Heliconia indoor for the winter

PlantManager(5a QC)October 26, 2005

Hi. I have a small indoor garden consisting of potted plants. Recently I acquired a Heliconia. It over 6 feet tall. I just put it in my garden last week and I am worried it's not doing well. The lower leaves have started drying out and the great flower at the top of my Heli has dried up aswell. I fertilized with a tomato fertilizer (18-18-21) the same as I feed my Brugmansia. There is no natural light in my garden, just two neon grow lights. The garden is 4'X 5' and 9' tall and I leave the light on 14 hours/day. Any info on a growing healthy indoor Heliconia would be greatly appreciated. THX. PlantMan.

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bihai(zone 9)

#1--the flower will eventually go. Cut the entire stalk off at ground level. It only flowers once

#2--water SPARINGLY indoors. Larger growing heliconia do not like to be in pots indoors. The growing medium tends to get very soggy very fast, resulting in root death and plant loss. Once a week, perhaps even once every 10-14 days. If your media is still staying soggy (and you must test this by putting your finger in to check the soil from the bottom drainage holes, not the top of the pot!) you should consider repotting your plant into new untra fast draining media: one part sharp sand, one part perlite, one part regular bagged potting soil, and one part peat. A layer of non-degradable styrofoam peanuts in the bottom 1-2 inches of pot is also helpful. Do NOT let the put sit in a tray full of drained water.

#3--NO FERTILIZER as long as it is indoors. With the poor light that you are giving it, it probably cannot use that food. I know you don't think the light is "poor" but let's face it its not natural light, and for a plant that generally thrives in full sun like a heliconia, its probably not sufficient. (although there are shade tolerant heliconias, you don't say what type you have acquired)

#4--air movement: INCREASE IT if possible. Ceiling fan, oscillating fan, anything to keep things moving

#5--increase HUMIDITY. Run a vaporizer, cool mist, if you can. Dry heat is an enemy of plants like heliconias.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2005 at 9:20PM
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gaza(10 la CA)

hi,the flower shoot will die after flowering,so dont worry,the other leaves dying/shrivelling etc,is due to transplant/transport shock
but,like bahai said,it will be VERY difficult to keep this alive through the winter with your system
try to give it as much light as poss,and spray with systemic insecticide,as spider mite will come.and they will kill all shoots that you have.
what species do you have?

    Bookmark   October 29, 2005 at 9:02PM
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sleeplessinftwayne(z4-5 IND)

Hey, Bihai and gaza. Thank you. I have been looking for this information for the last 6 months. I guess either the people who write the books don't know people in zone 5 want to grow these plants or I haven't found the right books. My potted tropicals, outside, got hit by a hailstorm early on and so didn't have time to set blooms, except for the colocasias and alocasias. I am willing to do what it takes to keep these plants content over the winter. It isn't as difficult for me since I have a medical condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder which means if I don't get enough light, I fall asleep and stay asleep. As a result, I have about 25 or 30 4 foot light fixtures and racks I use in my basement plant room from October through April or May. I also have large mylar reflectors and timers. If light becomes a problem, I may invest in some of the more expensive light systems. As for the soil, most of the plants came in a peaty type soil with lots of perlite which I was planning to replace. Would coir be an acceptable media? Should it be mixed with something like an orchid blend? Do you recommend something else? The potting blend you mention could get pretty heavy for me to deal with. For plants that don't like wet feet but need humidity, I use perlite in a double potting system I have used successfully for ferns. I can set up a decent watering system with drippers or misters if necessary. Since I don't have a long outdoor growing season I will need to fertilize at some point. Do you have a particular fertilizer you like to use? For my pond plants I can use a hydroponics system or keep them in water with good circulation. Ambient temperatures are usually 65o to 75o F. Is that enough? I have heat mats and thermostats. I use fans and for insects, I use sticky traps. The only insects I have had a problem with are fungus gnats but you know how that can change. One of the heliconias got too dry and wound up with shriveled leaves. Should I cut it back all the way to the ground or can I leave half? The plants I want to winter over are Heliconia, Musa, Alocasia, Colocasia, Xanthosoma, Cordyline, Orchids, Hedychium, Bouganvilla and as many more as I can find that will grow in my system parameters. Thanks for any info you can give me. Sandy

    Bookmark   October 30, 2005 at 12:04PM
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bihai(zone 9)

Hi Sandy.
I have not had experience trying to overwinter Bananas, Hedychiums, Ti Leaves (Cordyline), ALocasia, Colocasia or Xanthosoma. The only time I grew Ti's indoors they suffered greatly from dry air. I found they did better out in the cold than in the warm house, and eventually planted them out. They do get knocked back a bit sometimes in a freeze, but regrow normally in the warm season. These plants are hardy here where I live and are all planted out in the ground. But your system sounds like it should be more than enough to keep all those happy.

