How to Grow Heliconias
A tropical garden is an eden of vibrant colour and exotic scents, shapes and textures, but it is only complete with an abundance of colourful heliconias.
Heliconia flowers can be red, orange, pink, yellow or green. Though not officially regarded as the diva of the tropical garden, it adds such drama and vibrancy that it is unrivaled as the lead role on the tropical stage.
The plant ranges in size from half a metre to six metres tall. They thrive in the alternating blend of tropical sun and rain and will perform best in a rich, well-drained, fertilised soil. They are easy to grow in these conditions, to the extent that they will demand dedicated tending to actually keep them from overtaking and dominating the garden.
How to Prepare a Healthy, Growing Environment for Heliconias
- Heliconias love moist, hot, humid conditions.
- Some heliconias grow in full sun and others prefer filtered sun or shade. So check which conditions will suit your chosen variety of heliconia, and prepare the most suitable garden position accordingly.
- Allow good drainage—roots can get too wet and will rot if the soil is too dense.
- Allow space for spreading. There are clumping and spreading heliconias, but all types will multiply quite quickly.
- Spread chicken pellet fertiliser into the soil before planting.
- Have organic mulch on standby to cover the soil (about 5 centimetres deep) once heliconias are planted. This will continually enrich the soil and prevent weed growth.
How to Choose the Best Growing Position for Heliconias
- Some heliconias can grow as tall as 6 metres high. So be careful and fully understand what you are planting and where, in order to achieve the greatest growing success and aesthetic appeal in your garden.
- Heliconias tend to grow taller in the shade.
- Some will only tolerate sun-filtered or shaded conditions, whilst others demand full sun.
- Some flowers will head straight for the sun, whilst others will droop in a pendant style.
- There are over 100 species of heliconia. So you will have many choices and will need to research and select what is best for your garden.
Why You Should Plant Heliconia Rhizomes Instead of Seeds
- Rhizomes are the running roots with sprouting nodules showing slightly above ground.
- Rhizome propagation is the easiest and most common method.
- Heliconias grow quicker from rhizome than seed. So if you are as impatient a gardener as I am, this will deliver quicker results and quicker flowers.
- Rhizomes usually sprout within two months of planting.
- Smaller species heliconias will usually flower within six months of propagation from rhizome.
- New plants need lots of water, but then only need more as the soil begins to dry out.
- Established heliconias require volumes of water!
- Use chicken pellet fertiliser or slow-release fertiliser at planting time.
- Cover the ground with up to 5 centimetres of good organic mulch after planting to protect the roots from burning in the hot sun, to maintain moisture levels of the soil, and to prevent weed growth.
- Mulch will enrich the soil as it breaks down and is best to be topped up at least every six months.
Heliconias Make Spectacular Indoor Flower Arrangements
You can look forward to displaying magnificent heliconia arrangements in your home year-round once your garden is up and growing. I can have multiple vases of heliconias in my house and outdoor living areas at any one time. Sometimes I cheat with bunches purchased from the local markets to augment my own, but most of them are fresh straight from my garden to the vase!
Display heliconias in tall glass vases, Chinese porcelain vases, or earthenware type vases. Just as they are in the garden, they are tall, flashy flowers that will demand to be the centre of attention in your home. You can show off heliconias on their own, or add fronds and leaves from your tropical garden to bulk up the arrangement. Either way, they will add immediate flair to your home.
I cannot claim this beautiful arrangement (pictured above) as mine, but I was privileged to admire and photograph it in a hotel foyer on a recent trip to Bali, Indonesia.
A Collection of Beautiful Heliconias and Tropical FlowersClick thumbnail to view full-size
Quick Facts About Heliconias
- They are native to the tropical Americas and the Pacific islands.
- They are related to the canna, strelitzia, ginger and banana plants.
- They generally flower during the tropical wet season.
- They need plenty of water, sunlight and rich soil.
Where Do Heliconias Grow?
The Tropical Gardener's Bible for Growing Heliconias
I have this book in my library, with many a dog-eared page and a few garden soil smudged pages as well. I cannot imagine there is anything you need to know or would want to know about heliconias that cannot be found in this book. It truly is the heliconia lover's bible.
The book is filled with colour photographs to identify the different types of heliconias and their different features, including their preferred growing conditions.
If you are interested in more detailed information about growing heliconias than I offer in this article, then this is your must-have reference book.
The Heliconia Rostrata Is One of My Favourite Flowers
I think the Heliconia rostrata is the most magnificent flower of all. That doesn't mean it is my favourite—the Oriental Tiger Lily is my favourite flower—but the rostrata is definitely the most impressive tropical flower, which is why I have adopted it as the icon for my Rangoon House profile. Wherever you see this photograph online, there is a good chance I am lurking close by.
Are You a Fake Plant or Real Plant Person?
My fake plants died because I did not pretend to water them.— Mitch Hedberg
Questions & Answers
© 2014 AJ