficient light. For best growth and flowering, grow bird of paradise in a site with at least 4-6 hours of sun each day. 2) How and when to transplant a bird of paradise? Bird of paradise plants do not like to be moved once established. When grown in a container, they seem happiest and bloom best when they are slightly pot bound. However, if the roots are coming out of the pot, it is probably time to consider repotting or division. Sometimes, outdoor bird of paradise plants need to be transplanted to a new location. This is best done in spring or early summer. To avoid transplant shock, water the plant thoroughly 24 hours before transplanting. Then gently dig around the plant exposing its roots to see exactly what you're working with. Pre-dig a hole the new site large enough to accommodate its root structure. Dig up as much of the plant's roots as possible to make the transition less stressful. Pruning larger plants back prior to moving may also help. Once transplanted, water deeply with a mixture of water and rooting fertilizer, but then do not give it any other fertilizer for several weeks and allow it to dry out for about a week before watering it deeply a second time. Be aware that any transplanting, repotting or division may cause the plant to not bloom for a couple years. 3) Why is my bird of paradise plant turning yellow? There are several reasons the foliage of bird of paradise plant might yellow. It could be a sign of insufficient watering, either too much or too little. Bird of paradise plants do not like soggy soil. Even when they are newly planted, they need to sufficiently dry out between waterings. However, in times of extreme heat and/or drought, even well-established plants need to be watered deeply to ensure proper growth. Another reason a bird of paradise plant may yellow is from insufficient light. Bird of paradise plants need at least 4-6 hours of sunlight each day. If the rest of your landscape is overgrown and shading out your plant or if it's in a dark corner of the home, you may have to move it to a sunnier location. Keep in mind newly transplanted or repotted plants may yellow in response to stress but normally this rights itself given time to adjust to the move. If you have ruled out all these possibilities for why your bird of paradise plant is yellowing, it could simply be lacking proper fertilization. Using a general purpose fertilizer, fertilize your bird of paradise plant once a week. 4) Can you grow bird of paradise from seed? The easiest and quickest way to propagate bird of paradise plants is from divisions, but with extra work and a lot of patience, you can grow bird of paradise from seed. To do this, soak seeds in water for at least three days, or scarify them by scratching or nicking the seed casing with a file. Even with soaking or scarification, bird of paradise seeds can take up to a year to germinate. Plant seeds in a well-draining potting mix, an inch deep, in a location where temperatures will stay consistently around 80-85 degrees F. (27-29 C.). It may be necessary to use a seedling heat mat or heat lamps to control temperature. Keep the soil moist. You can help retain moisture and humidity by covering seed trays with clear plastic. 5) How to fertilize a bird of paradise plant? Bird of paradise plants are heavy feeders. To keep your plant looking and growing its best, feed it with a general purpose, well balanced fertilizer every other week during the growing season. Use a 10-10-10, 15-15-15, or 20-20-20 water soluble fertilizer for these biweekly feeding, or a slow release fertilizer every three months. Bird of paradise plants go through a sort of dormancy period in winter, where little growth will happen. During this dormancy, only fertilize once every other month. 6) Why don't bird of paradise flowers open? Flowers of bird of paradise can have problems reaching their full potential for a few different reasons. Lack of light can cause bird of paradise plants to have few or no flowers. If trees and other plants have grown around your and are casting too much shade, either trim away branches to let more light in or transplant your bird of paradise to a sunnier location. Lack of nutrients can also cause bird of paradise plants to not flower properly. Feed bird of paradise once every other week with a well-balanced general purpose fertilizer during the blooming season. If you do feed your bird of paradise regularly but its flowers are still sparse, little or not opening, give the plant a phosphate boost by feeding it some bone meal. Another possibility is thrips, a small pest that attacks the base of flowers or new growth. They will kill the flowers before they are able to open. A treatment of a general pesticide will clear them up. 7) What causes leaves to curl on bird of paradise? Curling of leaf tips on many different plants often indicates a problem with watering. If your bird of paradise leaves are curling, you need to figure out whether it's getting too much water or too little. Bird of paradise plants do not tolerate wet feet and are susceptible to root and crown rot in wet locations. Dig a little around the plant crown and root zone to inspect for signs of rot, like brown, mushy stems or roots. If there are signs of too much moisture, you may have to dig up the plant and amend the soil or transplant to a drier location. 8) How to divide bird of paradise plants? Bird of paradise plants do not need to be divided very often. In fact, any transplanting or dividing you do to a bird of paradise can cause it to not bloom for a couple years. Still, sometimes it is necessary to sacrifice the blooms. Dividing bird of paradise is similar to dividing any perennial plant. First dig up the plant, getting as much of the root system as you can. Remove all excess dirt from the roots and crown. With a sharp, sterile knife, cut apart your divisions just as you would when dividing a hosta. Make sure each division has a nice section of root attached. Plant new divisions immediately and water them using water and a rooting fertilizer. Then allow the new plants about a week to dry out before watering again. Bird of paradise roots like to be on the drier side as they establish. 9) What to do with spent blooms on bird of paradise? Also, how do you prune the plant? To keep a bird of paradise plant looking its best and blooming longer, deadhead spent blooms. These spent blooms should be snipped off with sharp, clean pruners just below the flower where the bloom has died. Also, keep in mind that bird of paradise makes an excellent cut flower for vases or floral arrangements. When the flowers have formed and are just about to open, you can cut the flower stem back close to the ground for use as a cut flower. As for pruning of bird of paradise, this depends on the type you're growing. Strelizia should be pruned in spring, cutting away faded blooms and flower stalks. Red BOP are pruned in late winter to early spring to about 6-12 inches from the ground. Yellow and Mexican varieties are pruned sparingly, also in late winter to early spring, cutting away old blooms and branches. 10) How treat bird of paradise pests? Neem oil is a gardener's best friend. It kills insect pests and helps with fungal diseases too, while leaving no lasting chemical residue on the plants or soil. If your bird of paradise plant is experiencing a pest problem, thoroughly spray all the aerial parts of the plant with neem oil. Be sure to get all parts of the plant so the insects have no place to hide. It may be necessary to reapply in two-week increments to be certain any pest or disease has been eliminated. We all have questions now and then, whether long-time gardeners or those just starting out. So if you have a gardening question, get a gardening answer. We're always here to help.

Darcy Larum