Growing gingers and heliconias
Heliconias and Gingers are a group of spectacular tropical ornamental plants, which come in a vast array of leaf and flower colours, well known for creating vibrant tropical looking landscapes and make great long lasting cut flowers too! They are generally easy to grow and capable of reaching 50cm to 5m in height and can form large clumps, when given the right growing conditions.
Originating from warm humid regions where they naturally grow under a forest canopy, they prefer similar conditions in the home garden which can be achieved easily by planting them amongst taller species.
As a general rule, Heliconias will tolerate full sun and Gingers prefer slight shade. There are however some exceptions to this in both groups of plants. Both gingers and heliconias will grow in shade, and will usually grow taller than those in direct sunlight.
Mixed plantings using similar tropical plants and trees of different heights may be combined to design a micro-climate, which offers plants shade and protection.
Soil and Soil Health
Most plants, including Heliconias and Gingers prefer loose, free draining, slightly acidic soils with good aeration and plenty of organic matter such as compost, manures and mulches.
Heavy, dense, compacted and highly alkaline soils are not suitable and will require a combination of treatments before they can be used for growing.
If your soil falls apart in your hand, then chances are it’s a good start. Soil which behaves like clay, sticks together and fails to crumble, needs further improvements before planting.
Raised garden beds, slopes and large pots or are excellent for providing good drainage if your existing soil is not suitable.
Growing from an underground rhizome, these species dislike wet feet which usually result from poor soil drainage, but can also occur with prolonged or constant over-watering. Such conditions can promote root-rot or fungal problems in the soil, both of which will affect the rhizome, by causing rot. Usually first seen by the above ground presence of yellowing foliage, a general unhealthy look, followed by the collapse of the entire plant. Not to be confused with the natural process of ageing and renewal, whereby the majority of growth is healthy and only some stems will yellow and die, in turn being replaced by new shoots.
Welcoming your plants to their new home
Just received your plants? Your plants may have just been on a long trip and will benefit from a good drink. Water them from head to toe to give them a bit of a wake up call.
To start with, have a look at your existing garden and really plan ahead as your garden will be there for a long time.
Many gardeners forget that they will need access to their garden for maintenance and will need at times to apply bulk mulches and composts. Watering will be another concern.
Common questions to ask:
- Where does the most wind and sun come from?
- Which view do I want to keep or which do I wish to screen?
- Which existing plants can I use to give the new plants shade?
- How do I plan to water them and how far away is the source?
- Will I have access with equipment like wheelbarrows and trailers?
Best way to plant is to find a great spot in the garden that offers some protection from the wind and sun. Found the perfect spot? Now decide on how far apart to plant. Make sure you leave the plants with plenty of room as they may look small now, but will grow much larger and take up more space as they mature.
Dig a hole that is slightly larger in width than the pot and plant to soil level. Water in well after planting to relieve stress and then regularly before the plants finally acclimatise and establish themselves.
Designing your garden
The next step in creating your ideal landscape is to decide on the overall look or theme you wish your garden to turn into. Need to screen an area or like to make a jungle? Would you prefer a more formal look with closely and evenly spaced plants, planted further apart or in clumps for a more natural look? Sometimes the decision may become more obvious as you put some thought and consideration into the style of housing and surroundings, making your style choice easier and clearer.
Heliconias and Gingers are great feature plants and look good on their own, grouped together or evenly spaced apart. Both have shallow root systems which allow them to have smaller plants planted right near them which help to accentuate their beauty.
Torch Gingers and Heliconias tolerate full sun, however most Gingers will prefer shade, especially the Costus and Beehive varieties.
Shade loving plants will need some protection, so when designing your garden keep in mind that it will be better to plant all your sun tolerant plants in advance. Allow at least a year for your sun tolerant plants to establish themselves and grow in size before planting your more delicate shade-loving plants beneath and around them.
Remember that designing and planning your garden should be a fun project which takes patience and should not be made in a rush. Planting in stages will further afford you more time to plan that next important step!
Mulch and Watering
To grow to their full potential, Heliconias and Gingers need regular watering during hot periods to prevent drying out.
Both are relatively low maintenance species that benefit greatly with regular additions of organic matter throughout the year.
After planting, lay down a generous layer of composted mulch, at least 50mm deep, which helps to suppress weeds, keeps soil temperature lower and is a great water saver too!
Common mulches include:
- Living mulches (low growing prostrate plants) Good for slopes where normal mulch may easily wash away.
- Organic mulches like hardwood chips, cane, straw, shredded bark.
Wood chips high in oils and tannins, uncomposted sawdust or lawn clippings are not really suitable as these may affect the permeability of the soil or cause a combination of nutrient problems.
To provide plants with much needed organic matter and to keep looking their best, it is highly recommended to use natural fertilisers in the garden.
The addition of organic matter stimulates beneficial fungi and bacteria, which are a fundamental means of plant health while providing numerous other side benefits, including production of basic elements and making nutrients more available to plants.
Try adding dry products like:
- Blood and bone
- Composts/Worm castings
- Manures (make sure they are dry or composted)
You can also splash on some soluble products:
- Liquid seaweed
- Worm juice
- Liquid fish
Use fortnightly or monthly for added plant health.
Regular applications help to balance any nutrient deficiencies. Your plants and garden will love and reward you with lush healthy growth and awesome flowers.
Pruning and Aftercare
Heliconias and Gingers are relatively low maintenance, but during parts of the year they will need tidying up and benefit from the removal of dried, withered or damaged stems and spent flower heads.
Pruning is important to stimulate production of new shoots and as an added benefit improves fresh air circulation throughout the garden.
Ensure all tools and equipment used for pruning are wiped clean and sterilised prior to use by either using boiling hot water or isopropyl rubbing alcohol (readily available at most convenience or hardware stores)
Always use natural cleaners and oils for your equipment, avoiding petroleum based products as these may burn plants.
Got all your gear cleaned and ready to go?
Next, identify and remove any old, damaged or unwanted plant parts carefully with a sharp knife or pair of secateurs and dispose of responsibly by composting.
Pest Control and Garden Health
Gardens full of assorted healthy plants, maintain their own natural ecological balance and means of defence.
What does this mean for the gardener? Well it’s all good news!
Vibrant gardens, where usage of chemicals are limited, attract a variety of friendly beneficial predatory birds, insects, lizards, frogs and other small animals, which help rid your garden of any unwanted pests and help keep their numbers down.
Luckily, Heliconias and Gingers have only a few serious pests. The odd caterpillar or grasshopper munching on a leaf or two will not cause much damage and may be removed via mechanical means. Other unwanted insects are scale and mealybugs. Small insects which cause damage by sucking the sap from stems and leaves. These insects incidentally transmit other pathogens, however are easily controlled by eco-friendly means, such as:
Physical means (insects may be rubbed off or hosed off under pressure)
Natural oil based sprays (Avoid petroleum based as these have a low temperature boiling point and may burn plants when the sun is at its peak)
Sap sucking insects breathe through their skin and by coating them, they are unable to breathe or multiply. Spraying the affected part of the plant thoroughly with an application or two is usually enough to do the job.
Eco-friendly spray for Sap Sucking Insects
Want to know how you can environmentally get rid of those pesky insects?
One easy treatment is to combine rubbing alcohol with a few drops of dish soap, mix well and pour into a small spray bottle. If you don’t have any rubbing alcohol, you may use water instead.
You may also add a drop or two of vegetable oil to the mix. This is completely natural and helps the spray to stick. No more bugs!
Garden plant problems can sometimes happen unexpectedly. When they do, remember that vigilance is a gardeners best friend! When in doubt, watch, monitor and observe your garden. If you are unsure or in doubt what the issue is, always seek help and advice from reliable sources.
When you buy from us you may be assured that we will help you with any concern that you may have, now or in the future and are always on hand when you need advice the most.