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The Root of the Problem


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.

Repotting Strelitzia

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.

Strelitzia 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.

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Sunil Patel

I'm Sunil Patel, this is me. I created the Garden at 13 Broom Acres and I open it to visitors. I also bake and write blog posts giving a "behind the scenes" look into what it's like to maintain such a garden.

Visit the blog, then come and visit the garden. We can have a good sit-down, a jolly chinwag and a relaxing cup of tea with a sinfully generous slice of home made cake.

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susan maclean 29/09/2014 - 12:39 pm

Like Mr Mac denied a beer (haha)! Anyway, should be happier now Sunil.

Sunil 06/10/2014 - 3:09 pm

Hi Mrs Mac, I hope so. Still, because of this, the flowering might be a few years late, which is annoying!

Alain 29/09/2014 - 1:08 pm

It should do much better now. Good luck with it.

Have a good week Sunil.

Sunil 06/10/2014 - 3:10 pm

Hello Alain, I will have to wait for next season before I hopefully notice a big change in the plant and it really starts cracking on.

gardeninacity 30/09/2014 - 11:53 pm

Wow! Gives new meaning to the phrase “pot-bound”. A good thing you took a peek.

Sunil 06/10/2014 - 3:11 pm

Hello Jason, I couldn’t believe there was more root than soil there either. While it didn’t look busy on top, turns out it was spending all its energy filling the pot with root making it rather bottom heavy!

casa mariposa 02/10/2014 - 2:54 am

Did you put it in a much bigger pot? That plants needs room! Perhaps the botanical version of a large warehouse might be just right. Those roots are massive.

Sunil 06/10/2014 - 3:13 pm

Hi Tammy, no, after I took the old drainage stones out I put it back in the original pot and planted it higher so there was more soil. That should do for another few years. Apparently, relatively pot-bound Strelitzia tend to flower more, I hope to find out before 2020.

lynngator 05/10/2014 - 9:41 pm

Wow, I know you are glad to have investigated why your plant wasn’t thriving. I hope it takes off now and you won’t have to wait too many years for flowers, Sunil. Will look forward to seeing the photos when it does perform!

Sunil 06/10/2014 - 3:14 pm

Hi Lynn, I’m being terribly patient with it since it is taking so long. There’s nothing much else to do with it apart from waiting for the seasons to pass. Hopefully within the next few years, although I said that a few years ago. When it does flower there will be photos pasted all over this blog of it!

Tim 15/12/2014 - 5:02 pm

Hi. Can you tell how old it is? I apologize if it is written above but did not find anything about that. I have about that big (5 years old) myself and I am also very anxious about first bloom.

Sunil 20/12/2014 - 3:53 pm

Hello Tim, it’s about four years old, I think. I know I should keep better track of it but I’ve had it so long it’s almost a part of the furniture!

Tim 22/12/2014 - 8:55 am

Hi, thanks for your answer. It sounds like I am teasing you but believe me, that is not the case. This weekend when I came home I found two of my Strelitzias (seed planted on the same year) are having their first bloom stems appearing from the base of the leaves. That are the first flower spikes of any of my four plants (two are just too young to expect any flower formation). Well that was one of the biggest surprises I have had in my life with plants!!! So it is worth to wait!

Sunil 01/01/2015 - 4:32 pm

Hello Tim, well done and don’t worry about it. I am used to being teased about the Strelitzia and when it is going to flower because I’m always seeing them on TV, in botanical gardens, on holiday, in other people’s blogs, everywhere except my own. I am patient though and I have a whole new garden to work on in the meantime so the Strelitzia tends to get ignored usually.

Tim 02/01/2015 - 8:17 pm

Hi! Well, glad you understaind my style of writing! As I managed to read about the Strelitzia blooming it will take another 3 months untill the flower appeares from the stem, so it is quite some time still to wait. Hope you will have many joyfull moments with your new garden. It seems to me that ignoring the Strelitzia sometimes works better than too much care!


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