Heliconias revisited

Our heliconia collection is coming back to life after its near-death winter experience. We're busily fertilizing them with both slow-release fertilizer and liquid fertilizers and mulching them to boost them to their pre-winter dimensions. We've learned a few things about growing heliconias in the last few years. One of the most important aspects of growing champion heliconias is continuous availability of fertilizer, followed closely by very regular watering. Most heliconias are from wet tropical climates, so nearly-continuous water and fertilizer are requisites for best growth.

A balanced slow release fertilizer like Dynamite / Nutricote 13-13-13 makes a great choice, as does the slow-release 12-4-12 Container Palm Special fertilizer. Heliconias are heavy feeders, and 3 applications of this type of fertilizer per year give you really solid growth. Most heliconias will grow well with at least 6 hours of sun per day,but understand that the more sun they get, the more water they'll need.

The plants will grow taller in shady areas, shorter in sunny areas. We cut off stems after they flower to allow more light to the center of the clump, and divide the clumps every few years to remove old rhizomes. We'll replant clumps of 6 to 8 stems to rejuvenate the plant, mixing the fertilizer into the planting soil. Heavy mulching maintains soil moisture and retards weed growth.

We're approaching the end of the planting season for tropical heat loving plants, so get your plants in the ground as soon as you can. We think it's still really warm, but heliconias need at least 60 days of tropical heat just to get established, and our warm, long days are coming to an end in about 90 days.

Heliconias are definitely high-maintenance plants, but they are also high-return plants, with a tropical flair that is hard to beat in a garden. There are dozens of types available, from miniatures to giants, for every sun exposure and every size of garden. We have a good collection of types to show off the diversity in the genus, and have flowers available year round. Visit your favorite garden to get some ideas for your own garden.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens