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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Mexican Bird of Paradise Fall and Winter Care

Q. My Mexican Bird of Paradise was gorgeous this year, the best ever. The flowers are now going to seed pods. Should I cut the plant back? I am wondering the proper way to care for these plants as we move in to fall and winter.

A. There is some confusion about plants we call “Bird of Paradise”. If you are from southern California or the warm subtropics you may think of the “fleshy” leaved Bird of Paradise with rainbow colored flowers. These flowers grow at right angles and look a little like the beautiful beak of a bird.
Bird of paradise flower
Don't confuse our cold tolerant bird of paradise with this one...winter tender African bird of paradise
            In the tropics, and warm, lower elevations of the desert, we may think of the Bird of Paradise as a “feathery” shrub with beautiful red, orange and yellow flowers that frequently freeze to the ground during many cold winters here.
            But in the colder parts of the desert the most reliable Bird of Paradise is similar to its feathery cousin except its flowers are all yellow. This one, the Desert Bird of Paradise, is native to Northern Mexico, Texas and New Mexico and is the most cold tolerant of the bunch.
Bird of paradise can grow in some nasty places. It looks much much better if the soil is improved, irrigated when it needs it and pruned correctly.
            Like most other landscape plants, fertilize the feathery Bird of Paradise once in late winter. Watch the watering of these plants they both tolerate poor soils but not watering them too often. They don’t like “wet feet”.
            There are a variety of ways to prune this plant. It is extremely resilient. The only thing I have seen done wrong to it in years past by landscapers has been pruning it into a “gumball”. You definitely don’t want to do that.
            If the plant looks good and you like it, leave it alone. The red one, Mexican, will freeze to the ground occasionally and grow back fuller than it was before IF it is watered and fertilized correctly.
            If these feathery plants are getting too tall, next early February cut the offending stems back to a foot or less and let them regrow. Pruning them back like this forces them to act just like they froze back to the ground. Each cut will make two or three new stems that will be shorter than the original and the plant will be denser with more flowers.
            Fertilize it with a rose type fertilizer, to favor flowering, in February and lightly water the fertilizer into the soil. Don’t put it too close the stems or the fertilizer “salt” might damage them.
            If you don't like the seed pods. remove them. Energy going into growing the seed pods will end up favoring some other plant growth like more flowers, longer stems or bigger roots.

            Right now just remove the seed pods if you don't like them. Let it go until January or February. At that time, prune it if you don't like its size, shape or density. Don't prune it if you love everything about it.

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