An exotic tropical that can grow in a subtropical climate, the giant bird of paradise (Strelitzia nicolai) is a winner year-round with its evergreen foliage and stunning white flowers. This South African native, which grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9b through 11, grows 30 feet tall in clumps 10 feet wide. The flowers, which bloom in fall and winter, look like tropical birds nestled in the dark green leaves. Giant bird of paradise needs minimal care to grow well.
Giant bird of paradise is sometimes called white bird of paradise.
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Watering and Fertilizing
Water with 1 inch of water per week during dry weather. Once established, giant bird of paradise can tolerate some drought.
Measure 1 inch on a tuna tin and draw a line with a magic marker. Place the tuna tin near the area you are going to water then turn on the sprinkler. When it's 1 inch full of water, your giant bird of paradise has had enough.
Fertilize in spring with general-purpose, water-soluble 24-8-16 fertilizer. The best time to fertilize is right before the spring growth begins. Mix 1 tablespoon of fertilizer with 1 gallon of water in a watering can and use it to feed a 10 square foot area around the giant bird of paradise.
Pests and Problems
Diseases are rare for the bird of paradise and most pests leave this one alone. One potential problem to watch out for are scale insects. Scale insects create a lumpy, hard shell on the stems of the plant. While scale insects may look like growths, you can easily flick them off with a fingernail. Spray scale in late winter or early summer with narrow-range horticultural oil. Use 7 1/2 tablespoons of the oil concentrate diluted with 1 gallon of water in a clean garden sprayer or spray bottle. Coat the scale insects until they are saturated.
Avoid getting horticultural oil on your skin or in your eyes. Wear gloves and protective eyewear when you're spraying it. Keep it away from pets and children and don't allow anyone into the treated area until it is totally dry.
Pruning and Trimming
Keep giant bird of paradise looking tidy by trimming out the dead leaves, leaf stalks and flowers throughout the year. Use hand-held pruning shears or a small tree saw to cut through the fleshy stalks. After trimming, give your tool blades a five-minute soak in a 50:50 solution of rubbing alcohol and water to sanitize them.
While giant bird of paradise can survive brief frosts, and winter lows of 28 degrees Fahrenheit, although you might lose some leaves to the cold. Cut out frost-damaged leaves after the threat of frost has passed.