These stars of the garden prefer to grow in moist, well-drained soil in a protected position.
These stars of the garden prefer to grow in moist, well-drained soil in a protected position. Photo Thinkstock

Growing a tropical garden? Grow Heliconias

HELICONIAS are among the stars of the tropical garden.

Flamboyant, easy to grow, pest free and making great cut flowers, they truly are a valuable garden plant.

Heliconias are native to Central and South America and some of the islands of the South Pacific. There are more than 500 different known varieties. They are related to bananas and gingers.

Heliconias grow from a rhizome, which produces shoots, at the top of which the flowers form. The flowers are mostly in reds, yellows, oranges and pinks. What we commonly call the "flower" in a Heliconia is not really the flower at all but a large, showy bract. The true flowers are usually insignificant (or even ugly) and emerge from these bracts.

The plants range in size from dwarf shade lovers such as Jamaican Dwarf through to towering sun-loving giants over 5m tall such as Richmond Red. When choosing a Heliconia to plant in your garden, therefore, make sure you find out how tall it will get. Be mindful, too, of the fact that the Heliconias will spread to form large clumps.

Most varieties flower through summer and autumn, but, of course, there are exceptions. Red Christmas is a dwarf form to about 1m, which flowers from April through to September. It prefers part shade and is a great choice if you want to add colour to a shady garden in winter. It also grows and flowers well in a large pot.

Heliconia rostrata, commonly known as Parrot's Beak, is one of the most commonly grown varieties. It flowers freely in sun or part shade and is about 2m tall. The flowers are pendulous, bright red and yellow, lasting about a week when cut. Smaller varieties such as Tangerine, Nicky and Sassy grow to 1-1.5m and have smaller, more delicate flowers. They spread more than the taller-growing forms and are great fillers in a tropical garden.

Heliconias prefer to grow in moist, well-drained soil in a protected position, as their large tender leaves can be torn by the wind. Most varieties need plenty of sun to flower well, and plenty of water.

Caring for Heliconias is easy. Make sure they get adequate water and are well-mulched. Feed them with a complete organic plant food a couple of times during the growing season. Remove any damaged leaves to keep the plants looking tidy. Each stalk will flower once, so cut the whole stalk off at ground level when you remove the flowers.

Got a gardening question? Email maree@edenatbyron.com.au.



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