Heliconias

The first thing to know about heliconias is that they spread. Each stalk of leaves will produce only one set of colorful bracts, which will stay alive and colorful for as long as six weeks. Though the flower may die, the greenery will stay lovely for a long time.

The rooty bulb is called a rhizome. It spreads laterally, so plant your new rhizome close to the edge of the pot or planting bed so the new nodes will have plenty of room to spread. Dig your rhizomes up every few years and remove the old part, which will begin to decay. (It will be easy to identify; it will be hollow and dark in color.)

Unlike many tropical plants, heliconias do not have a dormant period, so plant it quickly upon receipt so it doesn’t dry out. Unwrap it from its shipping wrap carefully so as not to damage the new nodes, which can be fragile. If your rhizomes doesn’t have a baby node, it will. As long as the rhizome itself is moist and of a milky-white color, it is healthy and will grow.

New heliconias will start strong if planted in spring or summer in a well-drained soil mixture of perlite, peat moss, and potting soil. Your rhizome will usually contain an old stalk. Notice the line of photosynthesis and plant the rhizome to the same depth. Water well.

Heliconias love water, but don’t overwater them. Keep the soil moist, but not wet or they may develop a fungus. If your area or home has low humidity, you should water daily during warm months. And mist the plant in dry conditions to keep it moist.

While heliconias eventually grow to love the sun and heat, put them in a semi-shady spot for the first few months. Move them gradually into sunnier locations. Most heliconias can tolerate 100 percent sun and thrive in temperatures above 70 degrees F. If planting them in a pot indoors, put them where they will get lots of light, such as a south or west facing window. Don’t let them endure temperatures below 50 degrees for long.

Heliconias also love to be fed. A monthly fertilizer of elements below 10-10-10 will yield vases full of flowers.

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