Growing Heliconias Indoors and Out
Bring a touch of the tropics to your home by growing heliconias indoors all year round.
The fun thing about cultivating houseplants is that you can grow a variety of species that might not survive in your outdoor gardens. A great example of this are the heliconias, tropical plants that are grown outdoors in zones 9 and higher, but can be good houseplants for everyone else. The oversized foliage and striking flowers make heliconia an interesting addition to your collection.
About Heliconias. Heliconias are native to tropical America, with nearly 200 species identified. They are sometimes called lobster-claws or false bird-of-paradise. The unusual flowers have led to widespread cultivation of these plants, and some species have naturalized in places like Florida. The flowers grow on branched stems known as inflorescences, which may stand erect or droop depending on the species. In their native habitat, heliconias are pollinated almost exclusively by hummingbirds, although a few species are known to be bat-pollinated.
Choose carefully. A major key to growing heliconia indoors is choosing the right type for your space. Many heliconia species grow very large, with some topping out at 15 feet in the right growing conditions. Read species descriptions carefully to learn just how big you can expect one to grow before bringing it home. The heliconia shown here is a dwarf Heliconia psittacorum, and only reaches about 1.5 feet, making it an ideal houseplant. H. psittacorum blooms year-round starting in the first year, so this is a great starter species with early payoff. (If growing a larger heliconia species, be sure to choose a heavy pot for it, so the plants won’t become top-heavy and tip over.)
Starting from rhizomes. Heliconias grow from rhizomes, and if you purchase a plant from a catalog or online, that is probably what you will receive rather than a full-grown plant. Start your rhizome in a medium-sized pot of well-draining soil, and be sure not to plant it too deeply. (Look at the rhizome to see if you can determine the soil line from where it was previously planted.) If any new growth shows on the rhizome, ensure that remains above ground. Water the pot well, but do not overwater – root rot is the fastest way to kill a new heliconia. Be patient; new shoots may take awhile to appear, and the old stem will likely wither first, which is completely normal.
Growing Heliconias indoors. Give your heliconia bright light and water it regularly, but be careful not to overwater. Let the soil almost dry out between watering, and avoid allowing heliconias to stand in water. Heliconias grow best in temperatures of at least 70 degrees F or higher, and should never be subjected to temps below 50 F. Fertilize regularly for best growth and flowering. In the warmer summer months, you can take your heliconias outdoors, where hummingbirds will enjoy the flowers.