Few flowers look as daringly tropical as the bright orange flower of a bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae) but you don't have to live in the tropics to grow it. Bird of paradise takes well to growing in a container if you bring it indoors for winter in frost-prone climates. It grows outdoors year-round in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9b through 12. Bird of paradise grows 3 to 4 feet tall and wide with large evergreen leaves.
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Pots and Potting Soil
Start a bird of paradise in a planter 2 to 3 inches larger in diameter than the nursery pot. When selecting a container, choices include plastic, wood, and glazed and unglazed clay materials. Keep in mind unglazed clay -- as well as wood -- allows more air circulation around the roots, but it also dries out rapidly in hot, sunny areas. The most critical element is drainage so choose a container that has at least 1 hole in the bottom to allow water to drain through. Use a standard, well-draining potting soil.
Grow bird of paradise in containers outdoors on a sunny patio or in a partly shaded spot. Anywhere from between two and four hours of sun per day -- partly shaded -- to six or more hours daily -- full sun -- works well for bird of paradise.
Water as often as needed to keep the soil consistently moist from spring through summer. In fall and winter allow the top 1 to 2 inches of soil to dry slightly between waterings. Each time you water, use enough so a little extra leeks out the bottom drain holes. This helps make sure the roots at the bottom of the pot are getting enough water.
Frost-tender bird of paradise needs overwintering indoors anywhere with frosts. Indoors, maintain lower temperatures at night, ideally between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit at night and between 65 and 70 F during the day. While the plant is indoors, allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Check the potting soil by inserting your finger into the top 1 to 2 inches. When this top layer dries, water the container. Keep the bird of paradise in a bight room away from cold drafts from outdoors, and away from drying heater vents.
Outside is the best place for a bird of paradise in summer, but if that's not an option move it to a bright room or porch where fresh air circulates freely from open windows or doors.
Light Fertilizer Needs
Fertilize from spring through late summer. Use a 24-8-16 water-soluble fertilizer diluted in water every two weeks. Mix 1/2 teaspoon of the fertilizer in 1 gallon of water and use it, along with additional water if necessary, to water the plant. Time fertilizing to fall on one of the regular watering days.
Repotting and Frost Damage
Bird of paradise blooms abundantly when slightly root bound. Repotting too often can reduce flowering. Wait at least three years after the last repotting or until the roots crack the container, start growing on top of the soil or crowding out the drainage hole, or when water sits on top of the soil after watering rather than seeping in. Use a pot 2 to 3 inches larger than the current pot and use with standard potting soil. Spring is the best time to move a bird of paradise to a new container.
Bird of paradise can survive a brief cold snap -- as low as 24 F -- but not without damage. If an unexpected freeze is predicted, move the pot into a protected area, then cut frost-killed leaves at the soil line. Soak your tools in 1 part bleach to 9 parts water after trimming.