I used to think that my prized Strelitzia, which I had painstakingly grown from seed and nurtured for the last three or four years was the only Strelitzia in the world that couldn’t stand sun. This temperate, sun-worshipping plant that loves to bake in mediterranean heat could barely manage a cloudy summer day in the UK. For at least a year or so I’ve been having to keep it in pretty shady conditions. If it was left in strong sun for even an hour or two, all its leaves would curl and wrap inwards, indicating that it was drying out and unable to get enough water, despite the compost being moist. After putting it back in the shade, the leaves would gradually unfurl but it would take a few days. Meanwhile, the whole plant continued to grow, but it did so very slowly, adding only a few leaves a year if the season was long.
Facing the prospect of delaying the first flowering even further due to its slow growth and propensity for shade, I took the plunge and decided to see why the plant looked as though it wasn’t getting enough water – even when it was – and tipped the whole plant out of its pot and brushed off some of the soil, at which point the problem became abundantly clear.
I had read that Strelitzia roots are thick, but even that didn’t prepare me the for mass of chunky roots that had grown and coiled round and round the pot, wrapping themselves around the drainage stones at the bottom after pushing out the compost. The whole plant was sitting in just a few inches of soil, with the rest of the roots curled around rocks. No wonder it wasn’t getting enough water, there was virtually no soil from which to get it from.
I took the opportunity to wash off most of the existing compost and make a new mix of compost, manure and fertiliser to replant into, omitting the drainage stones. With the thick, rigid roots it was like repotting a very large orchid, holding the Strelitzia by the base and packing new soil around the root structure, taking care not to snap any roots.
It will be a little while before the roots re-establish and I can think about putting the plant back into sunlight, but I’ve already noticed a difference. I moved the Strelitzia just a smidge out from the shade of the beech hedge and while the most recent leaf curls inward, it isn’t anywhere near as bad as it used to be when I tried the same before repotting.
With the slow growth and repotting shock, I expect it might be just another three years until I see the first flower. It’s a bit of a disappointing set back but at least the plant is still alive and healthy and I still maintain that the lengthy wait will be worth it.