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Tropical plant requires near-paradise conditions

Question: How do I plant and care for tropical bird of paradise?

These are those very pretty flowering plants with banana-like leaves you see in San Diego or other places where it does not freeze. Tropical bird of paradise, as its name indicates and you are probably aware, will not handle freezing temperatures. So this is a plant that has to be protected during the winter from extreme cold and winds.

The plant itself can handle temperatures to the mid-20s for a short time, but the flowers cannot. If flowers or flower buds are present, it cannot be subjected to any freezing temperatures. This means you can grow it in containers or in the ground, provided you take the time and cover it or move it .

The second very important item is modification of the soil. Our desert soils will be brutal to tropical bird of paradise but not impossible, provided they are amended appropriately. This means you will need to heavily amend any local soil with about 50 to 75 percent manure-based compost. After planting, the soil should be covered with 3 to 4 inches of organic mulch such as wood chips .

Fertilize with manure-based or slow-release fertilizers every three months during the growing season. Make sure they are planted with an eastern exposure in filtered shade and not subjected to intense afternoon sunlight.

The last item is exposure. They should grow on the northeast or easterly exposure in partial shade or filtered light with protection from late afternoon sunlight, which is particularly damaging.

Bob Morris is a professor emeritus in horticulture with the University of Nevada and can be reached at extremehort@aol.com. Visit his blog at xtremehorticulture.blogspot.com. Check the Home section of Thursday’s Las Vegas Review-Journal for more gardening advice.

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