Before we moved to this house and I had my greenhouse built, I managed to overwinter over 40 pots and tubs of Heliconia of many different species, and 400 orchids, in my house and in my garage, using artificial light when needed and of course heating the garage.

Orchids are not particularly hard to keep going in the winter. Many people grow indoors as a matter of course. Some orchids are easier to grow indoors that others. Vandas and other large monopodials would be mure difficult to care for than, say, Phals, but if you are willing to put forth the effort you can do it. I grow mainly Vandas and different vandaceous plants like Mokaras, Renantheras, Arachnis, Aerides, etc. This class of plants generally needs the most light to set blooms and that can be a challenge for indoor growers. So can watering, as they tend to make huge trails of long hanging roots. Lots of indoor growers water their plants in the shower. I grow almost 100% of my orchids either mounted or in media that is almost completely open (ie I don't use bark, I use wine corks, open slat baskets, aliflor, crushed treefern, etc) so its possible for me to water with a simple spray bottle if I need to and hang plants in windows etc.

For heliconias, you can amend the potting media by using a combo of bagged orchid bark, or bagged nutshells or peanut hulls, or bagged small shred mulch plus sharp sand plus perlite plus peat. But these plants do need some organic matter in the soil as well as ultra good drainage.

If you feel like you have to fertilize your plants, use a slow release granular fertilizer, one application for the entire winter season, rather than trying to use a water soluble. And try to use a LOW NITROGEN fertilizer, like maybe a "bloom special" type, for 2 reasons: If you try to fertilize with a water soluble, you risk a salt buildup in the pots, that you would have to leach out eventually. The amount of water needed to leach the pots would probably not go well with your indoor environment. The fertilizer may burn the plants if there isn't enough light for the plants to effectively utilize it. Plus, you don't want to promote a huge amount of leafy green growth that you will have to tax yourself to move out later on. Your goal over winter is just to keep your plants alive and healthy enough to go back out in Spring and resume their "normal lives". I fertilize my plants over the course of the winter in the greenhouse with water soluble 10-50-10, maybe every month instead of every week, but mine are planted in the ground and getting huge amounts of natural light...also, many heliconias are winter or late spring bloomers and need the food to look good. Daylength is altered here of course, days are getting shorter so that has an impact on greenhouse grown plants where as you can control the light you give.

I would not automatically assume that the heliconia you are having problems with has shrivelled up because it was too dry. You might want to unpot it and check its roots to make certain that you have notlost them to predation my insects, that the rhizomes are firm and intact and not being eaten by something or infected with fungus, etc. If everything looks okay, repot, trim and carry on. If you see pests and/or fungus, make a slurry of Captan powdered fungicide (enough to really cloud the water) mixed with a tablespoon of a systemic pesticide like Cygon 2E or Orthene and a Tablespoon of water soluble fertilizer like Miracle Grow in a gallon of water soak the roots and rhizomes for about 30 minutes, repot in fresh soil, then use the soaking water as a soil drench to water the plant in its new soil.

WHen I get a pest infestation on my indoor plants, we have enough really warm (over 60F) winter days for me to be able to haul the plants outside and really spray them down with either an oil apray or Orthene. Since you don;t have that luxury, it would be a good idea to keep a spray bottle of something like Neem Oil on hand and spray any infestations as soon as you see them and every 7 days after that while the plants are indoors. Neem is non-toxic and also has fungicidal properties, AND the added bonus of smelling somewhat like citrus.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2005 at 7:28AM
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sleeplessinftwayne(z4-5 IND)

You are very encouraging. I have been trying to control the orchid urge since we lived very close to an orchid grower in Wisconsin. You could get lost in their acres of glass houses. I set the wilted plant in a tub of warm water and to my delight all the stems are now straight. I will use a pole just in case but I don't think it really needs it. Thanks again, Sandy

    Bookmark   November 2, 2005 at 4:56AM
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I live in southern Ontario and have heliconia. My Aemygdiana are doing very well in just cedar mulch as medium. But, my bihai are not doing as well in the same medium. Its leaves tend to turn brown around the edges and sometimes in the middle, as well. I wonder if this is due to too much water or not enough. I would appreciate any help on this matter. Thanks in advance.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2007 at 8:54AM
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