How to grow Heliconias

how to grow heliconia the tropical plant

Want to have a garden that’s the envy of your friends and neighbours? Or simply dazzle your visitors with your amazing indoor flower arrangements? Then you might like to grow a heliconia in your garden and create an exotic ‘tropical’ look.

Heliconias, with their bold leaves and brilliant coloured flowers, are extraordinary tropical plants that can provide a fantastic focal point for your garden.

They grow in almost all soil types as long as it has been enriched with organic matter such as Searles Premium Organic Compost. As heliconias like to be kept moist, make sure your soil has good water holding properties by using water crystals or other water retention agents.

There are numerous species and varieties to choose from, from the low growing ‘Jamaican Dwarf’ to varieties like ‘Hot Rio Nights’ which can reach a height of 5 metres and just about all sizes in between. So choose one that suits your particular growing area, ask your nursery for guidance.

Shade loving and winter flowering heliconia

Most heliconias are equally at home in full sun or part shade. However, some species are suitable for shade only. Heliconia augusta ‘Red Christmas’ (featured above) likes a shady position, will flower in a large pot and makes a spectacular pot plant for a courtyard or pergola area. It usually flowers in winter when most other heliconias do not.

The colours and shapes of flower stems are just about endless. While the flowers themselves are usually insignificant, the surrounding bracts are often extremely bright to the point of looking ‘unreal’. Some flowers are upright whilst others like the ‘Parrot’s Beak’ are held on a tall stalk then hang downward with cascading coloured bracts enclosing flowers.

Heliconia augusta 'Red Christmas' loves shade and usually will flower in winter

Features of a heliconia

Flower spikes come in a wide range of colours (red, orange, pink, yellow and even green!), often with a contrasting colour on the lips or tips. You’re sure to be able to find one that will suit your garden as well as your decor.

Heliconia flowers are attractive to birds and the plants provide a great hiding place for some of the smaller species.

The added bonus with growing heliconias is that you’ll have a ready supply of beautiful and unusual cut flowers. The flowers can be picked and used to create stunning, long lasting displays, your imagination is the only limitation! Don’t forget the foliage, it alone can make a bold statement in the modern home.

Maintenance and fertilising

Heliconias grow fast, especially in the summer, so they can be used to create a screen between properties. They require little maintenance. When flowers die or are removed for floral displays, the whole flowering stem should be removed at ground level. Dead or yellowing leaves should be regularly removed. Over time, older plants may create ‘dead’ centre. At this time one side of the plant can be removed to promote regrowth in the old centre.

Shopping list growing heliconias in garden or pots.indd

Heliconias are heavy feeders and grow best with regular applications of fertiliser; a top dressing of Searles Kickalong Fruit & Flower in November and February, and Searles Liquid Potash (for flowering) in September should promote healthy plants and plentiful flowers.

Summer is the time to plant heliconias, so make your choice now and you’ll soon have spectacular flowers which will surprise and delight you. 

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Article by Wendy Keating, a local garden expert and owner of Wellington Point Garden Centre in Brisbane’s Eastern Bayside Suburbs.

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